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Pranksters? Vintage Christmas Parade Videos? Sunday Program Explores Knoxville's Christmases Past 

Take a stroll down Gay Street and glance up at the lit trees, the garland and ribbons - the 100,000 downtown holiday lights. Whether you’re a visitor or a multi-generational Knoxvillian, you can safely conclude one thing this time of year: Knoxville loves Christmas.

But did you know that Knoxville was tardy by about 50 years, historically speaking, in acknowledging Christmas and embracing what have since become traditions? Or did you know that locals would spread holiday cheer by pulling extravagant pranks on their neighbors?

The Knoxville History Project and the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound (TAMIS) are teaming up for "Knoxville's Christmas History in Print, Photo, and Film," a program this Sunday that will delve into the evolution of Christmas in Knoxville. The public is invited to glimpse into Knoxville's Christmas past with a wealth of stories, photographs and rare video footage.

"Knoxville's Christmas History in Print, Photo, and Film" will be offered from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, at the East Tennessee History Center, 601 S. Gay St. in downtown Knoxville. The event is free, but donations are appreciated.

Christmas Parades in downtown Knoxville from TAMIS on Vimeo. Catch scenes from the 1928, 1951, 1953 and 1979 holiday parades.

Historian and Knoxville History Project Executive Director Jack Neely will share local stories from the 1800s, sign copies of his new book, "A Knoxville Christmas" (a good stocking stuffer!), and recount the borderline malicious pranks that have occurred on Christmas Eve.

“Some pranks were dangerous,” said Neely, “like greasing streetcar tracks. But one recurring theme was the idea of taking apart a wagon and reassembling it on the victim's roof. A very odd thing to do, but in the late 19th century, it happened over and over.”

Yikes! Try explaining that one to your insurance company!

Neely also will share his knowledge of Knoxville’s Christmas roots, starting with a brief flurry of holiday spirit in the 1820s, possibly encouraged by the writings of Washington Irving. But for years after, there was an almost complete lack of interest in celebrating the holiday.

"Christmas is so elemental to Christians today, it's hard to picture a time when most American Christians didn't celebrate it, or even notice it go by," Neely said. "For Knoxville's first half-century or so, some didn't know about it; some had heard of it but considered it a Catholic or 'foreign' holiday; and some fundamentalists actively disapproved of it."

According to Neely, it wasn’t until the late 1800s - influenced by the writings of Charles Dickens and an influx of Catholic immigrants - that the modern American Christmas came to exist.

Along with Neely’s talk on Sunday, don’t miss TAMIS’ display of black-and-white pictures and screenings of vintage home videos and footage of past Christmas parades. TAMIS Assistant Archivist John Morton is excited to share the collection with Knoxville.

“Moving images and recorded sound can resurrect textures, fashions, mannerisms and relationships in ways that elude other media,”  Morton said.

TAMIS' assortment of treasures, he said, would not be the same if it weren’t for contributions made by local families.

“We are keenly aware that some of our outstanding collection items were donations from ordinary citizens in the city,” Morton said. “Audio-visual records are uniquely rich artifacts to experience. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you can do the math for a film comprised of 16 to 24 images per second."

Do not let the opportunity to experience a unique display of Knoxville’s history slip by! You never know what kind of trivia you’ll pick up that you can repeat and impress your holiday visitors.

- Communications intern Celeste Lord

TAMIS' archives are a playground for historians.
TAMIS' archives are a playground for historians. The moving image collection - dating back to 1915 - contains more than 5,000 reels and videotapes of home movies, documentaries, advertisements, industrial and training films, commercial films, TV programming and newsreels, all with local or regional connections.

Its audio collection includes vintage radio programming, recordings, and oral histories and field recordings dating back to the 1930s.

Posted by evreeland On 06 December, 2017 at 4:10 PM