Stories By: Chelsea Clements & Elizabeth Lowe and Max Newfield:
If you find yourself in Valley, Alabama during the Christmas season, you will feel the true magic of the holiday, especially at the Sports Complex of the Valley Community Center. There lies a favorite part of every Valley child’s Christmas, the Valley Merry-Go-Round. From first kisses to family traditions, this special place holds many cherished memories for the people of the city of Valley. This 20-horse merry-go-round started in 1956 when it was first given to the Valley area children as a Christmas gift from West Point Pepperell Mill Company. Ever since then, riding the carousel has been a tradition that more than 60,000 people take part in during every holiday.
Even though the famous merry-go-round moved to the community sports center from the ball field near the senior center in 2008, people still continue to ride year after year. Many older citizens of Valley still vividly remember the fond memories that they had with their families on the carousel back in the days of their youth. The enchantment one feels driving into the Valley Sportslex and seeing the merry-go-round covered in Christmas garland and bright, colorful lights is indescribable. Not only do the people of Valley celebrate this tradition, but people also come from miles to enjoy this ride of Christmas joy, free of charge. Fundraisers are held throughout the year by companies like Knology and Greater Valley Development Company to sponsor the free event every year.
Valley citizens from all over come to enjoy the merry-go-round, but they get more than just a ride, they get the company of others who have shared the same childhood memories of the delightful tradition. Passing on this heart-felt tradition to the next generation gives grandparents great joy as they watch their grandchildren ride for the first time. Married couples come back year after year to reminisce the first time they laid eyes on each other, knowing that without this tradition they would have never met. One Valley lovebird, Ashley Jeffers, remembers the first day with her husband-to-be at the merry-go-round years ago, “I couldn’t have asked for a better first date than that. It was so pretty with the Christmas decorations and lights, I’d been going for years but saw it differently that night, now it’s something I get to share with our kids one day, that’s something that many people can’t do, this merry go round doesn’t just bring me joy once a year but everyday knowing without that date, I wouldn’t be with my husband.” Many people can agree that this is not just a town tradition, but a family tradition that will be carried on for generations. For Valley citizens, there is no other way to spend Christmas than by riding the merry-go-round. Christmas is about family; if you are in need of an experience to get in the spirit of the holiday season, take a trip to Valley’s great gold carousel to start your own family tradition. (Clements & Lowe)
In the history of Valley’s Christmas celebrations, the merry-go-round is the rock in the river of change. “It’s just not Christmas if you don’t ride the carousel,” says Suellen Snowden, the director of the recreation department. Snowden says the merry-go-round was established in the Valley area in 1956. Since then, more than two million people have ridden the great gold carousel, she said. “West Point Pepperell started bringing it in every year. They put it over in Fairfax on the old ball field and children rode it for free,” Hendrix says. The merry-go-round moved from the ball field in front of the senior center to the community sports center in 2008. Regardless of its location, the 20-horse merry-go-round keeps spinning in its sawdust covered patch of field, still covered in garland and shining lights. Companies like Knology and Greater Valley Development Company help sponsor the annual event, and the merry-go-round is still free to ride. “A lot of people come home just for the carousel; it’s one of the stops they always make,” Snowden says. “It gives people an opportunity to catch up on everything they’ve missed. Some people come and never even ride it; they just come to see other people.” Snowden says the communal atmosphere around the carousel is what has made the carousel a mainstay in Valley Christmas. “I think it was such an important part of everybody’s holidays that people don’t want to see it go,” Snowden says. “Christmas is about family. You share everything at Christmas time. The merry-go-round is another opportunity to spend time with your family and it just puts you in the Christmas spirit.” Snowden says she hopes the merry-go-round continues to put people in the Christmas spirit for many years to come. “As long as there is a demand for it, the tradition will still be alive,” Snowden says. “I know the younger generations like it, but not like us. We were tied to the textile industry and it was such a part of us growing up. I never thought about losing anything like it. So the carousel is a way to continue on with what we grew up with.” (Newfield)
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