Skip to main content

Murray Journal

All is bright—Murray tree lighting ceremony continues Yuletide tradition

Dec 01, 2017 08:02PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Santa visits the kids at Liberty Elementary in the 1930s. (Photo courtesy of Murray Museum)

As with the Whos of Whoville, nobody can keep the holidays from coming to Murray. A long tradition of decorating the streets with lights and decorations continues as Murray kicks off the holiday season with its annual Christmas tree lighting on December 2 at 6 p.m. at Murray City Hall.

The Murray Shade Tree and Beautification Committee, sponsored by Murray City Power, has been hosting the event for the past 20 years. Santa and Mrs. Claus, Miss Murray and Little Mrs. Murray arrive on a fire truck and are greeted by the mayor. 

According to Matt Erkelens, Murray’s forestry supervisor, “Santa then magically turns on the Christmas lights and then they proceed into the building where he and Mrs. Claus hand out candy to the children. The line to meet Santa extends outside, around the building where the Hillcrest Junior High choir will perform for the attendees.”

The large blue spruce tree planted on the front lawn of City Hall will serve as the tree-of-honor.  

Over the years, Murray has kicked off the holiday season in a variety of ways. In 1957, the Murray Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jay-Cees) planned to bring Santa to Murray using one of aviation’s newest modes of travel, the helicopter, and land around 4800 South (about a mile north from where the Intermountain Medical Center helicopter pad now sits). The Civil Air Patrol caught wind of the plan and quickly squashed that idea, saying helicopters should never land in the area. The Jay-Cees scrambled and decided to ship Santa in via an Air Express (1950’s version of UPS and FedEx) delivery truck to a throng of young Murrayites waiting at a specially built pavilion. 

In 1943, at the height of World War II, there were no decorations at all. Mayor Curtis Shaw said that because of the war it would be impractical to set up the customary holiday street decorations. “We are seriously short of manpower and it is hard to get the nonessential items, so we are going to do without street decorations this year.” The mayor, however, said that, “Murray always kept Christmas well and will do so this year no matter what we are compelled to do without.” 

According to the Murray Eagle, 1937 saw colorful decorations along State Street and in shop windows with a Yuletide motif that seemed to spread the Christmas spirit to pre-holiday shoppers. A local bakery featured gingerbread men and Santa Claus cookies; food markets urged shoppers to order Christmas hams and turkeys early; even the local Gem Theater (Desert Star Playhouse) kept in the holiday mood by showing the movie “Thin Ice” starring Sonja Hennie and Tyrone Power. 

The commercial aspect of the holiday season, however, was overshadowed by the Christmas Spirit as the Murray Jay-Cees, the Lions Club, and various other civic organizations and clubs united to provide toys, clothing, and food to needy families in the community.

Ninety years ago, the Smith Hardware Company (on 4814 South State Street) won the Best Dressed Christmas Window Contest conducted by the Murray League. According to the Murray Eagle, “The Hardware Company window does make a strong appeal and is built around the psychological use of the principle of three. Three wreathes, three ribbons, and a combination of three of each article displayed.”  

The Great Christmas Prize Award of 1927 was announced Christmas Eve at City Hall by Mayor Ike Lester. Murray merchants donated prizes for lucky Murrayites to win. The contest was a fundraiser put on by the Murray League. Some prizes were fairly remarkable, some questionable. The grand prize was an automobile won by Mrs. Clifford Birch. Third place winner was Walter Johnson, who took home one pair of blankets. The sixth place prize given to Ms. Blanche Anderson was a toilet. Now before you smirk, consider that in 1927 indoor plumbing was still a recent thing. The 10th place winner was Oscar Sanders, who won a case of peas. In Depression-era Murray, food supplies were welcomed and many top prizes included a 25 pound bag of sugar or flour. Entrants who came in 44th place through 186th place all won a can of auto dressing, which is essentially indoor car polish.