Christmas Trees Past in Philadelphia

December 12, 2014 9:37 PM

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Although retailers seem determined to start the holiday shopping season as early as October these days, for many of us the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season does not start until after Thanksgiving. We bring boxes of holiday decorations out of storage, place candles in our windows, buy a tree, start baking cookies, and do whatever else our families have traditionally done over the years to celebrate the holiday. The Library Company's photographic collections confirm that Philadelphians of a hundred years ago celebrated the holiday in many of the same ways as we do now. Some of the busiest public spaces in Philadelphia, like Independence Square, were decorated for the holiday season during the early 20th century. At 6PM on Christmas Eve 1913 in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000 people, the mayor's wife threw a light switch to illuminate a huge spruce tree behind Independence Hall. Decorated with 4,200 red, white, and blue lights and topped with a star of 56 lights representing each signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Philadelphia Inquirer described the spruce as the "first Christmas tree that ever was set up for all the people of the city."

Although retailers seem determined to start the holiday shopping season as early as October these days, for many of us the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season does not start until after Thanksgiving. We bring boxes of holiday decorations out of storage, place candles in our windows, buy a tree...

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