Photo courtesy of The Museum of Casa Grande
by Blake Herzog
Winter holidays in Casa Grande have never had the snowy coziness depicted in vintage Christmas cards, but the warmth coming from the sun and the hearts of its residents was always more than enough to bring friends, families and neighbors together to feel the glow in the early 20th century.
A Dec. 20, 1912 blurb in the Casa Grande Times announced the Casa Grande Commercial Club’s plans to host a “big entertainment and dance” to be held Christmas Eve at Maldonado Hall, a venue used for similar events around that time. It noted that club Chairman T.J. Meehan and committee member George P. Bennett “are doing the active work and as they are known to be rustlers, the results are not to be questioned.”
The first mention of a “municipal Christmas tree” comes from Dec. 10, 1920, in a Casa Grande Dispatch item that doesn’t indicate where the tree would be displayed but says Mrs. J.J. Kruse and Mrs. H.D. Wilson were to be in charge of the program, during which Santa Claus would visit and bring “remembrances” for the children attendees were encouraged to bring.
A brief in the same day’s paper also proves Casa Grande’s “shop local” movement is at least 100 years old: “Don’t send out of town for Christmas presents, toys or any other supplies. The local merchants have everything you may need and as cheap or cheaper than Phoenix or any other place. It pays to build up your own town.”
‘One of the merriest events ever staged in Casa Grande’
As the Great Depression bore down on the nation in 1930, Santa was especially generous during the two-weekend Casa Grande Christmas Festival. He met with a mob of 400 children at a public bandstand at First and Sacaton streets and shared several stories as well as “initiating them into some of the inner most secrets of his life.”
He then morphed into the Pied Piper and led them on a tour through downtown to the Paramount Theatre to watch some comedy shorts.
The business district they strolled through was decked out with Christmas trees, ornaments and “ornate lights of green, red, blue, orange and other bright colors so that in the evening the town now takes on the appearance of a veritable fairyland of Christmas joy,” the Dispatch said. The lights were furnished by Arizona Edison, the predecessor of APS memorialized with a sign in Casa Grande Neon Park.
Santa returned to the Paramount the following Saturday, this time bearing gifts for some 600 boys and girls. On Christmas Eve he gave out 800 bags of candy in front of the Community Christmas Tree at Sacaton and Second streets as the crowd belted out “Silent Night.” The writer continued, “Altogether, it was one of the merriest events ever staged in Casa Grande, if the size of the audience and the heartiness of the singing are to be accepted as tokens.”
Source: The Museum of Casa Grande