Willoughby: Davy Crockett and Christmas programs
As a teacher and principal I worked on or presided over at least 25 school Christmas/holiday programs. This time of year memories of the joy, excitement, and wonder expressed by children performing for parents and strangers stir my soul. Then there are my own childhood memories.
There was no kindergarten when I started in Aspen’s schools, but beginning in first grade there was an annual holiday program. Each grade, through sixth, dressed in costume made an appearance and sang in an operetta. The acting parts were given to sixth graders.
The setting was what is now called the Red Brick Building, for us then it was the stage in the gym. One memory is how high the stage was above the gym floor. We got to look down on our parents if we followed our teachers’ directions to look at the audience instead of looking at our feet.
I don’t recall all of them, but a couple stand out. I think one was my first time on the stage, first grade. All I remember is that we were Christmas cookies. With parent help, we decorated pieces of cardboard that were nearly as tall as we were. The operetta was about what happened when Santa Claus met with an accident in the Swiss Alps. Not sure what cookies had to do with it or if there was any educational goal, but it made us all dedicated cookie decorators for life.
The next year the operetta was titled, ‘Where is Santa’ and 190 of us traipsed across the stage and sang songs. The music teacher then was Frank Gerzina who also taught the middle school and high school bands. Every year Mona Frost, the sixth grade teacher, was the accompanist and she also maintained order. All she had to do was make eye contact with you and you ceased the distraction.
What made that year stand out was the boys in our class wore coonskin caps. This was the year the national fad spread, even to isolated Aspen. It is odd we were caught up in it as the impetus was a Disney television program about Davy Crockett, but Aspen did not yet have television.
At its peak 5,000 hats sold each day and Davy Crockett became, for our generation, a national hero. Fess Parker played Davy in the television series and recorded the song Davy Crockett. I think we sang that song in the operetta, but if not we still learned it. Most of the lyrics have disappeared from my memory, but the refrain, ‘Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier’, is still lodged in my brain.
I have no memory of the operetta the next year but it was titled ‘Little Blue Angel’. The girls were dressed as angels. Maybe because we boys were far from angelic they kept us in the background.
The annual operetta was one of the highlights of the school year for both students and parents. It got everyone in the mood for the holidays. About a week later Santa paid Aspen a visit at an evening event put on by parents and especially cherished by those of us with a sweet tooth as cookies and candy were in abundance.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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As a token gesture, the city of Aspen plans to donate money to the communities that have suffered from last month’s Marshall Fire.