Maine Historical Society



A Past Exhibit

In a Whole New Light

November 2nd – February 2013

Christmas decorations, Presque Isle, ca. 1950

Presque Isle Police and Fire Departments decorated for Christmas, ca. 1950

The "wiring" of Maine – the generation of electric power, development of the electric grid, and consumption of power domestically and industrially – changed countless aspects of life. Electric power affected the cultural lives and experiences of Mainers celebrating the winter holidays. Traditionally, this season included decorations of greens and other natural materials. With the advent of electricity, communities began to celebrate the holidays in a whole new light.

The images displayed were a survey of the holiday culture in towns from Portland to Presque Isle over a sixty-year span of the 20th century. Electricity transformed the streetscapes: utility poles lined the roads; transportation ran on electrified rails; retail signage began to glow; and stores and offices could be lit into the night. Eventually, lights were used for decoration, adorning homes and attracting holiday shoppers to stores after dark.

Though many of the locations pictured were long gone or greatly altered, the spirit of public demonstrations of holiday cheer remains.