There’s nothing like looking through old photos to rekindle all those fond Christmas memories. Considered to be the most magical time of year, we gather with our loved ones to enjoy some quality time, good food, and gifts. But how were we celebrating before smart TVs and Alexa? Take a look at vintage photos of how we used to enjoy the Yuletide season.
Holiday traditions get passed down from generation to generation, but do they get lost in translation? These photos from Christmas past reveal which customs have changed and which remain the same. Without the distraction of modern technology, we’re seeing if Christmas past is beyond comparison to today’s world.
All the Fun Without the Mess
The 1960s saw a resurgence of fake Christmas trees and with that the invention of flocking – a synthetic, flame retardant substance that imitated snow. This powder would get dusted over the tree to bring that wintery-feel inside the comfort of your own home.
In this image, an elderly man bends down to admire the presents under the Christmas tree. Their considerable tree has been completely covered in the chemically-created dust. While it’s a common sighting today to see flocking on a tree, it was a new and impressive thing half a century ago!
The Most Exciting Morning of the Year
Opening your presents on Christmas morning is for many, one of the most exciting memories they have of childhood. And its a tradition that’s been going on for a long time, as evidenced by this vintage photo. These two youngsters are beaming with joy as they anticipate ripping the wrapping off.
And tinsel was just as popular then as it is now. It was cheap to make, buy and caught the light just the right way. Lately, however, people have been moving away from using the material.
John and Yoko’s Holiday Message
It’s 1969, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono have begun their “peace campaign.” In December they flew to Canada for the next leg of the campaign, and to coincide with it they put up huge posters and billboards that simply stated: “War is over! If you want it. Happy Christmas from John & Yoko.”
These statements were erected in 12 major cities across the world: New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Helsinki. In two years, these words would circle back around in John Lennon’s song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”
An idyllic image of Christmas traditions with your family, these two youngsters accompany their dad to the forest of evergreen conifers to hack down the one that’s just right. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be an easy fit, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And from the looks of it, the kids are wearing their special festive attire. Red, green and navy blue wrap them from the winter weather. In 1955, hand-picking the perfect tree was just as much of a tradition as it is today, it seems. Let’s just hope they were able to secure the tree well enough for the journey back home.
The City of Lights Becomes the City of Tinsel
Have you ever wondered how different Christmas decorations were back in the day? Wonder no more – here’s a picture of Fremont Street in Las Vegas, from South Second toward the Fremont Casino & Carnival Room. It’s 1958, and as you can see they still made an effort to bring Christmas cheer to the streets even then.
Even though the festive season is upon them, typically, the weather is beautiful! Tinsel and bells adorn the busy streets and have been captured on a 35mm Kodak Retina 1a camera. The line of classic cars parked along the sidewalk is really making us feel nostalgic for the Frank Sinatra years.
An Image to Make Your Hair Stand on End
First impressions are everything. That’s why these two young women have made all the effort for their Christmas party. It’s 1960, and there’s never been a better time to go all out with your hairdo and step outside your comfort zone. What you probably wouldn’t expect is that all the hair is real.
Claudette Ackrich and Giselle Roc each had 42-inch hair that had never been cut before. Their hair was wound around florist’s “topiary tree” – a straw pyramid used to shape vines into the desired shape. While one of the women has decorated her hair in tinsel, the other opted for dangling Christmas tree decorations.
Making Do With What You Have
Are you curious as to what the living room might have looked like around Christmas time when your parents were children? Wonder no more, as analog photographer John Matthews has a few slides from his family album. In this snap from the early ’60s, we can see how the retro furnishings fit in amongst the festive decor.
When you don’t have flocking to make your Christmas tree look snow-topped, you need to think outside the box. Matthews’s family hung thin strings of silver tinsel off of the end of their tree branches to make it look sufficiently icy. We love the effect it gives – flocking isn’t able to reflect the light like this!
Mother Knows Best
Growing up can be tough on all the mama’s boys or girls out there, as you move towards an independent life and lean less and less on your parents. But for many, Christmas is the time of year when you get to regress, just for a little bit. It seems to be the case for this young man, who lets his mom serve him a picture-perfect sticky toffee pudding for dessert.
This mom went the extra mile for her son in 1978, preparing the most idyllic looking pudding we’ve ever seen. But we get it – Christmas is the time of year to spoil yourself and the ones you love. If you can’t eat what you want and act how you please during the festive season, when can you?
Sharing the Wealth
It’s the heyday of Glam Rock and David Bowie’s alter ego “Ziggy Stardust” has all the young people cutting up their hair. But for those who are still a little too young for him, toys under the tree are the next best thing. In this photo, a young boy and his two guardians gaze into a toy store shop front at all the possibilities.
