Wake Forest Continues to Illuminate Its Balls for Holiday Celebration

The holiday season of 2013 is no different than that from years ago. The comfort of tradition can be found in the continuity of our glorious Wake Forest holiday celebrations. And there can be no finer Wake Forest tradition than our annual celebration of a pawnbrokers Christmas.

The traditional illuminated pawnbroker balls have been carefully installed again this year in Wake Forest on North Main Street and are worth a visit, preferably at night, if you can. It’s the best time to easily see and appreciate our balls.

Wake Forest Pawnbroker Holiday Lights
Wake Forest Pawnbroker Holiday Lights

It is said the tradition began soon after the founding of Wake Forest as new immigrants needed to find quick and easy sources of cash to help make ends meet.

Following the Civil War the reliance on pawnbroker balls to help Wake Forest get back on its feet was so warmly appreciated that the annual festival of pawnbroker lights began. And the pawnbrokers back then sincerely appreciated us bringing good cheer to their balls.

The first few celebrations involved a community gathering near the Town well and a robust rendition of the old English pawnbrokers song, “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

Modern residents are simply unaware of the origins of this childhood song and sadly fail to continue the tradition, except in daycare and pre-school.


All around the mulberry bush,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought ’twas all in fun.
Pop! goes the weasel.

A penney for a spool of thread,
A penney for a needle.
That’s the way the money goes.
Pop! goes the weasel.

Up and down the City Road,
In and out of the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes.
Pop! goes the weasel.

Half a pound of tuppenney rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
Mix it up and make it nice,
Pop! goes the weasel.


  • Pop means “to pawn,” and is still common slang today in some areas. Weasel is cockney rhyming slang for coat (weasel and stoat = coat).
  • The City Road is a main road leading from London’s eastern suburbs to the center of London’s business district and the Eagle is a tavern on that road. People today say there is more talk in the Eagle of commodity trading than pawning.
  • Tupenney rice is rice that costs “tuppence” or two pence (plural of penny) per pound.
  • Treacle is British for molasses.

For those who may be unfamiliar with this holiday ball hanging, the holiday illuminated balls are a takeoff of the traditional pawnbrokers three golden ball symbol which you may be historically familiar with.

Longstanding Pawnbroker Symbol
Long-standing Pawnbroker Symbol

The pawnbroker’s symbol shows three balls suspended from a bar. The three-ball symbol is attributed to the Medici Family of Florence, Italy, because of its symbolic meaning of Lombard, referring to the Italian province of Lombardy, where pawn shop banking originated under the name of Lombard banking.

It is now as well established as anything of the kind can be that the three golden balls, which have for so long been the trade sign of the pawnbroker, were originally the symbol which medieval Lombard merchants hung up in front of their houses, and not, as has often been suggested, the arms of the Medici family.

Since the Medicis were so successful in the financial, banking, and money-lending industries, other families also adopted the symbol. Throughout the Middle Ages, coats of arms bore three balls, orbs, plates, discs, coins and more as symbols of monetary success. Pawnbrokers (and their detractors) joke that the three balls mean “Two to one, you won’t get your stuff back”.

Many Others Participate

Here are a few photos of other traditionally rooted homes who just love our history of the pawnbroker Christmas.

Lions Gate Inn Continues Pawnbroker Tradition
Lions Gate Inn Continues Pawnbroker Tradition
Lovely Holiday Balls
More Lovely Holiday Balls

Is It Time for New Traditions?

Not everyone in Town is continuing the traditional celebration and hanging their illuminated balls out front.

Folks over on South Main Street are trying to start a new tradition of celebrating a Merry Single Wide Mobile Home Christmas. Who knows, with support and underwriting from Clayton Homes, it might just break through.

Single Wide Merry Christmas
Single Wide Merry Christmas. Holiday Mouse says, “Hey!”

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