Decades before the now traditional Peoria holiday festival at Johnny Osuna Memorial Park celebration, the city’s pioneer families celebrated the Christmas season in Varney Tract.
The families in Varney Tract were mostly Hispanic laborers and households were filled with children.
My mother and her best friend across the street had children that paralleled by quantity and age. In fact, most families living in Varney Tract were starting families and had children within months of each other.
My memories of this celebration bring happy thoughts and feelings. They include memories of a jolly man who rode around Varney Tract in the back of a pickup truck. He dressed in a Santa Claus suit shouting “ho-ho-ho” as he threw out Christmas bags to the neighborhood children. The Christmas bags contained precious gifts for all the children, and no one turned their nose up at them.
Although simple, the bags contained items that to this day, bring me happy and grateful feelings reminiscent of Varney Tract childhood Christmases.
The bags were in the shape of a red stocking made of see-through plastic mesh. They had red and white trim with a plastic handle for easy carrying. The stockings contained fresh apples and oranges, several shelled walnuts and hard Christmas candy. The candy was the mixed red and white hard candy and my favorite ribbon candy. Some of my friends remember getting Tootsie Roll candy in their bags as well. The children looked forward to this event every Christmas season, as for some of them it would be their only Christmas gift.
And you may ask, who was the jolly man?
At that time, it wasn’t about who this jolly man was. But later I learned who he was, and he probably knew what great joy he was bringing to this community of primarily Hispanic children. He had several children of his own and lived in Varney Tract as well. He surely was doing this for his children but his love for his children spilled out into his local community.
His name was Juan Acosta. He worked at Glendale Community College helping students navigate through the educational setting. I don’t know where Juan secured the pickup truck that he initially rode. And I don’t know how he secured the firetruck he rode in the following years. Nor do I know where he got the funding to provide the filled stockings or if it was a joint effort with businesses, community and the city.
But I do suspect it was a community effort.
So Juan’s vision to provide a merry Christmas season was mindful and as I see it, prepared the groundwork for a celebration in Peoria that is alive today and is enjoyed by all Peoria residents and the surrounding cities in the West Valley.
Juan was truly a visionary.
Editor’s note: Eva Osuna is a community leader and life-long resident of Peoria’s Acacia District.