I love Christmas and history, so I'm sharing what I learn about Christmas and its customs as they've changed over the decades and centuries.
Let's Visit 1910 at Christmas
If you traveled back in time to 1910 at Christmas time, what would it be like? Did people shop, exchange gifts, decorate their homes, and fix a big turkey dinner like we do today?
I've combed through old newspapers and researched social history to find out how we would celebrate the Christmas and New Year holiday over 100 years ago in America. Join me to see what people were wearing, what gifts they wanted, and how they lived in the early part of the 1900s.
See Families in 1910 - Their Clothes, Their Gifts, The Christmas Tree, and Putzes (a Landscape)
What We Learned from This Video about 1910 Children at Christmas
To modern eyes, some early Christmas trees from that era look pretty skimpy and sort of like a Charlie Brown holiday tree. The modern Christmas trees are grown on tree farms and pruned early on to be full.
In the early 1900s, the widely-spaced branches were preferred because the trees were lighted by real candles, not by strings of electrical light. Usually, the tree was put up the night before and then the family gathered around. An adult would carefully light the candles for a very brief time as there was great risk of fire.
The homes shown in this video were fairly wealthy homes. You can tell by the furnishings, the elaborate clothing of the children, and the number of gifts displayed. In addition, it was unlikely that a photographer would visit a poor family to photograph their Christmas.
Listen to Jingle Bells on a Player Piano
What Is Your Interest in the 1910 Era?
Christmas Shopping Was Big Even 100 Years Ago
Here's an article from a Pittsburgh newspaper telling about a big shopping day:
SHOPPERS BREAK ALL RECORDS
Happy, Hurrying Thousands Swarm Through Pittsburgh Stores and Proprietors Reap a Golden Harvest
HALF A MILLION CHANGES HANDS, IT IS ESTIMATED
Were, you shopping yesterday? If you -were not, you certainly missed it; missed making one of a joyful myriad, mostly women, which swept back and forth, up and down, round and round, into every nook and corner, in Pittsburgh where Christmas presents were to be bought, leaving concrete gladness behind, in the cash drawers, and bearing away gifts that are destined to make glad many other hearts.
It was great! Given a perfect day, after the fog blew away, bright overhead, dry under foot; a record-breaking crowd for this stage of the holiday season; and a silver and gold lining in almost every pocket in all that mass of humanity. Why shouldn't the storekeepers be happy today, especially when they present their wares so effectively and artistically as is the rule In Pittsburgh? Such conditions existed yesterday, and the result was one of the biggest individual business days in the history of the city.
At a conservative estimate, considerably more than half a million dollars changed hands, and hundreds of wagon loads of Christmas goods were transported to homes In all parts of Pittsburgh in hands and arms. Such a jostling and scrambling and pushing and hurrying!
The Pittsburgh Press
18 Dec 1910, Sun • Page 1
A Short Video of Popular Toys in 1910
Children's Letters to Santa in This Era
Children wrote letters to Santa back in 1910. Here's a sample letter from page 8 of The Topeka Daily Capital, 18 Dec 1910.
"Dear Santa Claus: I have never written to you before, so I am going to write and tell you what I want for Christmas as it is almost here. I would like a ring, a coat and a book of Black Beauty and nuts and candy. My sisters want a doll, a doll buggy and bed and nuts, and candy. I am a little girl, 11 years old, and am in the sixth grade at school. My sisters' names are Elsie and Oracle. I have light hair and brown eyes. I won't ask for too many things as there are lots of other girls and boys who will watch for Santa to bring them some new toys. I hope you won't forget the poor children and orphans who have no dear parents to care for them. Well, that will be all for this time. From Beatrice Kramer"
Letters by little boys asked for: a sled, roller skates, a train, a rocking horse, mittens, a pop gun, a bank, a box of tools, a coaster wagon, and candy, oranges, and nuts.
The little girls asked for: hair ribbons, a set of dishes, a doll and doll buggy, high top shoes, a box of paints, a storybook, or a tricycle.
Most letters included requests for gifts for younger siblings. Quite a few said "don't forget the orphans and the poor people" or a similar sentiment. One letter said "don't forget other little children who have no father or mother."
A 1910 Version of A Christmas Carol
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Virginia Allain