Once more, the Thanksgiving feast was capped off with the granddaughters screaming with joy as the artificial tree appeared in the living room, and a box of years-old ornaments was uncovered. Little hands darted for the family treasures in the box and began hanging them on the boughs of the tree.
The older of the two stopped from time to time to read the names and dates engraved on the ornaments. Then she would walk to the person named and order them to place the piece on the holiday tree.
It’s a family tradition that my wife and I have maintained since our children were young. The tree appeared yearly, just after the turkey.
Other families in town have traditions to recall and new experiences. It’s interesting to note that the Christmas tree is not a relatively old inhabitant among Manchester households.
In the various town histories, there is an account from Mathias Spiess, long-time resident historian, walking on Christmas Eve 1896. He noted that his trip from Charter Oak Street, the southern end of Main Street, to Depot Square at the northern end, he saw “not a single lit Christmas tree.”
At that time, candles on the branches lit the trees. Often the families would have a bucket of water nearby, not to water the tree, but to put out any potential fires.
Knight Harrison Ferris, another well-known town storyteller, accounts his experience as a child and young man. Recalling the early 1900s, he could not remember corner stands to purchase trees, as there are today. No members of the fire department, Scout troops, or other community organizations faced the cold evening wind, trying to raise money by selling the evergreens imported from elsewhere.
He wrote that Christmas trees were not a common sight in family homes. This may be because residents in his time would hunt out a tree in the Manchester woods. Trustworthy citizens, he recalled, sought permission from the various landowners to cut a tree. Once cut, they would then have to haul it back to their house, either by hand or with the help of a wagon; few cars were about then. Ferris added that even churches and other organizations handled their tree gatherings in the same manner.
Jokingly, he concluded that he could not recall anyone being prosecuted by a landowner if they had not gotten permission before cutting a tree.
But do not think that houses in Manchester were undecorated for the Christmas holiday.
Many pictures of the early 1900s show a collection of various traditional holiday decorations such as pine boughs framing the hearth as stockings and stuffed Santa dolls looked toward the opening for a visitor.
The melting pot of nationalities in Manchester brought numerous such decorations. An example is the Christmas pyramid, often on display for the holidays at the Old Manchester Museum. It was handmade by Joseph Kulpinsky. The 100-year-old wooden masterpiece initially powered its propeller with the heat of small oil lamps. Later, the family added electrical lights. Yearly the Kulpinsky family displayed the handy work in their house on School Street.
By the late 1910s, a tree was almost a given decoration in Manchester homes. Light bulbs made it safe for holiday celebrations.
As electricity and civic pride increased, outside lighting became a common sight in Manchester. The town awarded a yearly prize during the mid-1900s. My father recalled that his parents’ neighbor on Center Street won it several times.
In my youth, it was always a family tradition to pile into the family station wagon and travel around town looking at the decorated houses.
My cousin’s house on North Street was always one of our stops. Yearly he constructed elaborate holiday scenes in outside display boxes for all to view. These boxes remained on the lawn all year long. Even after his family sold the house, the structures remained, eagerly waiting for another round of decorations and visitors.
Information on town Christmas festivals and celebrations can be found at the Old Manchester Historical Museum at 126 Cedar St.. It’s open the first Saturday of each month, May through December, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
of the Pitkin Glass Works Executive Board and a
volunteer guide at the Old Manchester Museum.