Exploring the rich history of Christmas celebrations in Carlsbad, New Mexico
Carlsbad, known as the Pearl of the Pecos, has always had a special affinity for Christmas. From the late 19th century to the present day, this desert city in southeast New Mexico has embraced the holiday season with local events, shopping specials, and a strong sense of community. Delving into the Carlsbad Current-Argus archives, we take a nostalgic journey through time to explore how Christmas has been celebrated in the Cavern City over the decades.
1880s: Simple Pleasures
In the 1880s, as the Civil War was won and the Second Industrial Revolution was underway, Carlsbad reveled in the simpler pleasures of the holiday season. Newspaper clippings from December 1889 revealed how Ulysses S. Grant, a prominent figure during the Civil War, celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving in the soldier camps. In contrast to the formal ceremonies enjoyed by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Grant’s celebrations were marked by thoughtful gestures from patriots in the North, including turkeys but no cranberries or mince. It was a time of modest festivities and gratitude.
1900s: Christmas at Sea
In the early 1900s, an editorial by Admiral Bob Evans titled “Christmas at Sea” offered a glimpse into the unique experiences of spending Christmas on the ocean. The account, dated back to 1865 during the Civil War, described how even amidst the fierce combat, sailors managed to adorn the mastheads of their ships with Christmas green. This heartwarming story highlighted the resilience and sentimentality of those who risked their lives for their country.
1920s: Roaring Twenties
The Roaring Twenties brought an economic boom to Carlsbad, fueled by the aftermath of World War I. Advertisements from a December 1922 edition of the Carlsbad Current showcased the thriving local economy, with businesses like Pratt-Smith Hardware Co. and plumber H.A. Bock extending Christmas greetings to their customers. It was a time of prosperity and optimism, as the city embraced the spirit of giving and celebration.
1930s: Festivities and Traditions
In the 1930s, Carlsbad’s Christmas celebrations were marked by a variety of events and traditions. The Business and Professional Women’s Club hosted an annual Christmas party, while the Toy Symphony Orchestra, a group of child musicians, performed for their mothers. The city was alive with joyous gatherings, including a Christmas dinner hosted by the Swastika Club, which, at the time, was a symbol of eastern spirituality rather than its later association with Nazi Germany.
1940s: Christmas in Wartime
The 1940s were overshadowed by World War II, and Carlsbad’s Christmas coverage reflected the impact of the war. In a December 1943 edition, Pope Pius appealed for an end to the conflict, while another story highlighted a significant Allied assault on the Pas-De-Calais “rocket-gun coast” on Christmas Day. These accounts served as a reminder of the sacrifices made during the war and the hope for peace.
1960s: Vietnam War and Beyond
Amidst the Vietnam War, Carlsbad’s Christmas celebrations in the 1960s were tinged with the realities of the conflict. A photo published in December 1967 showed Vietnamese girls receiving artificial Christmas trees, as the real ones did not thrive in Vietnam’s climate. Meanwhile, in 1969, a battle involving U.S. troops in Cambodia disrupted the post-Christmas lull. These events reflected the impact of the war on both local and global communities.
1980s: Cold War Tensions
The 1980s were marked by the intensification of the Cold War, and Carlsbad’s Christmas coverage reflected the political climate of the time. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused U.S. President Ronald Reagan of seeking a “War at Christmas” in a 1985 edition of the Carlsbad Current-Argus. The tensions of the era were juxtaposed with advertisements for local holiday buffets and the daily lives of Carlsbad residents.
2000s: Navigating a Changing World
In the early 2000s, Carlsbad faced the challenges of a changing world. A column from 2006 highlighted debates over a perceived “war on Christmas” and the involvement of Christian lawyers. The city adapted to new circumstances, as seen in the virtual experience of the famed Christmas on the Pecos boat rides in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in 2021, as the pandemic subsided, live boat rides resumed, symbolizing resilience and the return to cherished traditions.
Christmas in Carlsbad has evolved over the years, reflecting the changing times and the resilience of its residents. From the simpler pleasures of the 19th century to the impact of wars and global conflicts, the city has maintained its love for the holiday season. As Carlsbad continues to navigate the challenges of the present day, the spirit of Christmas remains a unifying force, bringing the community together in celebration, reflection, and hope for a brighter future.