Christmas Eve in an Atlanta of old

Ralph McGill was editor and publisher of The Atlanta Constitution.

This column, edited here for space, ran in The Atlanta Constitution Dec. 25, 1938.

From the office window I watched Christmas eve come to Atlanta. It came slowly across a cloudy sky. Dusk came creeping down the street; “first dark,” as the Negroes call it.

Smoke from the trains billowed up. Lights took on a yellow sheen. The sidewalks were crowded with hurrying people. Old, young, messenger boys, children, all a part of the parade, all going somewhere.

Big buses pulled to the curb, let off passengers, took on passengers. Bicycles went by. The traffic jammed. Police whistles cut the air. Street cars edged their way along.

all arms held bundles. A messenger boy went by, the long neck of a turkey hanging from a sack on his back. It was too high up to see the faces but one knew, watching, they were, with but few exceptions, eager with anticipation.

Up to the windows came the noise of the city; the voice of the city. In it is the noise of trains, of buses, of police whistles, of honking automobile horns, of the sibilant sound of feet on the pavements; in it is train smoke, smoke from the exhausts of buses and cars; smells of food from restaurant doors and hamburger places; in it is the smell of winter and of rain from the cloudy skies; in it is … a silent tide of sentiment. All try to express it. The Negro with the big package and the poor coat; the white man with the package and the ragged coat; the man who reels and whose friend supports him by the arm; the girl in the fur coat with the dainty package tied with ribbons; the fat woman who clutches a bundle — all of them are a part of the voice of the city and of Christmas Eve.

Darkness comes on and blots them a bit, making shadows, showing faces suddenly white and as suddenly gone in the light from a window or the headlights of a car.

The story of the first Christmas is a majestic, tremendous story because of its simplicity and its subject. It, too, was a part of the city.

That, too, had its accompanying voices. There were the narrow streets, the crowded city, the soft sound of the feet of camels and donkeys, the smell of spices and the odors from the shops and houses.

And there was Herod, plotting and preparing to go out and slay cruelly and wantonly. There are those, cruel and harsh, who seek by terror to build strength. They will be forgot or remembered with curses as is Herod. The story of the first Christmas will be remembered when all their names are dust.

I will never forget Christmas of a year ago. We were in Copenhagen, Denmark. The man who reels and whose friend supports him by the arm; these remained. All others had gone home.

We awakened early that morning in a silent house. Outside there was snow falling and over the quiet city there came the sound of the great cathedral bells.

It was a lonely, solemn sort of morning. The Danes take Christmas at home. In the city there were no restaurants open, no clubs, no entertainment … . There were only a few lonely visitors to attend them.

The year has gone very fast. It is good to spend this one at home and to wish for you all a very merry Christmas and to say, with Tiny Tim, “God bless us every one.”