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Fall River’s Victorian Christmas Trees Shine

At the Fall River Historical Society in Fall River, Mass. you can see four Christmas trees decked out like you have never seen a tree decorated. Until December 30 the FRHS holds its annual holiday event called “Deck the Halls.”

Last year one of the event’s trees received a second place award for the Christmas Tree Design Competition held annually by the Holiday and Decorative Association.

"Revelry in Red and Gold" theme for this Christmas tree at the Fall River Historical Society
“Revelry in Red and Gold” theme for this Christmas tree at the Fall River Historical Society

The FRHS is located in a hilly residential section of Fall River, at the corner of Maple and Rock, in a granite Greek Revival mansion, built in 1843 for Andrew Robeson Jr., a prominent businessman. Gold lettering on the front gray exterior tells you this impressive structure now houses the Historical Society.

With the assistance of a guide I recently toured the interior of the house, which is not very large compared to the size of today’s houses. We went from room to room on the first level and then upstairs. What I remember most are, of course, the four Christmas trees, scattered around the house.

Museum Curator Michael Martins and Dennis Binette, Assistant Curator, both designed the trees, and now with the help of several volunteers who put in weeks of work, the trees shine in lights, fabrics of all sorts, shells, and ribbons. Each tree embodies a theme.

The glory of the Baroque period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries inspired the 13-foot tree decorated as “Revelry in Red and Gold.”

The tree, illuminated with 6,000 white lights, emerges from a cloud of gold lame and hundreds of yards of white and gold fabric. The tree is studded with rich cut-velvet poinsettias, gilt-trimmed greens and berries, cascading berry sprays, Queen Anne’s lace in glitter and gilt, and laurel and holly sprays.

Seventy yards of gold metallic backed red velvet ribbon finish the tree. The nearby mantelpiece and portraits are also decorated.

Down the hall in another room you will find on a table an upside down 8-foot Christmas tree, with the theme “Carnival in Venice.” The annual Italian festival at Venice called Carnevale, famous for its elaborate handcrafted masks, inspired this design. Thus this tree includes a mask at its base.

Fall River society of the nineteenth century serves as the inspiration for the 9-foot tree called “Lady de Winter,” located in the dining room. The tree is decked out as the torso of a woman who belonged to the city’s elite in the late nineteenth century. The evening dress is made of leaves of a pewter fabric, steel-blue velvet poinsettias, silver leaf sprays, and pearls.

The final tree called “Greeting from Krampus” you will find in the second floor hallway. The tree’s theme hinges on the Santa Claus legend that a child who has behaved badly during the past year receives coal, not from Santa Claus, but from Krampus. So at the bottom of the 7-foot tree you can see chunks of coal, intended for that child who was anything but good.

Victorian Christmas trees truly shine in Fall River.

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