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18 Photos That Show What Christmas Looked Like 100 Years Ago

Updated: Oct. 21, 2021

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but would you recognize what Christmas looked like a century ago?

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Old Christmas photo

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! These are the 20 best-ever Christmas songs, ranked.

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old christmas fun

A little Christmas humor

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. Cozy up with your crew to watch one of these 20 best-ever Christmas movies.

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Children playing on christmas

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 the NORAD Official Santa Tracker via smartphone or tablet.

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Christmas 4

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 in this country. But not the toys in this collection of 100 amazing things made in America.

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Christmas ww1

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. Check out these 20 cool everyday things that were invented during, and because of, World War I.

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Christmas Royals

The Royals

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. Don’t miss these 23 other rarely seen photos of the British royal family throughout the years.

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Christmas WW1 Allies

WWI Allies

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.

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Christmas family

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. As to what the package will include? Cigarettes and a pipe. No one is confusing this photo with one from today! We suggest one of these 40 cool tech gifts instead.

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Christmas games

The home front

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). Find out the most popular toy the year you were born.

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Christmas father

“Father Christmas”

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. Find out 14 charming Christmas traditions from around the world you’ll want to steal for your own family.

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Christmas Santa

Seriously, Santa, is that you?

This 1919 Father Christmas was even scarier than the one in 1917, which seems a bit odd given that by the turn of the century, most depictions of Santa Claus were jolly, red-cheeked, and not scary at all.

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Christmas romance

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. Speaking of that tradition, why do we kiss under the mistletoe, anyway?

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Christmas skirt

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!

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Christmas toys

Gift inequality

In this 1918 illustration of a family opening gifts on Christmas morning, it appears that a lucky boy has received a pony, while his sister plays with a new doll. Even up the holiday enjoyment by doing something everyone can enjoy: watching the best kids’ Christmas movies.

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Christmas styles

New styles

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. You’d be surprised how many of your favorite Christmas traditions’ history is rooted in the World Wars.

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Christmas children unattended

Unattended children

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. Does this picture make you wonder why we celebrate such an important holiday in the dead of winter? Here’s why Christmas is on December 25th.

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Christmas kids
Universal History Archive\UIG/Shutterstock

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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Christmas present opening

Awww, 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. May we suggest one of these 60 Amazon Prime gifts? There’s something for everyone on your list.