What did Christmas look like in the 1920’s? It depends on who you were, and where you lived. I guess you could say the same about contemporary Christmas celebrations. When I began this research, I was a little surprised. It didn’t look that different. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. Traditions are kept and passed down from one generation to the next. We love our traditions and Christmas wouldn’t be complete without them.
Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands, lights, candles, goodies, toys, and Santa Claus, stockings, ribbons, bows, nutcrackers, cookies, cakes, pies, nativity sets, train sets, Christmas villages…the list goes on. These are still part of our Christmas celebrations today, as they were almost a hundred years ago.
One of the greatest differences will not surprise you. One memoir-writer said, “We had neither the time nor the wherewithal to decorate our homes…” (earlier than Christmas week). Most waited until Christmas Eve. But when you think about it, with the use of real trees lit by candles, it wasn’t safe to keep one up longer than a few days.
Many families went out and cut their own trees from their property, a family’s farm, or they just went somewhere and found one. In the city of course, they were brought in on wagons and sold on the street. Here’s a link showing several scenes that include well-to-do families with their typical Christmas trees: http://www.cardboardchristmas.com/papateds/Christmas1920s.html And some less fortunate children here: http://streeturchins.blogspot.com/2010/12/merry-christmas-little-urchins.html
I was interested to see the train sets and villages set up beneath the trees, a tradition that continues in some families today. The trees were pine or cedar and didn’t always have the lovely traditional shape we go for these days. Some looked reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s tree.
Their traditional tree decorations included stringed popcorn, pine cones, red and green ropes (purchased at the store) or homemade paper chains. Snowflake cutouts and tinsel icicles were also used. And don’t forget the lights. Yes, those who had electricity could string lights on their trees. The lights were made by General Electric’s “Edison Decorative Miniature Lamp Division.” You’ll notice they were weather proof, so yes, our ’20s era counterparts decorated outdoors. But most folks either used candles or no lights at all.
What did the stockings contain? An apple (not the lovely red variety we now have, but a homegrown one), an orange, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, candy canes, chocolate drops, and raisins (dried on stems). Maybe a small toy or two. One lady says, “We didn’t hang our stockings by the fireplace, we needed that for heat. Besides, our stockings were just that. Our stockings. They weren’t decorative.” They’d wake up Christmas morning to find their sock or knee-length stocking filled and lying on a chair, or tied around a bedpost or doorknob.
Most folks didn’t go all out for Christmas. Handmade items like socks, gloves, mittens, and scarves were the most common gifts and may be the only gifts a family received. The most popular gifts: the Raggedy Ann doll and die-cast metal toys. Also, roller skates gained popularity, along with wagons and bicycles. And of course the toy train sets and baby dolls.
A traditional Christmas dinner usually included roast chicken rather than turkey or ham. Cakes, pies, and cookies were included. And Jell-O! Yes! Beautiful Jell-O molds for the holidays. Do you think they made “pink stuff” and “green stuff” back then?
Folks baked extra during the holidays and shared desserts with family and neighbors. The wonderful fruitcakes probably got passed around. Some families are still passing the same ones around, apparently. I grew up eating fruitcake and liking it. During prohibition, I suppose they had to use rum flavoring for their cakes and eggnogs.
Religious celebrations included Christmas Eve services, Christmas morning services, traditional programs at church and school, and wandering carolers who usually waited until Christmas Eve, or sometimes Christmas Night to walk about their neighborhoods. You would recognize many of the songs they sang, because we still sing them today. Here’s a sample of some popular Christmas music of the 1920s: http://yuleplay.com/playlist/?pid=1524&pname=1920s%20Christmas%20Songs
Folks sent Christmas cards. I found some cute samples of Christmas cards from the twenties and they’re posted here on Pinterest, along with a few other goodies I found.
One thing that has never gone out of style is giving. We give gifts. It doesn’t really matter how big or how costly the gifts. Sometimes, it’s just really nice to be remembered.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at an interesting era in our history. What traditions did your family observe (your childhood days or even further back)? What is/was your favorite food served at Christmas Dinner?
Photo from: http://streeturchins.blogspot.com/2010/12/merry-christmas-little-urchins.html
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3 thoughts on “A 1920s Traditional Christmas”
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Hi, Betty, I was doing a little research for my current WIP and this blog piece popped up in the top of my Google search. (Thought you’d like to know.) It’s very helpful, too. Exactly the tidbit of info I needed! Blessings~ Naomi
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