A Look at the Downtown Watertown Christmas Decorations Over the Years
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas can be said when the downtown Watertown Christmas decorations are put up, usually before Thanksgiving, with a tree-lighting ceremony the week or so afterward. Not every year has had decorations, or a tree put up, though. Back in 1942 and 1943, neither trees nor lights were displayed during WWII. Other years faced uncertainty due to a lack of budget, but, being the time of year for giving, donations from downtown merchants and the community itself would usually ensure a festive look for downtown.
Around 1940, a giant display of Santa would make for an interesting decoration on the easternmost half of the Public Square circle. The decoration lacks a certain context to it and appears as if Santa Clause is half-buried in snow. Yet, he’s got a jolly smile with his eyes on…. something. As it turns out, the display is from a popular 1940 Coca-Cola advertisement, which, in its original display, has Santa eyeing a glass bottle of Coca-Cola. The lack of the bottle in the Watertown Christmas decoration sure kept people guessing what he must have been looking at.
In the 1940s and early 50s, there would be little decorating on the square, at least in terms of photos. Stars in circles would be hung over some streets between the taller buildings, as viewed in the photo below. Outside of town in 1949, the Dexter Sulphite Mill would have “Merry Christmas” painted in red on its roof in 4-foot levels, visible from the center of the building. To make it visible at all times, each letter at night was illuminated by a double bank of red lightbulbs.
After a shortfall of funding in the early 1950s, the Watertown chamber of commerce would organize a committee to improve the Christmas decorations downtown, as there had been no major changes over the last 20 years. They would come up with a budget of $3,000 from merchants and the community itself and purchase additional lights and decorations. The decorations included a 15-piece outdoor Nativity scene complete with a stable, figures of Joseph, Mary, Wise Man, a boy shepherd, Christ child in a wooden crib, two cattle, a donkey, three lambs, and hark! a herald angel.
In 1961, one letter to the editor at the Watertown Daily Times decried the unattractiveness of Public Square, stating, “When you go downtown during the holiday season, the decorations should ordinarily put you in the holiday spirit; but, after taking a look at the dingy, antiquated trimmings, it gives you a feeling of depression instead.”
Two years later, the Times would print an article regarding the potential for no decorations in 1963–
CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS PONDERED FOR CITY
Retail merchants in downtown Watertown will convene at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Hotel Woodruff to discuss what steps must be taken to carry out a Christmas decoration project in the business section.
Karl Clinton, president of the Greater Watertown chamber of commerce, has advised the merchants that a minimum of $4,500 must be raised to finance the project—otherwise the decoration program may be dropped this season.
It was an instance where the downtown merchants and community could raise money. The following year, however, found the city without its Nativity Scene, which had become a fixture over the last 12 years. Apparently, the Christmas decorations had “disintegrated so badly that repair was not possible in time.” The following year, life-sized replicas would be purchased to replace the old ones.
1973 would see the debut of the three giant-sized candle Christmas decorations on Public Square. The city would see some criticism for the costly decorations, but more so for the use of the power during an energy crisis that was just addressed days earlier by President Nixon. The candles would become a fixture on Public Square for the next 13 years or so (I could find a date when they stopped using them) but were blown over several times due to high winds during that period.
What may have been the first Christmas decoration involving a candle may have taken place back in the late 1920s, or early 1930s, depending on when the old water monument was removed. Trolley tracks are still visible, as is the water monument, but behind the Soldiers & Sailor monument and to the right appears to be illuminated and candle-like below.
The Christmas Parade has recently been held at night to coincide with the tree lighting ceremony. The event used to be held separately but attracted a large crowd in 2014, as shown in the video below from the Downtown Business Association. The parade even featured The Grinch, which, unfortunately, appeared in real life in the video following it.
In 2015, a Grinch would steal a Christmas Tree from the Paddock Arcade. It was caught on camera, but unknown if the Grinch was ever caught. Two years later, another Grinch would do the same thing. Video posted to YouTube by the Watertown Daily Times.