Christmas in Pioneertown

Santa Claus came down Pioneertown’s Mane Street in a covered wagon on December 25, 1947. Pioneertown wasn’t a year old yet, but it was bustling with building and plans. The population had almost reached its peak… there ‘were about 300 people, 68 horses, 43 dogs, 29 cats, 4 canaries, 2 Love Birds and 1 parrot. Eight shops had been built along Mane Street and half a dozen homes had been completed around town. There were a few more homes and a motel in Rimrock. Most of the people lived in temporary makeshift quarters… tents, trailers, unfinished cabins, converted ranch buildings and abandoned prospectors’ shacks. They didn’t mind the housing shortage; they were enjoying their pioneering in spite of the problems, not enough indoor room and no conveniences.

The only electricity was along Mane Street, produced by a generator whose thump-thump was a constant sound in the background of everyone’s mind. Kerosene lamps and lanterns were the usual source of light. Most families used wood stoves for cooking and heating.

As the holiday season approached, parents became concerned about how to make Christmas seem like Christmas, especially those with children old enough to remember the fuss and glitter of former holidays. Many of the townspeople had no families nearby … they were construction workers, newly arrived shop owners overseeing building, older couples moved into their new desert homes, and transients who liked the new desert town. For most, the traditional sharing of Christmas would be missing.

At a town meeting in the schoolhouse someone suggested a big community Christmas Tree right on Mane street. Someone else said there should be a community Christmas morning with an exchange of small presents by everyone in town. It was a happy solution. Names were put into hats, adults in one and children in another, and the hats were passed. Each person drew a name and wrapped a gift.

Two weeks before Christmas a truck and cutting crew went off into Pipes Canyon early in the morning to select and cut a tree. A big one, everyone hoped. Late that afternoon, the tree… it was a big one … arrived on Mane street and more crews turned out to unload it and get it up on a stand. Women and children had gone out to the scrub oak groves to gather oak apples by the boxful. Others went up the canyons where the pinyons were plentiful and brought back pine cones. Everyone with a free hour or so made ornaments: painted and gilded tin can lids, shiny spirals from the cans; gilded and silvered pine cone; strings of red and gold and silver oak apples; and long foil chains. A great silver foil star was wired to the top spire. For a week, the trimming continued with the building crews spending their late after-noon spare time carrying bushel baskets of ornaments up the ladders to the top branches. Everyone else trimmed from the ground, each at his own level.

It was a beautiful Christmas Tree and it dominated the street. Children played around it during the day and began to count the days until Christmas. Tourists stopped at the tree to take pictures. The feel of Christmas was in the air.

All the gifts were collected in great boxes in the Land Office. By Christmas Eve the boxes were overflowing.

His helpers had been busy during the night filling stockings around town, but Santa, himself, was making a special early morning trip to Pioneertown before returning to the North Pole. He left his sleigh ap.d reindeer on a hilltop somewhere between Big Bear and Rimrock, emptied his bag in the old covered wagon that stood nearby, climbed aboard to sit by the driver and was soon rumbling off down the dusty road to Mane Street. Four cowboys rode shotgun to protect the cargo.

In Pioneertown, a scout sat his horse on a high knoll just outside town. When the dust of the wagon came in sight, he fired his revolver as a signal to the people waiting in town. The bell at the Antique Shop tolled out and everyone headed for the tree.

Then the wagon came into sight at the end of Mane Street, rolling along at breakneck pace. The bell rang out again and youngsters yelled in excitement, pushing to the front of the crowd for a better view. Dogs ran up and down the street, friends shouted greetings. The clip-clop of the running horses, the creaking of the wagon added to the clamor. Santa waved from his seat beside the driver and his shouted “Merry Christmas” stilled the crowd as the wagon rolled to a stop beside the Christmas Tree.

The outriders pulled back the canvas cover and the children Oh-h-hed in wonder and delight at the great pile of packages in the back of the wagon.

Santa stood by the seat, and as the outriders handed him a package, he read the name and held out the gift. The pile dwindled rapidly and happy youngsters with their arms full eagerly waited for one more package. When the last package had been handed out, Santa jumped down to greet the children individually. The outriders rode off toward the corral, and suddenly Santa disappeared. Children in the milling crowd, looking for a last glimpse of him, looked in vain.

Families started homeward to unwrap their gifts. Others, lingering to longer savor the sharing of Christmas, wandered into the Red Dog, the Grubstake Cafe and the Coffee Shop. Happy “Merry Christmas” greetings floated from group to group along Mane Street.