Holiday Doors: The Story of a Fruit Fan on South Street

One family's holiday tradition has people knocking on their door with questions.

Annual holiday fruit fan above the door of 52 South Street in Medfield. Credit: Rob Gregg.
Annual holiday fruit fan above the door of 52 South Street in Medfield. Credit: Rob Gregg.
When the Gregg family put up a display of fruit above their front door for the holidays a few years ago, it piqued a lot of interest. At one point, in fact, a group of teenage boys rang the doorbell to ask about the "fruit fan."

The Gregg fruit fan is an array of lemons, apples, oranges and greens surrounding a pineapple, a Colonial sign of hospitality.

"If you lived in Williamsburg or Beacon Hill, you would see one of these fruit fans," said Rob and Ginny Gregg of 52 South Street.

But what has come to be known as the "Colonial Williamsburg fruit fan" did not actually originate in Virginia, according to History.org which says,

  • The custom of affixing fruits, vegetables, dried flowers, herbs, and other plant life to basic Christmas forms like wreaths, swags, and roping traces its roots to the early years of the 20th century. 
  • It was thought that the fruit fan originated in Colonial Williamsburg in the 1700s, however, no one in the 18th century would have been caught dead with real fruit tacked to his front door. Anyone hanging fresh fruit outdoors in the middle of winter to rot or be devoured by squirrels would have been thought, at best, highly eccentric by his neighbors.
    • The linking of fruited wreaths with Christmas and front doors seems to have started during the early years of the 20th century in America's wealthier homes. To judge by the home and garden decorating magazines of the day, Christmas greenery of any sort on doorways was rare. Only the toney publications, loaded with advertisements for grand pianos, Packards, sterling silver tea services, and seven-week cruises, show photographs of homes with holiday trimmings--and even these are few and far between. It was left to Colonial Williamsburg to popularize this sort of decoration with the country's expanding and prosperous postwar middle class.
    Regardless of where the tradition began, it is alive and well at at least one home in Medfield where, each year, Rob Gregg pulls out his plywood template, painstakingly affixes to it the brightest and best fruit he can buy, then hauls the 20-to-30 pound fan up a ladder and attaches it to the house. 

    Gregg has perfected his system to make the annual process a smooth one. 

    He says he has considered artificial fruit which would make the fan easier to create and lift but he wasn't happy with the quality of the manufactured fruit available for purchase plus, he says, the act of constructing the fan is part of the tradition. 

    "The fruit fan is meant to be a 'green' expression of Christmas so I decided to stick with fresh fruit," he said, explaining the decoration above the door (a) makes people look up, away from their busy lives, (b) is a sign of optimism as in "looking up," and (c) fruit is a sign of new life.

    The fan always goes up right before the Medfield Christmas Parade and comes down right after January 1st. 

    "It's fun to stand on the porch during the Christmas parade and have people come down the street and comment on it," Gregg said.  

    The fruit fan at 52 South Street is near the intersection of South and Oak Streets, just before Pound Street. Be sure to stop by to see it before Jan. 1, and feel free to ask the Greggs about their process -- they'll be glad to share it with you. 

    TELL US: If you have a special Christmas tradition, tell us about it in the comment box; we'd like to hear more about it. 
    Jean Mineo December 27, 2013 at 07:32 AM
    It's beautiful (again!) Rob and Ginny - thanks for sharing your tradition.
    Sharon December 27, 2013 at 08:39 AM
    I knew this was the Gregg homestead by just reading the headline! Beautiful!


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