Annual merry-go-round to open Sunday
Published 3:00 pm Saturday, November 27, 2021
VALLEY — The 65th season of the Christmas Merry Go Round starts at 1 p.m. Sunday. It will run each day, weather permitting, until 5 p.m. EST on Christmas Eve. The hours are 1 to 5 on Sundays, 5 to 9 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Saturdays.
More than three million riders have taken part in this holiday tradition over the years. It began as a gift to children by the West Point Manufacturing Company in 1956. The first site was on a little league baseball field behind the then-still-standing Fairfax Theater on Boulevard. Free rides on a merry-go-round proved to be such a popular attraction that year mill officials decided to do it again the next year and then the next. Some 65 years later, this tradition continues.
The merry-go-round was on the same site in Fairfax from 1956 to 1967. It went to Shawmut Circle for one year in 1968 and then returned to Fairfax, where it would remain through the Christmas season of 2006. In 2007, the merry-go-round went to one of the ball fields at Valley Sportsplex and returned there the following year. In 2009, the merry-go-round made its first appearance on the old Langdale tennis courts, and it has returned there ever since.
The 1956 carousel contained 30 horses and four carriages. The horses were in sets of three and were in such colors as palomino, white, black, gray and bay. Each horse was adorned with a pine wreath and a big red bow around its neck.
Pine garland hung around the carousel railing and on the ramp and archway leading to the entrance chain. Christmas music flowed from inside the center of the carousel and filled the air with holiday cheer. Tickets for the merry-go-round were free and available from a friendly person seated inside a big red candle with a flame on top.
The ground was covered in sawdust, and all around were cedar trees decked in brightly colored lights.
As the years went by, the carousel would have horses that were painted white with black manes and tails. They no longer had the pine wreaths.
The Christmas tradition continued into the 1960s, when West Point Manufacturing became WestPoint Pepperell, and into the 1990s, when the company was renamed WestPoint Stevens. When WestPoint Home went into bankruptcy and gave up sponsorship of a Christmas merry-go-round, the City of Valley stepped up to keep this treasured local tradition going. Several local corporations and businesses help out as sponsors.
Today’s merry-go-round, with horses in twos rather than threes, keeps this tradition going into the 65th year. Last year may have been the most challenging year to keep it going, and a global pandemic had killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The Christmas season tradition continued with COVID-19 precautions in place. Riders were spaced six feet apart while standing in line, and everyone wore masks.
Each Christmas season often sees more than 60,000 carousel riders, and each new season welcomes a fresh crop of new riders. They join many older fans who are still filled with childhood memories as they return to the merry-go-round, returning once more to experience the wonder and magic of it all.
The opening of the Christmas Merry Go Round will usher in this year’s local holiday traditions. Immediately following the 6 p.m. Monday meeting of the Valley City Council, a giant Christmas tree in front of city hall will be lighted. The public is invited to join in some caroling that will take place in celebration of the season. At the same time, the Madonna and Christ Child and the Lansdale Nativity will be lighted for the first time this year. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Madonna and Christ Child. It was designed by James Bledsoe and assembled at the WPMC Service Division. It’s a six-decade tradition for it to be displayed on the radio tower outside the building.
At its 6 p.m. council meeting on Monday, Dec. 6, the Lanett City Council will be hosting a tree lighting ceremony on the playground across from W.O. Lance Elementary School. A large tree will be located at the center of Veterans Park, which is just across the street.
The Valleywide Christmas Parade will be taking place on Thursday evening, Dec. 9. It will start at the same time and follow the same route it has followed in recent years. Lining up will take place between the Cherry Valley Shopping Center and Bluffton Funeral Services. It will start at 6 p.m. and head onto North 12th Street and turn onto West 4th Avenue at the state line in West Point. The route will extend north to West 10th Street, where it will turn right one block to West 3rd Avenue, where it will take another right and head back through Lanett on Highway 29 toward Valley, where the parade will disband at Walmart.