The Palm Springs Community Church was located between Indian Canyon and North Palm Canyon or about where the Town and Country Center is today.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The story begins in 1927 when a Christmas celebration was planned for the children who attended the Community Church in the little village of Palm Springs.
The Community Church was a white framed building surrounded by a white picket fence located on the southeast corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Andreas Road. Two young teachers planned a Christmas party for the children who attended the Palm Springs Community Church. They set up a Christmas tree outside the front doors of the church and the decorations on the tree sparkled in the desert sun.
The children of the congregation played around the tree and many youngsters whose parents were not members of the Community Church began to gather around the picket fence. Many of the children gathering outside the fence belonged to Mexican and Indian families who were Catholic and lived on the reservation in Section 14 just a block away.
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Both the children and the teachers began to feel uncomfortable playing around the tree while their friends from school stood outside the fence. The teachers did not know what to do and then they saw Nellie Coffman, the owner and operator of The Desert Inn, walking by the corner with a bag of groceries in her arms. The two young girls asked Coffman if they should ask the children to join the party, but they realized that they did not have enough cookies or gifts for all of the children.
Coffman answered, “On Christmas, there should be a tree and a gift for every child in Palm Springs. Bring them over to the Inn.”
The Desert Inn always had a beautifully decorated tree for its guests during the holidays. When the children arrived they were welcomed with refreshments and given apples, oranges, raisins and dates to take home as their Christmas gift.
In the 30+ years that followed, the Community Christmas Tree became one of Palm Springs’ and The Desert Inn’s annual holiday traditions. Every child in Palm Springs was invited to attend the celebration held the week before Christmas. Members of the Women’s Business Club collected and wrapped gifts for the children who attended. Local businesses gave toys and candy or money to purchase gifts so Palm Springs could keep this special Christmas tradition going.
The village-wide tradition added more extravagances each year. By the 1930s, visits by old St. Nicholas were arranged and he handed out stockings stuffed with goodies. During World War II, toys were collected and repaired by the Boy Scouts and then the repaired dolls were put in newly made dresses by the Girl Scouts. When Coffman died in 1950, the location of the event changed but the annual tradition continued for many more years to come.
In 1952, Earle Strebe opened his movie theater and hosted the village’s children to see A Miracle on 34th Street for free. Santa handed out stockings to the children who attended. In 1958, the Business Women of Palm Springs put together over 2,000 gift packages and distributed them to every elementary school in the city.