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Holidays & History: Nothing warms the heart and soothes the soul like coming home for the holidays — a feeling that’s as true today as it was a hundred years

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Holidays & History: Nothing warms the heart and soothes the soul like coming home for the holidays — a feeling that’s as true today as it was a hundred years

Holidays & History: Nothing warms the heart and soothes the soul like coming home for the holidays — a feeling that’s as true today as it was a hundred years ago. Read more stories about Christmases past.

When Dee Dee and Jimmy Perkins bough a storefront in downtown Brevard to turn it into Rocky’s Grill & Soda Shop, they also unknowingly purchased a piece of Christmases past. There, in the attic of 50 South Broad Street, long forgotten under many years’ worth of dust, they found Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus — animatronic versions, that is, tucked away in their original boxes.

Being suckers for nostalgia — they’d just bought a vintage soda shop, after all — they decided that the Clauses deserved a more festive home. Now, and for each of the past 28 holiday seasons, Mr. and Mrs. Claus slowly wave their candles in the front window of Rocky’s. Behind them, servers dash from table to table, dropping off burgers and refilling drinks. Before them, shoppers rush past with to-do lists and bags filled with holiday gifts. And around them, Mr. and Mrs. Claus have more company than ever. Since 2020, when Heart of Brevard revived the city’s holiday storefront window competition, about 25 shops overflow with twinkling lights, tinsel, and decorations, which seem to get bigger and brighter every year.

Through it all, the Clauses retain their spot of honor at Rocky’s, keeping watch while keeping their own pace. Some things just don’t change at Christmas.

“They have to be part of the window,” Dee Dee says. “I just love the nostalgia of it.”

The tradition of storefront holiday window displays harkens back to the invention of plate glass in the late 1800s. Without sheets of glass, after all, there would be no grand window displays. Macy’s in New York City claims the first Christmas window, having introduced the decorations back in 1874. Year by year, more stores added their own. By the 1920s, New York holiday windows became serious business, and the displays became almost as much of a draw as the merchandise inside.

That tradition worked its way south during the Depression. In December 1938, The Transylvania Times reported that Brevard’s storefront windows had become more elaborate that year, making downtown “more Christmas-i-fied.” Although the newspaper also complained that “some of the youngsters [and a few of the older group] have been ‘letting go’ with firecrackers” around the holiday displays. A little too Christmas-i-fied, perhaps.

Downtown Brevard shines with trees draped in lights, illuminated snowflakes, and businesses decked out for Christmas. Festivities begin in earnest on December 4 with the Downtown Holiday Stroll. photograph by Tim Robison

In December 1941, as the country was reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor, The Transylvania Times announced a window decorating competition to brighten the town and the residents’ spirits during the holidays. The best storefront display would earn a $3 prize. Gradually, the ante was raised, and in 1958, the Chamber of Commerce awarded the first-prize winner $75. It’s impossible not to wonder: Were Mr. and Mrs. Claus there then, too, slowly waving their candles at passersby, attempting to capture that top prize?

In 2020, another national challenge revived the contest in 2020. When Covid-19 cancelled holiday parties and kept people home, the nonprofit Heart of Brevard decided to create a safe way for people to come downtown and feel festive, even if they could only peer into storefronts from the outside. Although the intention was for the holiday window contest to be a one-time affair, the business owners had so much fun that the organization decided to make it an annual event.

Now, the Heart of Brevard Windows Competition and Walking Tour is more about making new holiday memories than winning cash. Last year’s Best Overall winner, Broad Street Wines, won not only an ad in the newspaper but also year-long bragging rights and a spiffy window decal. It’s no small honor; ask shop owners about the past couple of competitions, and they’ll remember exactly who won what.

Joy Poe, a local artist, designed Broad Street Wines’ window. The work was a perfect fit for Poe. While she studied art at Brevard College in the early 2000s, Poe waited tables at Falls Landing Eatery on Main Street. During the holidays, as her last tables of the night lingered over dessert and coffee, Poe would sneak quick walks outside to peer into Brevard’s decorated storefronts. She enjoyed the glow of the mismatched lights and the mingling of merchandise with sparkly holiday scenes, a festive flair with a marketing twist: Number 7 Arts showing off their paintings of winter scenes, D.D. Bullwinkel’s Outdoors using ornaments and scarves as both decoration and advertisement.

With its nod to the downtown Brevard of yesteryear, Broad Street Wines won 2021’s window decorating contest and even managed to incorporate wine glasses into the scenes. photograph by Tim Robison

At Falls Landing, Poe befriended Connie Edmands, a restaurant regular who would go on to become the owner of Broad Street Wines. The two have since become a mighty duo when it comes to decorating storefront windows, creating displays for everything from Valentine’s Day to football season. During Christmas, they go all out. Their display last year was a reimagining of downtown Brevard as a gingerbread village. Those who passed the wine shop got to see buildings they knew so well in gingerbread form. Like Silvermont Mansion, which hosted public Christmas open houses with lavish decorations in the early 1900s — before most people put up Christmas trees in their own homes. The star of Broad Street Wines’ window, however, was a building close to Poe’s heart: St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. It’s where Poe attended Christmas mass with her grandparents as a child.

“The church was lit by candlelight, and they hung boughs and boughs of greenery above the pews and in the nave of the church,” she says. “I had never seen anything so beautiful, and the smell was divine. Not to mention, I was a kid out at midnight!”

Like Poe, many people looking into the wine shop saw more than just cardboard transformed into gingerbread, paint, and glitter. It’s impossible to separate these buildings from the memories they contain.

Window displays, such as the one at the Children’s Museum, capture the imagination of downtown shoppers. photograph by Tim Robison

Meanwhile, down the block, the Claus dolls continue to wave their candles, but their origin story remains a secret. Dee Dee hasn’t been able to learn how long they were in the store or if they even graced the front window of Varner’s, the drugstore that preceded Rocky’s. A search through decades of The Transylvania Times coverage of holiday storefront windows revealed no mentions or photographs of the pair. But, then again, what’s Christmas without Santa stirring up mystery?

Wherever or whenever they came from, Santa and his wife have the right idea. As pretty as the storefront windows are, the Clauses have an even prettier view: looking out at the city that looks in at them. Edmands agrees. Last year, during quiet moments at the wine shop, she would look out the window and watch the people outside, pausing to peek and point to buildings in the gingerbread town that rekindled sweet memories of past Christmases.

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This story was published on Dec 02, 2022

Jen Tota McGivney

Jen Tota McGivney is a freelance writer living in Charlotte.