Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reading between the lines - or fruits

1885 image of Florida hotel dining room on Christmas Day
Ready for dinner on Christmas Day 1885. Restrained tastefulness or
exuberant display? It can be hard to tell. (Credit: State Archives of  Florida)
The type of natural Christmas decorations I wrote about in my last post are displayed nicely in this 1885 image from the State Archives of Florida. What I can't figure is how the decorators managed to secure the palm fronds to the walls. If anyone has an idea, leave a comment.

This picture depicts a Christmas dinner at what is labeled on the Florida Memory website as a "restaurant or club" in DeLand. I've seen this photo before, though, and it shows the Putnam Inn.

DeLand in 1885 had some notable boarding houses, and the Putnam Inn was one of the them. Others included the Parce Land Hotel and the Grove House. Another photo on the Florida Memory site shows the same room, set for dinner, but without the wait staff and centerpiece display. It clearly states that the image is of the dining room of the Putnam House (the hotel's later name) on Dec. 25, 1885.

The mystery (to me, anyway) is the condition of the palm-frond decorations. They are decidedly droopier in the image identified as the Putnam and dated Dec. 25.

I share the photograph now - a few days after Christmas - for two reasons:
  1. The 12 Days of Christmas begin Dec. 25, they don't end on that day. So it's still Christmas, in my book. (When I was a child, we didn't decorate our tree until Dec. 24, a tradition that generated much youthful whining.)
  2. People who dined out in 1885 Florida had more disposable income than the average pioneer family. The diners were often winter residents, and some were fairly wealthy. Yet there isn't anything really fancy about the dining room. The decorations aren't lavish. The table decor is notable only for the fanned napkins. The scene, overall, leads me to think people back then didn't expect over-the-top everything as many do today.
I'll now argue against my notion in Number 2, because of the fruits tied to the legs of the big display table. It's possible such decoration was part of the era's definition of overabundance. I mean, who dresses up table legs?

And I question what fruits are piled up on the display. Pineapples? Giant avocados? Papayas? Excess can have different measures. Perhaps in an era when locally sourced meant the Back 40, having a papaya in the dead of winter flashed a message louder than any holiday light display.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Green Christmas a hard sell

Potted citrus tree decorated for the holidays
Florida citrus made for unique holiday decor at my
house one year. The Satsuma tree survived the
cat's curiosity and was later planted in the garden.
(Gerri Bauer photo)
In 1892, editor Walter N. Pike of the Floral Department section of the Florida Agriculturist decried the:
 "... almost utter indifference shown by the people of Florida for the unlimited profusion of holiday 'greenery' with which our woods abound. Every home in  Florida might be decorated during the approaching holidays in a manner that would cost a round sum in the northern cities."
Note the reference to the "approaching" holidays. The article was published on Dec. 21. Nobody hung mistletoe in October back then.

But in December they embraced the era's trends in holiday decor: "... glass ornaments and gold cardboard camels, storks, peacocks, pianos, and sailboats ..." according to the 2001 book,  Guide to American Popular Culture, by Ray Broadus Browne and Pat Browne. Also available were wax angels, silver foil icicles, blown-glass storybook characters, and tinsel garland. Greenery paled by comparison.

Mr. Pike was undeterred in promoting his cause. He gave examples of decorative materials that required naught but "the mere labor of gathering" (the following capitalizations and descriptions are his, not mine):

  • magnificent clumps of Mistletoe, fresh, unwilted and unbroken
  • stately Palms
  • long-leaved needle pines
  • lovely silvery-grey Spanish Moss
  • waxen, shining Magnolias
  • crimson-berried Holly
  • graceful wild Smilax vines
"All of these are shipped North in great quantities at this season of the year, and find ready sale there," he wrote.

You know, he was right. And still is. All these are still available, if not as abundant as in the past. I've used many as decorations here and there over the years. Before we ran out of room on our property, my husband and I decorated potted trees for Christmas and then planted them after the holidays. Magnificent they weren't, but they were fun. The year of the Satsuma citrus Christmas tree is pictured with this blog. Other years we had cedar, pine, and holly. 

The holiday greens of the 1890s and today were/are native Florida flora. Which can't be said for laser lights, icicle strands, inflatable Santas, and twinkling reindeer. I'm a big fan of a green Christmas. Especially when the greenery is highlighted by strands of blue icicle lights.  Merry Christmas to all.