You can see the little boy’s face light up as he eyeballs his wish list. But this isn’t just toy shop window he’s looking through – it’s specific for children in need. Even back in the early ’70s, organized charity was trying to provide for less fortunate kids, giving them a reason to smile at Christmas.
Even though this image is from 1964, it feels awfully familiar to Christmas today. Three siblings sit smiling happily with their new presents; a doll, a girl-oriented board game, and a brand-new Ken doll to match Barbie. Complete with retro family living room items, these sisters are enjoying a classic Christmas moment.
This family has tried to contain their Christmas decorations to the tree – we can spot tinsel, baubles, and cards littered over the top of it. Raising a household of three girls, it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to over-clutter their home any more than necessary.
Mom’s Little Helpers
It wouldn’t be Christmas without some attempt at helping out in the kitchen, even if it’s only token. These kids are trying their hand at decorating the gingerbread men, but something tells us that they’re only making more mess for mom to tidy up.
Nonetheless, we can see that this tradition has been around since 1953. It looks like a smart thing to do too – this way, the young ones are occupied so the grown-ups can get on with preparing for when the rest of the family arrives.
Kids Aren’t the Only Ones Having Fun
The whole family has gathered in the kitchen in their finest formalwear, waiting for dinner to be served. But it’s not the children who are most excited this time – it’s grandma! As she pulls the perfectly cooked Turkey out of the oven, she smiles excitedly at the camera, proudly showcasing her creation.
This image from the ’50s serves as a reminder that the holiday season is also a magical time for the adults. This grandmother is happy she gets to feed her large family the huge turkey she painstakingly prepared. It’s a lucky thing it’s so big too, as from the looks of it she has a lot of mouths to feed.
A Child’s Dream
Missing your hometown parade this year? Don’t fret, enjoy this snapshot from Disneyland’s Christmas parade in 1961 instead. On this relatively sunny day, seven women wear boxes that read “Happy Holiday” across them and synchronize their walking for the annual festival parade.
Other visuals to feature during the parade include; mock-jousters, a large golden horseshoe, marionettes, giant rabbits, a marching band, and baton twirlers. You can count on Disneyland to deliver – if they say they’re putting on a show, they’re putting on a show!
Amazon Prime’s Got Nothing on a Gas Station
This is a real blast from the past. This Rhode Island gas station in 1940 had blocked all daylight from reaching inside by unwittingly forming a fence of Christmas trees around their storefront. Leaning up against the windows, freshly cut evergreen conifers stand, waiting to be taken in by a family for the Yuletide.
And even in 1940 businesses were offering free home delivery. Step aside Amazon Prime, as this gas station is providing the ultimate shopping convenience by offering to take a Christmas tree of choice straight to your front door. And in the early ’40s, that’s quite an achievement!
Not Much Has Changed in Over 70 Years
In this photograph from 1941-42, a young boy leans against a shop window. Inside, we can see Christmas tree ornaments available to purchase in an assortment of colors. Interestingly, storefronts don’t look all that different from today’s local shops.
We can see that even then, they offered discounts, used bright and bold colors to grab your attention, and organized their goods in a pyramid structure. Even the lettering on the advertisement prints looks similar to the kind of thing you’d find in your local store today.
A 1920s Eyeful
Take a look at this impressive Christmas tree from 1920. Not only is it huge but it is bedecked in decorations of all sorts. Tinsel, baubles, statues, angels – anything bright and colorful was thrown on this tree! While it looks kind of chaotic, it’s also putting us in the Christmas spirit.
Not only has the tree itself been painstakingly decorated, but the bottom of the tree also features a miniature nativity scene with small figurines. And a lot of detailed work has gone into it – from the varying hill heights to the fake snow. The Hauck family certainly knew how to pack a punch into a Christmas picture.
Christmas Snow You Can Drown In
This little cowboy poses in his father’s toolshed over the festive season. And as we can see, the snow can get pretty crazy in their neck of the woods. The snow not only settled but has almost fallen to the height of the boy himself. Looking at the sun outside, it barely looks believable that this was achieved.
This photo is of Running Springs in 1951 and believe it or not, is a common sighting for the area. Such a steep amount of snow that is almost the full height of an eight-year-old boy tends to happen in this part of California.
An Iconic Sportsman and His Boys
In this photo, actor Chuck Connors sits for a Christmas photo with his wife Betty and their four sons Jeffrey, Steven, Michael, and Kevin. It’s 1960, and they’re having a family portrait taken in the living room of their Los Angeles home. An icon in American sports, he is one of the few athletes to have competed as a professional basketball and baseball player.
