Christmas during the Edwardian era was very similar to what we experience today. (This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s WWI Trilogy, Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year, available wherever eBooks are sold.)
Our holiday traditions were firmly established by the 1910s: Families, communities and businesses set up Christmas trees. People exchanged cards. Caroling was popular. Lavish meals were served. And it was boom time for retailers.
Our contemporary version of Santa Claus also was established by the 1910s, thanks to the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” and newspapers printed children’s letters to Santa.
“Dear Santa Claus,” a Kansas girl named Iva Brenner wrote in 1910, “I want a doll bed and a doll buggy. Some candy and nuts, a hair ribbon and some handkerchieves [sic].”
“Dear Santa,” an Indiana boy named Roe Funderberg said in 1915. “Will you please bring me a doll and a game of doctor Busby and a game of old maid and a Jack in the box and some candy and nuts? And one box of paints and a paint book.”
The first electric Christmas lights were manufactured in the 1880s, but they weren’t commonplace until mass production made them affordable. Instead families decorated trees with lit candles. This was a great fire hazard, so buckets of water were kept nearby.
Typical decorations included:
- Paper chains
- Fabric, glass or wax balls and figures
- Cranberry and popcorn chains
- Painted walnut shells
Kissing under the mistletoe was a fond tradition. Each berry on the mistletoe representing a kiss. When all the berries had been plucked, no more kisses were allowed.
Retailers began taking advantage of the holiday in the late Victorian period. This was when the tradition of decorating department store windows began. Sometimes the displays had movable parts meant to wow passersby.
The retailers encouraged people to shop instead of giving homemade gifts.
Christmas carolers also were part of the retail tradition. They encouraged the sale of sheet music while they performed on crowded sidewalks. Carolers who went door-to-door hoped to be rewarded with a warm drink.
Cards and postcards also were mass-produced. They featured colorful, holiday scenes.
The Day’s Activities
Christmas Eve was a time of merriment. Activities including singing, plays and unwrapping gifts.
On Christmas Day, families attended church services, ate lavish dinners and visited friends.
The traditional meal included roast beef, chicken, goose, oysters, chestnuts, pheasant, and stuffing, and by the 1910s, turkey. The stuffing was made of sausage, chestnuts and apples.
Games were a large part of the holiday. People played kissing games, charades, snatching brandy-soaked raisins out of flames and blind man’s bluff. Ghost stories were told.
During the holiday season, families went to music programs and pantomimes and attended balls and parties.
Enjoy vintage holiday photos? Visit my Pinterest board Christmas: 1890-1920.
Updated: 20 October 2020