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A Tradition of Giving

December 13, 2016 Published By Julie Arrison-Bishop

by David Moffat
Lead/Senior Tour Guide

For over a century, The House of the Seven Gables has been celebrating Christmas with merrymaking and charity. The Settlement House opened in 1908 to provide services to the immigrant community of Salem and two years later in 1910, The House of the Seven Gables opened as an attraction to fund the efforts of the Settlement House.

In 1914, the children of the Settlement House caroled around the neighborhood. They sang for the Old Ladies’ Home, the Bertram Home for Aged Men, and the Sisters of both St. Mary’s and St. John’s parochial schools. The following year a blizzard interfered with plans to carol again, but the Settlement celebrated in other ways, including four Christmas parties.


Christmas carolers in Turner Hall in 1928

In what would become an annual tradition, children in the Settlement brought in materials and made gifts for those who lived in the Almshouse. According to the annual report of the 1915-1916 year, “A group composite of various nationalities made and carried gifts of candies and calendars to the Almshouse.” The Almshouse, also called the “Poor Farm,” was located on Salem Neck, a short walk from The House of the Seven Gables up Derby Street.

In 1916, caroling commenced again, with groups of children travelling around every ward of the city singing at houses with candles in their windows between five and six in the evening. The older children went later those evenings to carol at the institutions visited in 1914. A party in Turner Hall featured games, cake, and ice cream and was attended by the Polish Women’s Club, the Jewish Women’s Club, and the largely Irish Gables’ Mother’s Club.

These activities, the making of gifts for the residents of the Almshouse and caroling continued at least into the 1930s. At Christmas in 1922, the Rectory of the Immaculate Conception Church and the Convent of Polish Sisters were added to the caroling route. In 1923, an art show of Madonnas “and other subjects appropriate” by the Old Masters of the 15th and 16th centuries proved successful enough it was revived the following year. Nineteen twenty-four also saw the premiere of “Why the Chimes Ring,” a Christmas pantomime which was given in two performances.

The Annual Report of 1936/7 is the last to mention the Christmas activities of the Settlement. It describes “the usual dances and entertainment for the young people and on Sunday afternoon a tea and musical for the neighbors of the Settlement.”

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This post was written by Julie Arrison-Bishop