As well-behaved and nicely dressed the kids are here, we’re sure that these young boys were a handful. With four growing mouths to feed and a husband that stands at 1.96 meters, we have a feeling that leftovers didn’t last long in the Connors household.
1940s Macy’s Had a Mall Santa
Here we have a mall Santa all the way from 1942. Sat in the R.H. Macy & Company department store in New York, this Father Christmas is busy at work. Another Santa is on the other side of the wall hidden from the sight of this little girl “to prevent disillusionment,” claims the Office of War Information.
After children queued up for their one-on-one time with the old man, they were encouraged to tell Santa what their wishes were for Christmas. They then were presented with some candy to walk away with. It’s touching to see the same traditions in practice today.
An Affluent Christmas in the Roaring ’40s
In this digitally colorized photo, we can imagine ourselves sat with Bette Davis opening presents in the 1941 Warner Bros film The Man Who Came to Dinner. Davis plays the part of Maggie Cutler, an assistant to Sheridan Whiteside (played by Monty Woolley) who embarks on an affair with him.
This photo gives us a glimpse into what Christmas was like in the early 1940s for a wealthy family, as well as the customs and styles of the era. Almost 80 years ago, Christmas present wrapping doesn’t look like it has evolved at all, as we are still partial to some patterned wrapping paper and a colorful bow.
Santa’s Favorite Elf
In November 1950, none other than the Golden Age of Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn was busy being Santa’s little helper. Here she is with Father Christmas, helping him dole out presents and kind words to the children who have lined up to see him.
These children were certainly in for a special surprise when they got to the front of the line that day. Joining Saint Nick and Uncle Holly, Audrey Hepburn was making her screen debut in the Associated British comedy Laughter in Paradise.
Hercules in the Making
This gorgeous photo from 1972 makes us feel nostalgic for Christmas preparations. This kid drags his prize tree through the dense snow and can’t wait to get it home. Saw in hand, he can proudly display his freshly chopped evergreen conifer to the rest of the family for Christmas.
It’s quite an impressive feat considering that its no easy task to cut down your own tree. And hand-picking your new house plant is still a tradition carried out not just in America, but all over the world. This kid deserves recognition for his efforts, as well as for managing to keep a smile on his face.
Tom Selleck’s Moustache Could Never
It’s December in 1980 and one man, in particular, can’t wait to get home and fill the space under the Christmas tree. This dad is proudly carrying out dad duties and bringing home a handful of gifts for this lucky family. We expect he’s excited to see everyone’s face on Christmas morning as they tearing up the wrapping paper.
This photo perfectly encapsulates the late ’70s/early ’80s style. From the garishly patterned sofa to the tan-colored suede jacket, it’s putting us in the mood to binge-watch Woody Allen’s filmography. But is it too much to hope that someone bought dad an electric shaver for Christmas?
This Child Star Met Santa in 1934
In this vintage snap, child actress of the 1930s, Shirley Temple, pays Santa Claus a visit at a department store. Star of films such as Heidi, Susannah of the Mounties, and Bright Eyes, she shot to fame and the young age of five years old, having already been in the business since she was only three.
Despite her success from a very young age, it’s nice to see that she got to indulge in some childhood traditions. She looks on, amused, as the mall Santa twizzle’s his mustache coiff. Considering she was already experienced with performing, we wonder whether she was acting at this moment or simply enjoying one-on-one time with Saint Nick!
The Disco Queens Lets Us In
In 1976, the “Queen of Disco” Donna Summer let a photographer into her home to capture candid shots of her right around the holidays. She gained her prominence in the late seventies when disco music really took off. Sained a huge following internationally as well as in America, making many hit singles throughout her career.
Here we get a chance to see some of her perfectly arranged Christmas decorations that she hung in her large Los Angeles house. She is the ultimate glamor pin-up and wearing as cozy cashmere sweater with her red nails and lipstick, she made us really nostalgic for festivities this year.
Christmas During the War Years
This digitally colorized photo from 1943 shows a woman putting up some Christmas decorations for a corporate party. It’sChristmas Eve, and she’s making sure everything is in place for when the employees of the United Federal Workers of America, Congress of Industrial Organizations, arrive.
She took a pair of scissors and some colored sugar paper and simply made do with what there was in the office! And we think she’s done a nice job with what there was available. We’re not surprised there wasn’t much – in 1943 the war was still going on and rationing was a part of everyday life.
Vintage Express Delivery
In 1955, the New York Post Office saw growth in mail requests during the holiday period and decided to take matters into their own hands. They set up Christmas stations at the corners of or in the middle of the street in a bid to be more efficient and organized at mailing people Christmas cards and presents.
