Sydneysiders, a century ago, viewed the Mountains as a haven from “the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city” (Banjo Patterson); a healthy environment to which they could escape for a pleasant Christmas holiday.
Train travel empowered a Christmas exodus from the town to the Mountains. Facilities at every stop enabled holiday makers to visit favourite beauty spots, where tourist services such as tracks, guide posts, seats and safety rails soon sprang up to cater for the visitors.
The Daily Telegraph, January 9 1886, recounted the story of a family which travelled to Lawson on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day, miserable and wet, was celebrated with a huge baked dinner with all the trimmings in their boarding house. Later, they enjoyed a regular Mountains evening, playing card games and charades, entertaining each other with musical items. One lady played the ukulele.
This family, enjoying a typical summer activity on Boxing Day, departed on the 10.30am train to Bowenfels to experience the thrill of the Great Zigzag.
They enjoyed the magnificence of the views, but their pleasure turned to a “fearsome thrill” as they descended the Zigzag, gazing out the windows down the steep valley side at the lower line running almost parallel to the track on which they slowly descended. Even further down was a third track running in the direction of their present course. It made them “giddy” as they gazed from their carriage windows.
People then explored Eskbank, Lithgow or Bowenfels, before re-joining the 3.15pm train headed back up the Mountains.
Other Mountains attractions included the many walks designed to carry visitors down the cliffs into the cool depths of the forest below. Often the walk ended in a picnic.
Some visitors, wanting to engage more fully with the Australian bush, undertook hiking and camping holidays in the Megalong Valley where they also indulged in horse riding.
The Railway Commissioners ran 20 trains from Sydney to the Mountains on Christmas Eve, 1918. All were packed.
Father Christmas, “direct from Lapland”, handed out gifts to children who were either poor or sick in Mt Victoria, Blackheath and Penrith beginning on Monday, November 9 1931, in a publicity stunt sponsored by Anthony Hordern and Sons Ltd, to advertise their newly remodelled gift department.
On Friday, December 29 1933, the Blue Mountains Times reported that businessmen in the Mountains were gratified with Christmas takings and every boarding house and furnished cottage had been full to capacity.
In 1934, F. Juergens of Katoomba street advertised that Father Christmas was one of his customers, purchasing toys, dolls, books and many other items.
Commercialisation had entered the Christmas story in the Mountains.