40 Vintage Christmas Photos That Will Make You Merry

From aluminum Christmas trees to retro Santa costumes to vintage holiday dolls, these photos will transport you back to simpler times.

Christmas Tree Hairstyles

These 40 Vintage Christmas Pictures Will Make You Want To Break Out Milk And Cookies For Santa Claus

Most Americans today celebrate Christmas in the same way. There’s a tree, ornaments, string lights, presents, and maybe a glass of eggnog with brandy, as seen in the vintage Christmas photos above. But many American holiday traditions are surprisingly modern.

Across the pond, England’s Queen Victoria and her German-born husband Prince Albert started the Christmas tree trend in the 1840s, according to Washington Post. But the holiday didn’t really catch on in the United States until the Civil War, which occurred about 20 years later.

The conflict, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, led to a terrible tragedy for the country. At least 620,000 Americans died as compatriots from the North and South fought and killed each other. And during that bloody battle, the once-mediocre Christmas holiday takes on even more importance.

As History reported, the American media tried to maintain a light mood during those gloomy days by publishing happy stories and illustrations about Christmas. From the massacres of the Civil War came the famous depiction of Santa Claus as a jolly, red-cheeked character, largely created by political cartoonist Thomas Nast, according to Geographic national.

Even after the war was over, the American media continued to publish cheery stories about the holiday. And Americans, looking for something to celebrate after years of suffering, are leaning on Christmas traditions. Check out some of the most festive vintage Christmas photos in the gallery above, then learn more about the holiday’s modern history below.

Modern History of Christmas in America

Vintage Christmas photo

Bettmann/Getty’s imageCarving by Thomas Nast of Santa Claus, waiting for children to fall asleep on the roof.

Christmas became a federal holiday in the United States in 1870, and American yuletide celebrations quickly developed. Nast’s Santa Claus image jumped off the page in the 1890s, when entrepreneur James Edgar dressed up as Santa Claus in Brockton, Massachusetts, to welcome children to his department store. same decade, History reported that the Salvation Army began asking for volunteers dressed in Santa Claus to collect donations.

Other traditions, such as Christmas lights and sending Christmas cards, soon developed as well. And Americans are increasingly giving each other gifts for the holidays, even though these gifts have changed drastically over the last century.

As Wall Street Journal note, the early 20th century saw a desire for simple Christmas gifts. Women might ask for sewing machines, men might ask for pocket watches, and children often ask for dolls or train sets. However, during the post-World War II boom, requests for gifts started to become more extravagant. Women may ask for fur coats, men may want radios and cameras, and children may want gifts like roller skates and goofy putty.

Christmas In The 1980's

RedditVintage Christmas photo of a child getting excited with Transformers toys in the 1980’s.

In the following decades, the increasingly commercialized Christmas season often featured “must have” toys. In the 1980s, children begged Santa Claus for Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers toys, and “Koosh balls.” At the end of the decade, the most coveted gift for many people would be the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) or Game Boy, according to Insiders.

The 1990s saw demand for Barney dolls, Power Rangers toys, Furbies, Pok√©mon cards and, of course, Beanie Babies. In the 2000s, American children wanted toys like the Razor scooter, Xbox 360 and iPad. Since then, children have asked for toys related to the film, such as dolls Frozen (2013), though Insiders reports that 2016 saw a hilarious blast from the past when a re-released NES Classic became one of the year’s most popular giveaways.

Over the years, Christmas gifts and traditions in the United States have changed quite a bit. But the spirit of holiday cheer remains largely the same. As the 40 vintage Christmas photos in the gallery above show, Christmas is a time for families, parties, and children who are so overwhelmed and excited by their presents that they move to tears.


After enjoying these vintage Christmas photos, take a look at some of the weirdest Christmas ads ever made. Or, discover the story of the 1914 Christmas Armistice, which brought World War I to a brief halt.

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