It took the form of a kiosk-like structure that stood out like a sore thumb but did prove to be a useful addition to the people of New York in the ’50s. Today, we’re talking about the future of self-serving postal kiosks. But back in ’55, these modest little booths were the innovative changes people experienced.
A ’60s Christmas Onesie
This mom stands in a classic retro pose for this ’60s Christmas day photo opp. Bizarrely, she’s wearing what many of us do on Christmas – an adult baby grow. In reality, she’s wearing what probably would have been considered long johns; the thermal underwear worn by people in cold climates underneath their clothes.
It’s either a onesie or she’s come in fancy dress as Thing One or Thing Two from Dr. Seuss’s ’57 children’s classic The Cat in the Hat. Regardless of why she’s wearing it, it’s great that she paired the one-piece with some white mid-calf boots. Honestly, it’s a look.
Studio 54 Santa
Back in the day, Studio 54 was the hottest club in the big around. Favored by celebrities for its restricted guest list and professional lighting design, it is world renown as one of the most unique dance clubs and a hot spot for high rollers. Pictured below, actor and comedian Robin Williams dances with Santa Claus and a female companion.
It looks like Saint Nicholas is handing the Dead Poets Society star something, and Wiliams doesn’t exactly look like he’s in the right frame of mind. Looking a little worse for wear, Williams tentatively looks to be grabbing it all the same.
A California Christmas
Rita Aarons, the wife of famed photographer Slim Aarons, relaxes in the pool behind their California home around Christmas time, 1954. It seems the Aaron family’s creativity goes beyond the camera lens as they decorated their pool with floating baubles and a decorated tree.
Slim was no stranger to high-life moments such as these. He was well known for photographing rich socialities and old Hollywood celebrities. He described his style saying he photographs “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” Well, we are glad his wife and kids made the cut.
Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable Holiday Hit
Legendary jazz crooner and pianist, Nat King Cole was known for his smooth soulful tones. He also released his own catchy Christmas anthem, called The Christmas Song, which is still a go-to holiday hit every year. Apart from being a phenomenally talented vocalist and actor, he also had a talented daughter, Natalie Cole.
In this iconic holiday shoot, his daughter Natalie is sitting affectionately on her legendary father’s lap, by the Christmas Tree. Incidentally, while her dad may have been her greatest inspiration, Natalie was also blessed with his musical genes too. She grew up to be a best-selling R&B singer.
A Time-Honored Tradition
Other than tinsel and traditional ornaments, as years gone by, people began being more and more creative when it comes to decorating their Christmas tree. Not only that but every country began adopting their own traditions as well.
For example, one of the most traditionally American decorations included stringing together chains of popcorn. Some might be surprised to hear the origin of the Christmas tree actually began in 16th century Germany. The concept was inspired by a pagan tradition of honoring evergreens in order to celebrate the winter solstice.
The Year Santa Buckled
As part of the time-honored holiday tradition, Santa has been a regular feature in the Thanksgiving Macy’s Parade through the years. For many people, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the festive season too, so a giant Santa balloon is the best way to get into the holiday spirit.
However, in the 1941 Macy’s Parade, Santa Claus didn’t sleigh through the streets so gracefully. Either the giant Santa balloon lost its helium, someone fed him too many mince pies. Either way, his legs buckled and Santa crashed to the ground in the middle of the street! Well, that’s one way to kick-start the festivities!
Have Yourself a Post-Punk Christmas
John Lydon, the singer of English post-punk band, Public Image Limited (PiL) poses begrudgingly under a Merry Christmas banner in 1978. This was in the early day of the group’s music career and the same year that they released their first album titled, First Issue.
Many accredit Lyndon and PiL for changing the course of modern pop music and their second album Metal Box is often referred to as one of the most important albums of the post-punk era. We aren’t sure what inspired this holiday time photo but we are loving the emotional contrast.
A Very Dali Christmas
Salvadore Dali dressed as Santa signing books at Doubleday in New York City, 1954. Dali was a Spanish artist known both for his surrealist paintings as well as his larger than life eccentricities that correlated perfectly with his impactful work.
Dali was very imaginative and his approach to the holiday season was no exception. His artistic genius had a magical way of shining through during Christmas time, both through his Christmas-themed work and through festive appearances such as the one pictured here.
Elvis’ Legendary Christmas
In 1957 Elvis Presley set everyone’s pulses racing when he released his deluxe, limited edition Elvis’ Christmas Album. The album captured the spirit of Christmas and rocked through the charts. It later became one of the best-selling Christmas albums of all time.
