Spartanburg’s Holidays Through the Decades

Take a tour of Christmas and Chanukah through the decades, with Spartanburg County Historical Association's new exhibit, Spartanburg Holiday Traditions. See floats and photos of parades of Christmas past, a Victorian home decorated in nod to the annual Dickens of a Christmas festival, Chanukah artifacts, and the exhibition showstopper, James "Buck" Buchanan's restored "A Visit From St. Nick" shadowbox dioramas.

Take a tour of Christmas and Chanukah through the decades, with Spartanburg County Historical Association’s new exhibit, Spartanburg Holiday Traditions. The Regional History Museum is located on the top floor of Chapman Cultural Center’s Carlos Dupre Moseley Building, and is open Tuesday through Friday 10am-5pm, and Saturday 11am-4pm.

See floats and photos of parades of Christmas past, a Victorian home decorated in nod to the annual Dickens of a Christmas festival, Chanukah artifacts, and the exhibition showstopper, James “Buck” Buchanan’s restored “A Visit From St. Nick” shadowbox dioramas.

Due to social distancing guidelines and the large crowds usually drawn to Downtown Spartanburg, 2020’s Dickens of a Christmas festival and the annual Christmas Parade (presented by the Spartanburg Jaycees) were unfortunately canceled for COVID-19 safety. But, the festive spirit lives on through this exhibit! Can you spot yourself, or your parents, in these vintage festival photos?

Perhaps the most famous pieces of the exhibition are James “Buck” Buchanan’s historic “A Visit From St. Nick” shadowbox dioramas. Buchanan created the set of eight miniature dioramas in 1954 with the assistance of Mary Butler, based on a larger display from 1946 and Clement Moore’s famous poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

The Aug. W. Smith Company was a well-known department store in Downtown Spartanburg, and the building today is historically renovated to its 1926 original charm, (174 East Main St.) The store was known for both high-quality merchandise and its creative window displays by Buchanan.

While technically proficient and highly detailed, these dioramas are more famous in Spartanburg for their nostalgia factor than their beauty. The miniature scenes returned year after year to the department store’s holiday windows, until Aug. W. Smith moved out of downtown in the 1980s. At that time, the displays disappeared into storage for decades until their restoration by local artists and miniaturists, Matt and Hannah Sterling.

The annual Dickens of a Christmas festival celebrates a Victorian Christmas, with carolers in full-Edwardian garb, lights throughout downtown, street musicians, window displays and dance performances, ice skating on Morgan Square, and more. In lieu of this year’s festival outdoors, take a closer look at what Victorian Christmas celebrations looked like in the home— with mince pies, vintage greeting cards, table settings, and period furniture and decorations.

While the majority of the Holiday Traditions exhibit features nostalgic festivals and stories of local history, two features also highlight the religious “reasons for the season.”

Chanukah, or Hanukkah, is an eight day Jewish celebration that follows the lunar calendar. This year, Chanukah begins December 10th, and ends on December 18th.

On loan from Temple B’Nai Israel (146 Heywood Ave) and Rabbi Yossi and Carrie Liebowitz, view a variety of traditional and whimsical Menorahs— such as an elegant tree, bright ceramic doves, and even a motorcycle. Also on display are a stitched Yarmulke, or Kippah, skull cap, Siddur text, and local photos.

Also on loan from local families and congregations, a variety of Christmas nativities greet you at the museum doors. The holy families range from wooden to ceramic, handcrafted by artisans to handmade by young artists.

The exhibition will be on display at Spartanburg Regional History Museum through December. Stop by, tag us in your photos (@intheburg864,) and we hope you enjoy this nostalgic and festive display!