18 Photos That Show What Christmas Looked Like 100 Years Ago
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but would you recognize what Christmas looked like a century ago?
Christmas with the family was a formal affair
Today, yoga pants and flannel pajamas are perfectly acceptable for Christmas Day-wear. Back in 1912, by contrast, when “The Hope of the House” was drawn by the artist, J.M. Balliol Salmon, it was far more typical for a family to dress up in their finest clothing on Christmas. Even the baby is wearing party shoes!
A little Christmas humour
It’s a tale as old as time: grownups intercepting the toys their kids have been given as gifts. Back in 1912, the toys in question, as depicted in “Little Willie’s Toys: A Christmas Morning Tragedy,” include a wooden building set, a toy car, and a rag doll. If J.H. Thorp, the artist, were around to draw this scene today, it would, no doubt, include Legos and computer games.
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How little kids awaited Christmas
In the 1880s, which is what this painting depicts, a young girl impatiently awaits the arrival of Christmas. While that certainly happens today, what kids are consulting today isn’t the analog face of a grandfather clock. but rather, a smartphone or tablet!
An image of a “toymaker”
This illustration by Will Houghton is how people in 1914 imagined toymakers did their jobs. While there might still be a few toymakers out there who do it all by hand these days, most toys are made in giant factories, and often not even from Canada… but not the products in this collection of amazing things made in Canada!
The reality of World War I
World War I began in July 1914, and it changed everything about Christmas that year (and for years after). Here, a wounded soldier and his family attend Christmas Mass in their parish church.
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Ah, who doesn’t love photos of members of the royal family? But the royal family of a century ago was depicted quite a bit differently than the way the royal family is today. For example, in this 1914 photo of Princess Mary, the third child and only daughter of King George V and his wife, Queen Mary, is wearing a fancy dress and holding a Victorian-style fan. This striking photo was used to appeal for donations to send Christmas presents to the soldiers and sailors fighting abroad.
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The photo decorating this Christmas Card from 1916 depicts Allied forces stationed at Thessaloniki, Greece. The soldiers in the photo include soldiers from Britain, Greece, India, and Vietnam, among others.
Absent dads, cigarettes and sweets
Who is missing from this 1916 depiction of Christmas morning in America? Daddy. That’s because he’s fighting in World War I. But while absent, he’s not forgotten. Here the finely attired mother and her four children wrap a special package they’re sending to their soldier dad on the front lines. You know what the package will include? Cigarettes and a pipe. No one is confusing this photo with one from today!
War was on everyone’s mind at Christmastime in 1916. While kids have been playing with toy soldiers since time immemorial, here the children are playing an elaborate game meant to look like the “Great War” (what people used to call World War I before the reality of its horrors registered).
Today, we call him Santa Claus, and he doesn’t resemble an evil, long-bearded, long-robe-wearing wizard with a sack that looks like it would be perfect for abducting young children. But back in 1917, “Father Christmas,” as he was called, was the giver of gifts, and didn’t seem too scary at all.
Love and romance in the 1910s
In this 1917 magazine illustration, a British Officers and his wingman, presumably on leave for Christmas, scheme to get two pretty girls in the next room to join them under the mistletoe.
This is the oldest Christmas carol! (Hint: it’s not Silent Night.)
She’s skirting the issue
This illustration from 1921 is poking fun at gender politics from the mid-Victorian era: whereas the young man leans forward hoping to obtain a kiss from the woman, her dress is so very wide, he has no hope. And presumably, she has nothing to fear!
In this 1918 photo depicting a couple of soldiers returning home from World War I, just in time to celebrate the new peace, we see something very novel for those days: women with cropped hair, which soon became all the rage.
This illustration of two children bringing home a barrow-load full of Christmas firewood is almost impossible to imagine nowadays when few parents would want it to be known that they send their children out for firewood unattended.
Families with lots of children
We count seven children, one cat, and one dog around this Christmas tree. When this photo of a “typical American family” was taken, in 1923, it wasn’t all that uncommon for families to have that many children (or even more).
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Aw, thank you honey!
In a 1926 advertisement that would hardly fly today, Electrolux tells American men that a vacuum cleaner would make the perfect Christmas present for the wife. Um… no.
Next, here are eight things you never knew about Kwanzaa!