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
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
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
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.