25 Days of Christmas: Day 17 ~ A Century of American Christmases, Part I (1900-1920)

Although its roots extend back for centuries, the Christmas that North Americans know and love is fundamentally a twentieth-century phenomenon. Take Santa, for example: It wasn’t until a nationwide ad campaign for Coca-Cola in the 1920s that he came with a consistent look. In fact, Christmas wasn’t an official holiday throughout the United States until 1890 – and even at that time, New Year’s Day was a strong competitor for the honor of prime gift-giving holiday. The following surveys and excerpts from published accounts of Christmases past offer a glimpse of the holiday’s evolution.

Christmas in the 1900s

1900sIn the first decade of the 1900s, technology was making its influence know, as the automobile rolled onto the roads in earnest and the Wright brothers made their fist flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Many Americans shopped by catalog from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, and the toy teddy bear made its first appearance, thanks to a cartoon that showed Theodore Roosevelt sparing the life of a bear.

1900s Christmas Budget

Wonder what you might have bought for friends and family at the beginning of the twentieth century? Here are some popular items from the 1900s, with their prices, taken from contemporary newspapers and magazine ads:

  • Men’s smoking jacket – $5.00
  • Women’s corset – $1.59
  • Sheet music cabinet – $6.25
  • Phonograph – $150.00
  • China candlestick – $0.50
  • Boys worsted sweater – $2.00
  • Toy sewing machine – $1.00
  • Toy automobile with rubber tires – $2.50

 Christmas in the 1910s

1910sThe industrial age and mass production were the hallmarks of this decade, with the one millionth Model T Ford in production and name such as Chevrolet and Dodge making an appearance. Popular toys included Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, and the Erector Set. From 1914 to 1918, however, our attention was firmly focused on Europe, where World War I was being fought by soldiers from Canada and other countries around the world, and from 1917-1918, soldiers from the United States as well.

1910s Christmas Budget

  • Women’s leather handbag – $3.50
  • Folding umbrella – $4.00
  • Opera glasses – $5.00
  • French plume – $1.95
  • Singer sewing-machine – $24.50
  • “Self-starting” Everett automobile – $1,250.00
  • Girls wool dress – $2.95

Christmas in the 1920s

1920sThe 1920s bring to mind the age of flapper fashion and jazz music, but the years also brought new fashions in art and architecture, from art deco to modernism. Frank Lloyd Wright was active this decade, and in 1927, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis. Hot toys included die-cast metal toys, the Raggedy Ann doll, and toward the end of the decade, the yo-yo.

1920s Christmas Budget

  • Winter overcoat – $18.50
  • Fountain pen – $2.50
  • Silk hat – $7.50
  • Victrola brand phonograph – $99.80
  • RCA Radiola with loudspeaker – $150.00
  • Persian rug – $38.75
  • One-pound box of chocolates – $6.50
  • Toy tool chest – $1.55
  • Girls’ ice skates – $5.00

(Jeffrey, Yvonne; The Everything Family Christmas Book)



This entry was posted in 25DaysOfChristmas, Celebration, Children, Christmas, Gifts, History, Holidays, Life, Seasons and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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