I was just a kid in 1976 when I arrived in Minot. Well, OK, a bit more than a kid, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science. My first job? I took a job as a commercial writer at the local NBC affiliate, KMOT-TV. I started on November 1st and was into the Christmas rush within a few hours of starting my job.
For 20+ days I worked 12-14 hours a day. KMOT-TV had an FM radio station and I also picked up shifts as a board operator/DJ.
On Thanksgiving week, I did one of my co-workers a favor and picked up the Thanksgiving morning radio shift. Once my shift ended, I experienced a new kind of lonely. It was Thanksgiving Day, and there was no one to share it with. What was more, all of those places that did Thanksgiving dinners were kind of pricey for a young graduate starting his first job. I knew how to cook, it just hadn’t occurred to me that I would be left without anyone to share Thanksgiving with, even if I had decided to cook. Like I said, it certainly was a different type of lonely.
But cheer up young man. You can call home and have a conversation with your parents…which only made things worse. They told me about their Thanksgiving, and how my older brother and younger sister had made their way home to join Mom, Dad and my baby brother in Maddock, ND for Thanksgiving dinner. I hung up the phone, because you were actually getting charged for long distance calls in 1976, and took a deep breath…well actually it was more of a sigh of “woe is me” emotions.
Friday morning finally came. Hey, maybe I could do this Black Friday thing! You know, take what little cash I had and buy some Christmas presents. I wasn’t one of the first people in the door at Sears, but I got there to purchase several of those bargains. Work started at 8 a.m., and conversations amongst co-workers quickly turned to Thanksgiving. And I sat there waiting for the question that I would dread the most…”What did you do for Thanksgiving, Rod?” There was no way to make my Thanksgiving day anything but bleak.
In a TV station, you have a TV running in just about every room. I caught a glimpse of an event, yes right here in downtown Minot. The lighting of the downtown Christmas tree would happen at 6 p.m. that very day. Decision made. I would be there to witness this event, no matter how cold and snowy it would be, and it was cold and snowy. Main Street Minot was absolutely packed that night. There were carolers on several corners. Santa was in one of the downtown store windows, there was a horse drawn sleigh, and there were Christmas lights strung between buildings on Main Street. How perfect is this? Somewhat gone were all of my Thanksgiving Day blues, replaced with the warmth of the Christmas season.
And then, as advertised, right at 6 p.m. the lights on the tree were turned on. There was a cheer from the crowd, and then applause.
Fast forward to 2022. It was 5:45 when Chloe Marie started her Christmas carols on the big stage on Main Street. The tree was ready, all decorated, and most important the VIPs were gathered for the tree lighting ceremony which would start at 6 p.m. once again. Several of our VIP’s were from Minot Air Force Base, including Col. Daniel Hoadley and Col. Kenneth McGhee. Mayor Tom Ross was first at the podium and he asked how many people were witnessing their first ever tree lighting.
And then it hit me. As in 1976, many of the people were there, at the corner of Main and Central in downtown Minot, to catch the start of the Christmas season. As Col. Hoadley said, the lights on Christmas stand for unity, the unity between the city of Minot and Minot Air Force Base. How many of those in the audience were first year Airmen spending their first Thanksgiving away from home? How many Minot AFB families were in the crowd?
True, they were families and not necessarily alone, but they needed to experience the warmth of the season whether it be Thanksgiving or Christmas.
As President of the Downtown Business and Professional Association, I was asked several times how long the Tree Lighting Ceremony has been going on. My answer: at least 47 years, but when I first saw it in 1976, it seemed like it had been going on for quite some time.
To all of the Minot AFB personnel and dependents that came downtown, thank you! Thank you for serving your country in what can at times be a very challenging climate. And if you were there on Friday and felt some of the warmth of the Downtown Open House, it was certainly genuine. Welcome to Christmas in the Magic City. Some traditions never change.