Local News

Then and now: Scenes of Raleigh at Christmas since the 1930s

Posted November 19, 2020 5:08 p.m. EST
Updated November 21, 2020 6:46 p.m. EST

— For decades, Fayetteville Street has been a hub for the holidays. With twinkling lights and a giant Christmas tree, this main street through downtown Raleigh is aglow with generations of holiday memories.

Many locals still fondly recall watching the Raleigh Christmas Parade when it was held at night or walking past the wreaths and bows on their way to watch "A Christmas Carol" at the Memorial Auditorium. Others remember the taste of warm peanuts from the Peanut Man, while peering wishfully into glowing windows of Christmas presents at Taylor's.

Modern Raleigh residents probably have fond memories of browsing booths of local art, while the buildings glowed red and green around them.

Digging through the State Archives of North Carolina for a little old-fashioned holiday nostalgia, memories of Christmas past come pouring back.

Then and now: Scenes of Fayetteville Street at Christmas

Christmas window display at Taylor's in 1946 (Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina)

Window shopping is a common holiday pastime – and the glowing windows at Taylor's would give any 1940s Raleigh resident something to add to their wishlist for Santa.

Boylan Pearce Store Exterior Showing Christmas Decorations, 1948 (Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina)

Having stood on Fayetteville Street since 1911, the Boylan Pearce is a familiar holiday sight. It looks almost the same today as it did when this Christmas photo was snapped in 1948.

Uncle Paul rides a float at the Raleigh Christmas Parade

"It's time to march!" Every kid in Raleigh knew what that meant, and every kid would have been excited to see Uncle Paul on this float in the Raleigh Christmas Parade.

Vintage photo of the Raleigh Christmas Parade, which began in 1939.

Vintage photos of the Raleigh Christmas Parade, which started in 1939, show how much has changed in downtown Raleigh – as well as how much of the city's spirit has remained the same. Crowds gather, just like always, in this classic photo of the parade.

Eckerd's Drug Store Tobacco Counter and Christmas a Decoration 1941 (Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina)

Many locals recall having their first job as a teenager working at the Eckerd's Drug Store on Fayetteville Street. Some Raleigh residents may remember this exact holiday display, put up in 1941.

Christmas window at the G. S. Tucker and Brothers store. (Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina)

Nearby stores on the streets intersecting Fayetteville Street also decorated their windows for the holidays. Some of the window scenes may still ring a bell for locals who have lived in Raleigh for many years.

Pollock's Store Window Showing Christmas Decorations, 1939 (Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina)

Here's a cheerfully decorated window at Pollock's in 1939.

Lions Club Toy Collectors for Christmas Needy Dec 1944. (Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina)

Some things, fortunately, never change, like the spirit of kindness and generosity at Christmas. In 1944, the Lion's Club collected an impressive pile of toys for children from families in need. Look at the bicycles and classic toys!

Comparing the 1930s with 2019

Here is Fayetteville Street, decorated for the holidays in 1938.

Christmas decorations on Fayetteville St, Raleigh, N.C., 1938 (Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina)

Here's a glimpse of how it looked during 2019.

Fayetteville Street at Christmas

The huge Merry Christmas banner is gone, but Raleigh Memorial Auditorium has a giant, twinkling Christmas tree out front.

Raleigh Memorial Auditorium at Christmas, where the local tradition of watching A Christmas Carol takes place.

City Plaza is decorated with red and green lights.

Fayetteville Street at Christmas

Comparing Fayetteville Street across the decades, it's easy to get a glimpse at how Raleigh has changed and evolved throughout the years – but we can also see the traditions that stuck around, generation after generation, connecting us with the Raleigh Christmases past remembered by our grandparents and great grandparents.

Christmas at the Methodist Orphanage in 1951.  (Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina)

Share your Christmas memories!

Do you have photos and memories from Raleigh Christmas past? Share them with WRAL's Hidden Historian at hleah@wral.com, and we might use them in our collection of Christmas memories we will be sharing throughout the holidays!

And if you love Christmas nostalgia, you'll enjoy WRAL Celebrates the Raleigh Christmas Parade – a holiday special full of the sights, sounds and familiar faces from Raleigh Christmas past. It airs Saturday, Nov. 21 at 10 a.m.

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