Carlisle holiday season over the years
by Timothy Hult
The holiday season is a special time in New England, and it is particularly so in the town of Carlisle. The serene natural beauty that generations have worked so hard to preserve seems to enhance the season in so many ways. While Christmas is the tradition that I am most connected to, the town is fortunate to have citizens with many faith and cultural traditions that celebrate the season in unique and meaningful ways. Such diversity makes the town stronger, and the quiet beauty of the physical environment must certainly enrich each and every tradition.
Christmas was not always the way we now know it in New England. For the first two centuries after the Pilgrims arrived, Christmas celebrations were thought to be ostentatious and inappropriate. Public celebrations of Christmas were even outlawed in many places. It was only after the Revolutionary War that Christmas became the theme for family celebrations that we might find familiar. As the population increased in the 19th century and activities expanded beyond subsistence farming, public Christmas celebrations became increasingly prominent. After the Civil War in 1870, Christmas was declared a national holiday.
In Carlisle, town records note that a public celebration of Christmas was held in 1912. The First Religious Society cordially invited the members of the Congregational Church to join them for a Christmas program featuring “A Christmas Reunion of Father Christmas with Mother Goose and her Children.” It was further noted that a goodly number were present, it was a pleasant time and gifts were distributed from under the tree.
In 1931 in the early stages of the Great Depression, the same two churches jointly sponsored a Christmas celebration where all the school-age children of the town (probably about 75 at the time) received gifts from under a large tree decorated with candles. On December 23 at Union Hall, a dinner was served. At 8 p.m. there was a musical program, at the conclusion of which Santa arrived and gifts were handed out. The evening was deemed a great success.
While electricity came to Carlisle in 1911, it was not until well after World War II that a tree on the common was decorated with electric lights. The current tree that is used was donated in 1980 by the Garden Club. It was planted by Department of Public Works Manager Roger Davis and his crew, who were ably assisted by Fire Chief Bob Koning providing water and supplies. The current tree lighting ceremony began more recently. It features the town’s most honored citizen flipping the light switch, and Santa arriving to greet the children.
One of the most beautiful traditions in town for many years occurs after the Christmas Eve services at the FRS, when the congregation exits the church and sings carols on the common. Near the lighted tree they are joined by folks from all over the town. The scene can be magical on a clear Carlisle evening. For years the “Carlisle Kats” jazz group accompanied the carolers.
For me, the most special moment of the Holidays was always simply to go outside on Christmas morning, look around and appreciate the beauty and amazing quiet of the Carlisle countryside. I loved to take that moment to center myself before the gift giving, the family celebration and the feasting. It was a time to reflect on how truly fortunate we were to enjoy Carlisle as the setting for the season. I hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday season and enjoys the traditions that they hold dear. ∆
Forum staff writers are elected by the board of directors of Carlisle Communications, Inc., publisher of the Mosquito, to provide independent commentary on matters they believe will be of interest to Carlisle citizens.