Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holidays Through History

On Saturday evening, around 330 people visited the President Woodrow Wilson House as part of our annual Holidays Through History Open House. Those who purchased tickets for the event were also able to visit Tudor Place, Dumbarton House, and Anderson House, three historic house museums in the Washington, D.C. area. All four houses we decorated for the holidays and provided activities, live music, refreshments, and more!

Here at the President Woodrow Wilson House, we decorated as the Wilsons might have done for Christmas, 1922. While President Wilson never fully regained the health that he enjoyed prior to his 1919 stroke, he was doing comparatively well in 1922. He often enjoyed small day trips around this time, and he was even feeling well enough for a small Christmas gathering of friends and family at the S Street residence. The dining room is currently decorated to represent that intimate Christmas dinner. Some of Mrs. Wilson’s beautiful china is on the table, including plates from the Martha Washington china set that she and President Wilson received on the occasion of their wedding.
This year's Christmas table features the Wilsons' Martha Washington China. Photo courtesy of Diane Barber.
The Wilsons received quite a few Christmas gifts while they lived on S Street. Many people sent gifts of food, which very likely ended up on the table for Christmas dinner. Potted flowers such as poinsettias were also very popular, as visitors can see from the various arrangements throughout the house.

Despite the fact that there were quite a few fireplaces in their home, the Wilsons rarely lit fires for warmth in the winter months. Electricity and other modern conveniences were becoming commonplace by the 1920s, and fireplaces were therefore mostly used for ambiance. This meant that fireplaces could be decorated with all sorts of materials without there being much danger of starting a house fire. Several of the mantles here at the Woodrow Wilson House have been decorated with ribbons, greenery, fruit, and other festive materials in order to reflect this.
Decorations, flowers, and gifts announce that the holidays have come to S Street! 

Of course, no house is truly decorated for Christmas until the tree is up and trimmed. The Wilsons’ tree was always placed in the solarium where it was framed by the palladian window and visible from the main staircase. It was also lit by strings of electric lights that would not be very unfamiliar to us today. Candle-lit trees were mostly out of fashion by the 1920s, partially due to electricity becoming more and more available at a cheaper cost and partially due to the fact that, according to Phillip V. Snyder's 1976 The Christmas Tree Book, many insurance companies had stopped covering fires that were caused by Christmas trees!

Aside from lights, 1920s Christmas trees were adorned with a variety of ornaments. Glass baubles and stars were used, as were a variety of paper ornaments. Paper was a bit of a novelty in the post-World War I period, as it was being mass produced and sold at a low cost for the first time. People used it to make everything from paper garlands to “glitter” or “putz” houses to use on the tree or in their Christmas villages. Visitors who attended the Holidays Through History event had the chance to make their own paper star ornaments. Some guests were even kind enough to help the Wilsons with their decorating by hanging their stars on our tree!

The President Woodrow Wilson House will be decorated for the rest of the holiday season. Whether or not you get the chance to enjoy our decorations, we at the President Woodrow Wilson House hope that you have a happy and safe holiday!

-Sophia Vayansky, Fall 2014 Intern

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