Christmas Eve in Pottsville – December 24, 1902

The bells of trolley rang out as the heavily-laden cars rolled through the streets of Pottsville, Pennsylvania on December 24, 1902. All through the city’s shopping district at the base of Sharp Mountain people excitedly milled about and passed through doorways into shops making their final sales before Christmas.

In the capital of the Schuylkill County anthracite empire, Christmas 1902 marked an exciting occasion at the end of a tumultuous year. The Coal Region spent much of 1902 locked in an epic coal strike that pitted the area’s power brokers against the organized workingmen of the United Mineworkers of America. The stoppage ended in October with an agreement brokered by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Christmas 1902 2
From the Republican, December 24, 1902

The loaded down trolley brought visitors into the city from the surrounding coal communities and from the farming villages south of Sharp Mountain. The crush of people poured into the Schuylkill County seat in search of their final Christmas presents.

The following account comes from the Pottsville Republican, published on the evening of December 24, 1902. It captures the excitement and buzz that carried through the streets and also brings to mind the Christmas shopping procrastinators of the 21st century.

Pottsville 1889
Downtown Pottsville, as seen in 1889. (Library of Congress)

The Day Before Christmas

Accounts of the Activity in Anticipation of its Commemoration

According to the predictions of the Weather Bureau at Washington, there will be a white Christmas. If so, the cup of joy of buoyant youth and vigorous manhood will be full to overflowing. With old mother Earth decked with a mantle of the “the beautiful” tomorrow will be a veritable Christmas Day indeed.

Again, judging from the number of shoppers on the streets and in the stores during the past several days, Christmas will be a happy one, for the custom of gift giving seems to have grown more and more each year, Santa Claus still lives and the Christmas tree, although scarcer than ever, still remains to grace the homes where there can be no Christmas without its brilliant, dazzling, glistening splendor. And king turkey, the pride of the festive board, also remains with us as big, fat, tender, and delicious as ever, maybe higher priced but made all the sweeter thereby.

Trolley cars have added their share to the joyous occasion, as during the week, which closes today, they have hauled more people than ever before in a similar length of time. Suburban life, as pictured in the funny papers, is seen daily in these crowded, overworked cars. Bundles are given the preference and then the passengers can find a place for themselves as best they can. Almost every shopper returns home laden down like a picture of Santa Claus, bundles in each hand, bundles under the arms, bundles over the shoulder, bundles in the pockets, bundles everywhere, until seems as though the weary, overladen being would be forced to succumb, but the last straw, when it comes to Christmas shopping, is so far down in the stack that it never materializes.

Sneaking Home

Today could be seen the man rushing shamefaced up the back streets, with a rocking horse or a drum for the boy, a doll or a coach for the girl or a turkey for them all. Passersby asked the thoughtful question whether or not he was out doing his Christmas shopping and a fiendish smile invariably played about the face as he muttered, yes, through clenched teeth.

Then there was the woman with the automobile and the long, furry tantalizing boa, which fluttered in the wind like the claws of some of the deep sea monsters, who minced into the haberdashers and bought some article of men’s wear calculated to disturb his Christmas prayers or again, perhaps a box of cigars which had a pretty cover on the top and was tied with pink ribbons. Another character worth the notice was the bashful young man, who smiled uneasily to the young lady back of the counter and asked what would be a nice present for sister, whose sister he usually forgot to state. This was the most trying of all, for perhaps is meant much.

Rush of Shoppers

Counters were besieged with a rush of shoppers whose only desire was to be waited on, and to be waited on quickly and in the various departments, the victims of these bargain counter rushes had the appearance of an after the cyclone picture, in Kansas.

In the department and toy stores there were little nothings on sale which were guaranteed to gladden the heart of any little one. Mechanical toys of all descriptions were to be had at a small cost and the question of what to buy for the baby was easily to be solved there.

Although several days ago a number of the poultry dealers complained of a scarcity of turkeys, these birds bobbed up serenely today and were sold at 20 cents a pound with the feathers off. Chickens and ducks also seemed to be plentiful. There will be no lack of poultry for the Christmas dinner tomorrow.

The Republican’s editors also added a tidbit about the shopping scene in Pottsville, but encouraged readers to remember the simple gifts that often mean most.

With the large stocks of Christmas goods in Pottsville stores, the close approach of Christmas need not cause men to worry and women to weave wrinkles. There are still many beautiful articles to select from in spite of the onslaught shoppers have made upon the array of tempting articles during the past few weeks. Many people overlook the true spirit of Christmas giving which exists in the expression of good will and not in extravagant display. A simple gift often carries with it an expression of sincerity that a present of greater financial value fails to convey. Do not hesitate to make a Christmas gift because you cannot afford to give an expensive one.

Featured Image: Christmas Eve issue of the Republican, December 24, 1902 

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