Annual Christmas Stocking distribution continues
The Annual Christmas Stocking has continued for over 80 years in downtown Ronceverte. It was during the early 1930s, during the depths of the depression, the Ronceverte Rotary Club determined that every child would receive a special gift for Christmas. Children came from all over Greenbrier and Monroe counties to see Santa and receive a Christmas stocking.
“Many times this was the only Christmas children received,” says Keith Morgan, longtime Ronceverte citizen. “Each stocking contained an apple, an orange, a bag of hard candy, a popcorn ball, and most important, a toy surprise.”
The Rotary Club worked with the Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department to coordinate items for the stockings and the fire department was involved with helping Santa with the distribution, as they continue to do to this day.
The stocking project continued to grow over the years. To raise the money for this project, the Snow Queen Pageant was begun. Schools were asked to name a Snow Queen contestant and with the aid of WRON radio station which started in Ronceverte in 1947; the contestants competed for the Snow Queen crown. The people called in certain amounts of money for their favorite contestant. The girl who received the most money from the calls was named Snow Queen and presided during the giving of Christmas stockings. The schools at White Sulphur Springs, Lewisburg, Alderson, and Ronceverte would have contestants from their school. Many talented singing groups or individuals appeared at Ronceverte Clifford Armory the Sunday before Christmas to help with the program and sing selections upon request from the callers.
The girl named Snow Queen received many gifts from the Ronceverte merchants. Then, the day before Christmas, the long line of children would form to get their stocking from Santa. Around 2,000 children received stockings each year.
Many residents, young and old, have fond memories of standing in line for hours awaiting the arrival of Santa.
“In little groups on Edgar Avenue you could hear people saying, ‘Do you remember?’ and then going on to say things like, ‘it was raining, it was snowing, it was very cold – no, on the day I remember it was very warm, almost 75 degrees,’” says Barbara Sweetwood. “Several changes have been made but none so drastic that it changes the real meaning of this event – to give every child something for Christmas regardless of their financial status.”
“I recall standing in line for hours in the bitter cold to get my stocking,” comments Jan Johnson, Ronceverte city recorder. “There was always the thrill of standing there waiting for Santa to arrive and knowing that he would hand out a stocking for every child.”
“The Christmas stocking was always a time for mom to get rid of us kids so she could complete her Christmas shopping,” comments Doug Hylton. “It would be freezing cold out, and my older brother or sister would take us in line to wait to get a stocking. It may have been cold, but once you received the stocking, it made things all better.”
Other events were taking place in Ronceverte during this time. During the shopping season, merchants would distribute numbers tickets to customers. For every dollar spent in a store, a ticket was handed to the customer. On Christmas Eve, numbers would be drawn and ladies filled the streets with their tickets taped to cardboard and in order to check their numbers to see if they won any of the prizes given away by the merchants.
“I remember my Aunt Eileen Shumaker worked at the Ronceverte National Bank,” continues Sweetwood. “As a young girl, I was thrilled when she asked me to check her numbers for her and her name was called winning $25. I was given $12 of her winnings, and I thought I was a millionaire. As a girl, I had never had that much money.”
These Christmas memories continue in Ronceverte. While the Snow Queen Pageant has discontinued with the consolidation of the high schools and junior highs, and the numerous businesses have ceased to continue, Ronceverte still holds the valuable tradition of the Christmas Stocking Giveway. The tradition will continue on Christmas Eve at 2 p.m. at the Clifford Community Center, and indeed it will be a “wonderful day in the neighborhood” says Sweetwood.