See the Centennial Christmas Exhibit at the Lilly House

This isn’t your typical Christmas at the Lilly House. Unlike recent years, where the focus has been on recreating the decorating traditions of the 1930s and ‘40s, this year’s theme will turn to the first decade of the twentieth century for inspiration. It is a culmination of the year’s observance of the 100th anniversary of Oldfields.

The exhibit is free to the public, and is a great way to experience the magic of Christmas as it was celebrated over a century ago.


The large tree in the Great Hall emulates a photo that appeared on the cover of the December 1908 edition of Country Life in America, a magazine dedicated to such topics as interior design, architecture, home furnishings, etc. The original tree in the photo featured strands of tinsel garland in silver and gold; candles in green, pink, red and blue; textured glass ball ornaments; Santa figures, and miniature flags of all nations.


Smaller potted trees harken to the prevailing notion of the times that such plants could be planted in the landscape after Christmas. And on a property the size as Oldfields, there was quite obviously no shortage of space for large-scale planting.


The Library is filled with books Mr. Lilly chose from his favorite authors, including many rare books he began collecting in the 1920s. In the above photo, evergreen boughs and branches have been worked into ropes and wreaths, interspersed with colorful autumn leaves, an idea that might seem a tad unusual by today’s standards, but which is nevertheless a creative use of seasonal elements.


The Stair Hall features garland made of smilax and long-needle pine. Smilax is a slender with glossy foliage that was a very popular holiday floral decoration in the early twentieth century.


The exhibit reflects the growing commercialism of Christmas that was well underway during the first decade of the twentieth century. For it was right around this time that the country began to experience a growing wealth. This, along with a rise in manufacturing capability and a growing transportation network, allowed more people to afford such things as Christmas ornaments and holiday foliage as they became more widespread.

The emphasis during this time was on foliage and greenery. Various plants, trees and shrubs were also quite popular. These items were grown and cut from southern locations and then shipped in mass quantities to the northern and eastern states, where they would ultimately find their way into homes everywhere.

The Lilly House is worth seeing in its own right, and is one of the city’s most distinguished and historic attractions. The Lilly House at Christmas is even more special. Add this free exhibit to your holiday checklist.

Event Info

  • November 16, 2013-January 5, 2014
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Road, Indpls.
  • Admission is Free