The upcoming Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Christmas Parade is billed as Tyler's 30th annual, but the event is far older than its title implies.

In the archives of the Smith County Historical Society, there is no shortage of Christmas season material related to downtown Tyler.

"I knew there was a lot of information for this particular period of time, in the 1950s and 60s, in the chamber of commerce newsletters because we have their picture collection," said archives manager Tiffany Wright, who has been working on a profile of the events for the group's December program.

"Something I've come across, I don't know when it started exactly, was they had a holiday Christmas committee every year and someone was in charge of that," Ms. Wright said. "When the city got decorated for Christmas, I think people thought it was a city program and city money was spent, but it wasn't. The chamber of commerce was raising money with different businesses to pay for all of that."

Wright also was finding lists of the most popular items children asked Santa Claus for during that era.

Bicycles and dolls outstripped all other toys, but one surprising frequent request was cowboy outfits and cowboy boots for boys and girls.

For many years, Tyler Junior College students would build large caricature balloons to display in the Christmas parade. Photos dating back to the 1940s show balloons of everything from pigs to the school's Native American mascot.

For a few years in the 1950s, the city switched to a towering tree made of tinsel.

Another long-forgotten tradition was Santa's Rocket Ship, a festive bus that gave rides to dozens of children at a time. Santa also got a new home on the square in 1963, designed by Shirley Simons Jr. as a public service and constructed at cost of materials by Clanahan Construction.

The Tyler Rotary Club recently took over the Christmas parade, but not much else has changed. The event is still a huge draw that many East Texans consider a family tradition.

The Christmas Parade through the years will be the topic of the next Smith County Historical Society Meeting, presented by Scott Fitzgerald and Tiffany Wright.

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Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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