Showcasing Christmas Past (or Far Away and Long Ago)

Showcasing Christmas Past (or Far Away and Long Ago)
If you want to see some really, really big Christmas trees, go to the display case in the lower narthex and look for two pictures of the chancel from the 1970’s.  One year the trees were not only full, they were taller than the balcony railing.  Pastor Daehler Hayes headed up a group of men who drove a truck to the Poconos, felled the trees, brought them back to 4th & Race and somehow got them upright in front of the chancel.  Daehler assured the congregation that the owners of the property where the trees grew needed their forest to be thinned and were happy to give the trees to Old First.

It was also Daehler Hayes who also started Old First’s tradition of a live crèche.  For a while or perhaps initially, the animals came from the New Jersey farmer who supplied the steamship rounds of beef roasted for the hot roast beef sandwiches sold at the church’s monthly food festivals.   It was Daehler again who persuaded Shriners in Delaware to loan Old First their camel, Sheik, for the crèche.  Sheik routinely knocked down the mannequins and tried to eat anything he could get close to—including Mary’s clothing.  In another crèche incident, John Painter, a transplanted Pennsylvania Dutchman and longtime member of Old First, was working in the church one weekday when he noticed a cow walking down Race St.  He thought nothing of it until the realization hit–“That’s our cow!”  While looking at the crèche photos, look at the one with a pile of Belgian blocks behind a cow.  You can see that the church yard was no real yard then and that the restoration was very much an on-going project.

On the left side of the display notice pictures from Markusgemeinde in Bielefeld.  Members of Markusgemeinde who visited us in the 90’s liked the idea of a live animal crèche so much that they decided to have one of their own.  The triangular stable is pure German and the only animals Markusgemeinde has are sheep, but their antecedent crèche is Old First’s.  Also shown are photos of their hand-carved nativity set.

Lastly, the photo at the top left of the display shows the church school stage in 1927–the year the congregation celebrated its first Christmas at 50th & Locust.  The church school stage was the focus of the White Gift celebration and plays based on the Christmas story were an important part of White Gift Sunday.  Copies of several of these plays are in the archives.  Through the 70’s, the White Gift custom was for people to bring money in white envelopes.  In later years the gifts also included socks and underwear wrapped in white paper.  The money collected went to retired pastors in financial need; the clothing went to the homeless.