Holiday decorating through the ages

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Colchester County museum exhibit explores Christmas traditions

By Elinor Maher

The current exhibit on the main floor of the Colchester Historeum takes a nostalgic look back at Christmas decorating over the past 120 years.

Before the First World War, almost everything related to Christmas decorations came from Germany. The Great War put an end to this supply and some North American merchants looked to Japan to fill the demand for holiday decorations. One type of item that entered the market in the 1920s was tiny cardboard buildings, sometimes called Putz Houses. The small dwellings often had holes in the back to be hung on lights on the tree or they were placed beneath the tree with bottle brush trees. The outbreak of the Second World War ended the production of these festive homes. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Deck The Halls features antique and vintage decorations, from the stockings hung by children over the years to the evolution of Christmas lights strung on the tree.

About a dozen nativity scenes, collected in many different countries are on display. The most exciting of them is a 19th century creche passed down through many generations of a family in Germany. In fact, antique and vintage Christmas tree ornaments make up a big part of the exhibit and many of them were hand blown in Germany before the Second World War. It sometimes seems as though most of our most beloved traditions of the season came from Germany.

In England the sight of a Christmas tree was uncommon before the reign of Queen Victoria. In 1840 she married Prince Albert, who was from the German state of Saxe-Coburg, and his influence made a decorated Christmas tree a popular part of the holiday season. In 1848 an engraving was published in England, showing Victoria and Albert with their young family gathered around a lit Christmas tree. Distribution of this image greatly increased the popularity of a decorated tree with the middle and upper classes.

In addition to items donated to the Historeum over the years, the exhibit features delightful items borrowed from local collectors and the Nova Scotia Museum, History Collection. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these treasured pieces.

The figure of an angel is an enduring image associated with Christmas. On display are seven angels, all purchased in Germany. Five of them have fine wax faces, some even have delicate wax hands. The oldest dates back 50 years.

The Colchester Historical Society was formed 60 years ago, in 1954. So one vignette set up is a living room during the early 50s with family members putting the finishing touches on their Christmas tree.

A visit to the exhibit can also provide answers to some seasonal trivia questions. What is a kugel and what does it have to do with Christmas? When and where was celebrating Christmas against the law? In the name of patriotism, what step did Americans take after they entered the Second World War in December 1971?

The Historeum’s winter hours are somewhat reduced, partly in an effort to conserve power costs. We are open Tuesday to Friday, 10 - 12 and 1 - 4. All three of our current exhibits — Deck The Halls, Conflict in the Land of the Morning Calm: A Tribute to Colchester’s Korean Veterans and Inglis Street - Onion to Opera — will be coming down in January.

The Historeum will be closing at 12 noon on Dec. 24 and reopening on Jan. 2, 2014. Lots of exciting plans are in the works for the new year. In the coming year we hope you’ll visit our new exhibits and attend many of our events. One exhibit we are working on now is The Lewis Family: Truro’s Titans of Industry. Anyone with photos or artifacts associated with Eastern Cap and Hat Factory is welcome to contact the Colchester Historeum.

Also, if a family, an individual or a group would like to come and view the exhibits a viewing can be arranged by making an appointment. Call 895-6284 or 895-9344.

Elinor Maher is the chairwoman of the program committee for the Colchester Historical Society. She lives in Truro.


Organizations: Colchester County museum, Colchester Historical Society, Prince Albert Nova Scotia Museum

Geographic location: Germany, England, Saxe-Coburg Truro Inglis Street

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