One of the Christmas trees decorating the Pal house this year. Contributed / Andrew Pal

It’s Christmas time, and all around the town of Windham, living rooms are adorned with trees filled with ornaments and twinkling lights. But it wasn’t always that way around these parts. Back in Windham’s earliest days, the celebration of Christmas as a holiday, let alone a decorated tree, would have been considered pagan and been frowned upon by the Puritan and Quaker residents that settled our town.

Scottish settler Duncan McIntosh possibly could have had his home decorated in the Celtic tradition with evergreens that symbolized everlasting life while keeping away ghosts, evil spirits and illness. This may not have been looked upon favorably by his neighbors, however, and he could have been fined heavily for his heathen ways.

It wouldn’t be until the middle of the 19th century that our town folk would have adopted the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree. In the year 1846, Queen Victoria of England and her husband Prince Albert were illustrated in the London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. The queen was very popular with her subjects and what she did at court would soon become the fashion of the day. Not only did the people of Britain embrace the idea of these decorated trees, but so did the residents of America’s East Coast.

As the popularity of the tradition grew, so did the joy of decorating trees with ornaments. Beautiful hand-blown glass ornaments from Germany began arriving in the United States in the 1870s. By the 1890s, F.W. Woolworth was selling $25 million worth per year. Those of lesser means indulged themselves with homemade options coupled with popcorn dyed a bright color and strung with berries and nuts. With the advent of electricity, Christmas trees began appearing in town squares across the country and the Christmas tree tradition became embedded in the American way of life.

The once-pagan Christmas tree is now a treasured part of our holiday season. We even have a song we sing in its honor. “O Tannenbaum” originally had no Christmas message but was a folk song that referred to the evergreen quality of the tree. It was in the late 19th century that the present-day version was written and today we sing, “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches! O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches! Your boughs so green in summertime stay bravely green in wintertime. O Tannenbaum, O Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches!”

I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas time with family and friends as you make new memories sitting around your very own Christmas tree at this beautiful, magical time of year when we all hope for peace on Earth and show goodwill to men. Happy Holidays, one and all, and a Happy New Year, too!

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and an active member of the Windham Historical Society. She can be contacted at

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