15 Vintage Photos of Christmases Past
If the past is a different country, as the saying goes, we invite you to take a trip via these charming images to celebrate the holidays in a simpler, smaller place.
Mr. Claus goes to Washington
Harris&Ewing /Library of Congress
These days, our skies are filled with everything from drones to jumbo jets, and we’re struggling to regulate all of them. Back in the law-abiding past, Santa himself went to the Department of Commerce in our nation’s capital to obtain his official airplane pilot’s license and get flight maps from government officials. Here, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics William P. MacCracken (left) and Director of Aeronautics Clarence M. Young, in 1927, as well as their assurances that airways would be lit come Christmas Eve. If these vintage Christmas photos don’t get you in the holiday spirit, travel to ones of these small towns with the best Christmas lights.
A different kind of traffic
John Collier/ Library of Congress
Bus terminals were the busy transport hubs during the holidays of yore, because air travel was too pricey for most folks. In the 1940s, a round-trip plane ticket between New York City and San Francisco cost around $300, nearly 40 percent of what you would have paid for a brand-new car. Here, a view of a crowded Greyhound Bus terminal in 1941.
Senators played Santa…
Harris&Ewing/Library of Congress
Rather than spending their days locked in fierce debate, in the kinder, gentler past Congressional representatives came together at the holidays to collect toys for poor children. Here, U.S. Senators Joseph F. Guffey of Pennsylvania (left) and D. Worth Clark of Idaho assembled their haul in 1939. These vintage Christmas photos make us want to check out these Christmas traditions from around the world.
… And so did the police
Bain News Service /Library of Congress
Members of an NYC precinct handed out toys to underprivileged kids in this vintage Christmas photo taken between 1915 and 1920.
Bark the herald angels sing
Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress
Even shelter animals got their share of Christmas cheer. In 1936, Washington, D.C., poundmaster Frank B. Marks showered stray dogs and cats with festivities.
Window shopping never goes out of style
Bain News Service/Library of Congress
Compared to today’s brightly-lit, packed, and high-tech store windows, the displays of the past appear rather empty and dull. But what has remained unchanged is kids’ excitement in daydreaming about the toys they might find under their trees on Christmas morning. Here, children gazed at Macy’s in New York City between 1908 and 1917. Anyone can handle these DIY Christmas decorations that will make your home extra festive.
Where’s the Secret Service??
Harris& Ewing/Library of Congress
Without a metal detector or armed guard in sight, young members of the public went to personally express their Christmas wishes to the junior residents of the White House. Here, in 1930, six-year-olds Kitty Murray (far left) and Harry G. Holme Jr. (far right) represented the children of Washington, D.C., when they paid a holiday call on presidential grandkids Peggy Ann Hoover and Herbert Hoover the Third.
Tidings of comfort and joy
Bain News Service /Library of Congress
These vintage Christmas photos make us feel so nostalgic. The first Christmas cards were sold in America in 1847, although Hallmark didn’t sell its first Christmas cards until 1915. Even though the Internet has led to a decrease in snail mail, Christmas remains the biggest card-sending holiday in America. Around 1.2 billion cards are sent each year. This photo was taken in the 1910s when postcards temporarily overtook cards with envelopes in popularity. This is the history behind your favorite Christmas traditions.
The original F2F, IRL entertainment
John Collier/Library of Congress
This year, after the Christmas presents are opened, many people will probably be busy playing with their new electronic devices. But back in the day, any playing was done on the piano, where everyone stood to sing carols together. Here, a group gathered at a home in the Washington, D.C., area in 1941.
F2F and also cheek-to-cheek
John Collier / Library of Congress
Another popular Christmas party activity in the past was dancing. No DJ or streaming service was needed: The only requirements were a record player or radio, enough space to two-step, and a partner. This photo was taken at a holiday get-together in 1941.
I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus
Courtesy Barbara Larson/Reminisce
This vintage holiday card perfectly represents the song, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause. After looking at these vintage Christmas photos, check out the history behind your favorite Christmas carols.
Presents for all
Courtesy Carol Stirling/Reminisce
A little two-year-old sits next to all of the presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Some of the presents are for her two older brothers, who are away serving in World War II. This is the real reason Christmas colors are red and green.
Hugs from Santa
Courtesy Jim Fiorilli/Reminisce
Two young boys—not exactly sure how they feel about sitting on the lap of a big-bellied bearded man—visit Santa at their local department store.
Courtesy Ruby Walford/Reminisce
This happy family poses next to their tree on Christmas morning. Even in black and white, you can still see the shine of the tinsel. Next, find out the 20 best Christmas songs, ranked.