The City Magazine Since 1975

Saving Christmas

December 2017
Saving Christmas
WRITER: 

The Albert Sottile House’s cedar tree is decked annually with Christmas lights

Long before Charleston sponsored an official Christmas tree in Marion Square, the Sottile family shared theirs with the city in the yard of their elegant Queen Anne home on the corner of College and Green streets.

In 1921, Albert Sottile strung electric lights around a conifer easily seen by the public. Each night at 5 p.m., his wife began playing Christmas albums on the Victrola; folks gathered to gaze and listen to the tunes broadcast from a speaker in the tree. If the family skipped a day, their doorbell rang, as someone from the expectant crowd asked for music, please. The display continued until World War II brought on blackout restrictions.

Over time, the house was sold to the College of Charleston, and the streets were closed for pedestrian malls. Eventually, plans called for the removal of the deodar cedar, relit in 1986. Students rallied to rescue it, noting it had been “delightfully festooned with Christmas lights for years.” In the end, they saved the College’s tradition of a caroling ceremony, as well as Charleston’s first electrically lit Christmas tree.  

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Photograph courtesy of College of Charleston