Three Indiana women and two children with a Christmas tree, circa 1900. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The holiday spirit is in the air.  All over Indianapolis, people are preparing for the upcoming holiday celebrations– stringing twinkling lights on the outsides of their houses and brewing hot cocoa to accompany every meal.  Along with traditional holiday jitters, people all over the city are simultaneously preparing for the Polar Vortex 2.0 that Indianapolitans just know is right around the corner.  Despite the approaching weather, the defining factor of the holiday spirit is not the extreme cold.  Instead, the glistening, sweet-smelling perfumes of the Christmas tree takes center stage.  Adorning countless windows, Christmas trees help spread the holiday cheer by brightening up homes from Thanksgiving until the New Year.

These elaborately decorated trees have become the emblem of holiday spirit.  During this holiday season, the Indiana Historical Society will be displaying 25 Christmas trees throughout its building.  This multitude of sparkling pines is part of the IHS celebration, the Festival of Trees.  Each tree has its own theme, reflecting different aspects of Indiana, various Indianapolis-based companies and organizations, and even Indianapolis sports teams.  The trees are each ornately festooned, creating a jolly holiday atmosphere.


Children enjoying miniature Christmas scene, circa 1970, Courtesy of Martin’s Photo Shop Collection, Indiana Historical Society

One such tree is called “The Christmas Long Ago.”  Within its pine needles, you can find copies of postcards addressed to the poet, James Whitcomb Riley, received in 1911 during Christmas time.  Riley, the beloved children’s poet, received these cards from all over the country from children and adults who enjoyed his work.  This tree is positioned right outside the IHS library, where you can go in and view the original postcards from 1911, along with innumerable other historic documents as well.

While many of the trees have a more classic taste, with red ornaments and candy-canes throughout, the “That Ayres Look” tree stands out from the rest.  With snowy-branches, crystal-like ornaments, and glittery globes, the Ayres tree is just as glamorous and sophisticated as the department store was.  L.S. Ayres and Company–founded in 1872 in Indianapolis–was the leading store of the city.  The tree embodies what the department store stood for: innovation and originality.

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Christmas Trees for Festival of Trees, Image copyright Indiana Historical Society

Other trees in the festival include “Symphony in Gold” and “40 Years of Opera in Indianapolis,” corresponding with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Opera, respectively.  Companies, such as Mass Ave Toys, have a tree represented, creatively displaying their holiday season merchandise.  And for the life-long sports fans out there, Indy Eleven  has decorated a tree, bursting with soccer pride.

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Festival of Trees Decorations, Christmas Trees, copyright Indiana Historical Society

So if you are seeking new inspiration for your own Christmas tree, come to the Indiana Historical Society to gather some ideas, or just purely to absorb the holiday atmosphere. It will add to making this holiday season the best yet.

The Festival of Trees is open through Jan. 3 and is included with Indiana Experience Admission ($7/adults, $6.50/seniors, $5/ages 5-17).  The Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with additional hours on Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., between now and New Year’s Day.  For more information, go to

Guest Author: Leah Grynheim

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