The Ashland committee tasked with locating a Christmas tree for the town’s 1865 celebration didn’t have to travel very far because the surrounding forest descended into almost every resident’s garden.
Which backyard the pine originated from and how tall it actually was didn’t really matter as long as the tree was set up and adorned in the town hall in time for the community celebrations.
The tree stood in the middle of a room that was lit by candle lanterns on the walls, in the hall that would later be replaced by the Odd Fellows Building that is located on Ashland Plaza today.
Simple decorations were used. Local Christmas foliage, including ferns, Oregon grape, and carefully placed mistletoe, was used to decorate tables and walls.
Popcorn strings and twisted chains of coloured paper were strung up and down the tree’s limbs. Only when the celebration officially started would tallow candles that were fastened to the tips of branches be properly lit and guarded.
Ashland was still a little village with only 16 businesses and less than 500 residents.
At the Christmas planning meeting, Ann Russell, the wife of one of those businessmen, was chosen to raise money and purchase gifts for the kids. Ann is a mother of 11 kids and an active participant in the couple’s marble carving business. She had purposefully skipped that meeting altogether.
She claimed, “I stayed away in order to avoid being given something to do, but I was assigned to the committee nevertheless.
She at first objected, saying that it was unjust to pick someone who hadn’t been present at the meeting. Ann was convinced to give in and accept the position by Rev. Johnson, a Methodist pastor and acquaintance who stayed with the Russells when he visited the area.
The two women made $40 working with Catharine Thornton, the Ashland Woolen Mills owner’s wife. A bag of chocolates and a little present were given to the majority of the kids, but there were two more expensive gifts.
Ann explained, “We purchased a cap for an orphan child and a silver thimble for a girl whose mother we felt would be upset with a less expensive present. Each of these two items costs $1.
The married women in the community planned to give each of their husbands a fun present to wear to the holiday party.
The women thought it would be funny to gift the men neckties made of vibrantly coloured calico, such as red, blue, or green, wrapped in a bow with each end measuring a yard in length, and secured with a large brass button, Ann remarked.
When their covert strategy was somehow uncovered, the men set up their own surprise. A colourful apron with three-yard-long threads tied on either side was given to each woman.
Ann remarked, “Oh, the calico squandered in those strings.”
Why be wasted? Because the aprons, which were sewed with lengthy, awkward stitching, were produced by the guys themselves, she explained.
While Almon Gillette, a lumberjack, played his flute, the only musical instrument in the community, waggon builder Bill Kentnor distributed gifts to the kids in the role of Santa Claus. John McCall, a businessman, sang bass; Charley Klum, a school employee, sang tenor; and Martha Helman, a farmer’s wife, sang soprano.
Ann Russell said, “Our community tree was a terrific success.” We were in a festive mood and enjoyed our time together while wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Maybe that’s the exact thing we should wish for right now. Merry Christmas, a joyous New Year, and all the best.
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