Decking the Halls

Did you Know…

A newspaper ad from the early 1900s, promoting trips on the Santa Fe Railroad to California for the holidays.If you wandered into an area mall in the days before Halloween this year, you might have seen your first Christmas decorations, already up and ready for holiday shoppers. Craft stores seem to have the holiday décor on display even before then – as they phase out the flip-flops and surfboards, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and yes, even Christmas and Hanukkah decorations show up on the shelves.

Such a long holiday season may seem like overkill, but is likely preferable to a 1659 Massachusetts law that would fine anyone who hung Christmas decorations at any time (oh, those Puritans!). We’re not 100% sure about how early or late in the season people decorated, but in Phoenix in 1895, the first ads for Christmas didn’t appear in the newspaper until the beginning of November and most waited until mid-December before reminding people to buy presents and food for the upcoming holiday. As a matter of fact, to them, the term “Black Friday” would have hearkened back to September 24, 1869, when the U.S. gold market crashed, sending the stock market plummeting. Not exactly a harbinger for a happy holiday season!

An old, black and white photo of a happy boy with a table top Christmas tree, gifts, and vintage toys, circa 1900.During the Victorian era, the Christmas “season” lasted for 12 days (yes – with pipers piping, lords a leaping, and an inordinate amount of diverse fowl all over the place), beginning with Christmas day and ending on January 5th, before the Christian celebration of Epiphany.

Christmas décor consisted of evergreen boughs and small trees, fresh flowers, fruit and other plants like holly, mistletoe, and ivy. Helpful hints for decorating for the holidays could be found in newspapers and magazines, including these tips from The Ladies’ Home Journal (1892).  Take note of the parts where they instruct readers to place mistletoe and holly on their dinner table – both of these plants are poisonous!

Christmas trees started becoming popular in the United States in the 1850s, with the first trees being sold commercially during that decade, and President Franklin Pierce displaying the first tree in the White House in 1856. Trimming the tree involved using flowers and fruit, delicate glass or ceramic ornaments, though many ornaments were handmade. The first trees were either unlit, or were lit with candles (hello, fire hazard!). Electric lights on trees came later in the century, and were billed as an excellent way to avoid burning your house down for the holidays (find out more about the history of Christmas lights here).

A newspaper ad for Bertram's Electric Company Christmas lights, circa 1911.However and whatever you celebrate and decorate, we hope you have fun and safe holiday season!

Learn how artificial Christmas trees are made with this video.

Learn where your live Christmas tree comes from with this video.

Love the Square?

Show your support by becoming a Member, purchasing something from our museum store, or donating to help us support our mission!