Christmas 50 years ago in East Hampton looked like a fairy tale—aside from the village’s tradition of lining the streets with brightly lighted trees, pageants and parties filled every church, skaters made figure eights on a frozen Town Pond and contests for the best decorations encouraged villagers to make the best of the holiday season.
Despite the joyfulness, there was an undercurrent of sorrow in 1963. Just a month prior to Christmas Day, President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. The holiday was a little more somber than usual. The streets were quieter and business wasn’t as bustling, but the Christmas spirit prevailed.
Early that December, the chairwoman of the Ladies Village Improvement Society, Maude Taylor, spread the word that the organization wanted East Hampton to look especially beautiful to “overcome the general sadness and make our village look bright and gay,” according to an article in a local newspaper. “This is not just business, it’s a community affair,” she said.
And so it was. While flags were at half-staff that Christmas season, evergreens were everywhere and snow had fallen several times before the big day. Mad Men getting off the Cannonball express service from Manhattan were greeted by beautiful lights and decorations the community had carefully put up. Carols were sung and Christmas pageants were performed at many different churches. Guild Hall’s traditional “Christmas Voices” program rounded up singing groups from Pierson High School, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Most Holy Trinity, and Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches.
Stores in downtown East Hampton Village were dressed up for the season, much as they are today. James Marley’s stationery shop, the women’s clothing store the Trude Shop, the five and dime, and jewelry shops carried gifts for family members and special someones.
“You could buy local,” said long-time resident Mary Ella Moeller. “When we were kids, we got relatively inexpensive gifts, usually homemade, and we didn’t get the number of gifts children get now.”
Ms. Moeller, who was 25 in 1963, said her Christmases were spent with family members, who were rooted in East Hampton.
“We would go to midnight service at St. Luke’s and then we would come home and open our gifts,” she said. “My mother always brought plum pudding and we always had turkey.”
Artist Ralph Carpentier, 84 and a resident of Springs, said one of his most vivid memories was of putting on a play with East Hampton sixth-graders.
“Sandra Deboard held a live duck in her arms like a country girl,” he said, fondly remembering the production. “That kind of an event, people don’t do that kind of project anymore. Christmas in East Hampton was more kid-oriented and it seems that people were much more neighborly.”