Just like a true icon, Elvis also graced the cover of the album with a homely Christmas-themed photoshoot, fit for a king. He brought his winning smile, a sharp suit, and trademark quiff and was surrounded by boxes of presents, a signature Christmas tree and plenty of holiday cheer.
A Model Holiday Gift
This colorized seasonal photo was captured on Christmas in 1957 Baltimore. As you can see, this young boy was excited to pose in front of the family Christmas tree with all his favorite new gifts. And Santa certainly was generous that year.
With not a computer game in sight, this young boy was just excited to receive board games like The Shopping Center Game, books, and brand new rain boots. He also is pretty proud to show us all his prized holiday gift, a model Super Carrier U.S.S.
The Christmas Post
At Christmas time, while many of us get into the spirit of the holidays, it’s also a big commercial holiday too. Every year, as we race through the mall to find the perfect gift to mail to our loved ones, it’s easy to forget that sometimes Santa needs a little help at the sorting office.
In the 1950s, when it wasn’t so common to travel long distances to see loved ones, many people mailed holiday gifts and parcels to each other. So this photo was captured in the 1950s at the parcel sorting office. We only hope they managed to sort out all those gifts in time for Christmas morning!
A Christmas Darling
British actress and icon of London in the swinging ’60s, Julie Christie, rose to prominence in the 1965 film Darling. She played the part of a seductive social climber and became a worldwide star because of it. She even ended up winning an academy award the following year for Best Actress.
The star was also dubbed the “anti goddess” for her tomboyish, no-fuss style and carefree attitude. That’s what makes it all the more surprising to see her in the pin-up style Christmas photoshoot. As a festive treat, she dressed up as the feminine ideal in a provocative mini dress during her high time in the ’60s.
Go Big or Go Home
Silent movie actor Harold Lloyd is considered one of the most influential film comedians of the silent film era. But not a lot of people know just how much of a Christmas fanatic he was in real life. He would have a huge Christmas tree erected in his home and as we can see, an abundance of presents.
On the left is his wife, Mildred, seated among the gifts beside one of their dogs. And on the left, we have more family members – human and canine alike! It’s easy to see that for Lloyd, Christmas was an occasion to go all out with your family.
One of Saint Nick’s Less Dignified Moments
This photo might show you Santa as you’ve never seen, or imagined him. It’s 1978 in Akron, Ohio, where a Sheriff’s deputy is forced to pat down Santa Claus after he allegedly assaulted a jeweler who objected to his method of “soliciting contributions.”
The man is John Kaufman, 30 years of age, and he was in charge of a group of three Santas from the Cleveland Temple of Hare Krishna. They were soliciting contributions “in an aggressive manner,” according to police reports. It seems Santa can misbehave, too!
’70s Power Couple Outfits
Take a look at this ’70s throwback. A young couple decorates their Christmas tree in 1972, complete with the hair, fashion, and colors of the decade. It just so happens to be the singer and actor Clifton Davis along with his partner Diana Seijo in this vintage photo.
Diana is wearing a multi-colored checked short-sleeve sweater set with blue button-up corduroy pants that flare at the bottom. And Clifton looks ever the gentleman in a pink button-down shirt, an orange, pink and black sweater vest and brown pants with white stars.
Looking After the Reindeer
“Welcome to Santa’s House,” is written above the door of this old American joint. And what’s outside of it is an idyllic scene of what we always hope Saint Nicholas is doing. Santa appears preoccupied trying to feed one of his reindeer, affectionately dropping food for it from his hand.
This vintage Santa Claus is fulfilling all our childhood dreams by tenderly feeding one of his sleigh-pullers. But we must say, as much as we love this throwback snap, Santa’s looking a little on the thin side. Perhaps he has a special lady in his life this year and is trying to shift a few of those pounds.
If Only Christmas at Home Was This Dreamy
The family portrait was the Christmas ideal during its time in 1960. The little boy and girl sit on the floor opening their new presents, while mom and dad look on adoringly. The father is in his grand armchair and the mother sits by his side on a footstool.
Four, perfect and symmetrical stockings hang above their roaring fireplace. It is interesting to see how times have changed from then to now regarding “the perfect Christmas.”
Christmas Over a Century Ago
We’re traveling all the way back to 1910 in this festive snap. Here we have a studio portrait of a young woman, who has dressed herself up in an unusual Christmas tree/dress hybrid, accompanied by a matching pointy hat to really set off the look.
Taken in Christchurch, New Zealand, this young woman looks bewildered even for 1910. And she’s been snapped at an awkward moment with her elbow bent to the side. Then again, we wouldn’t really know what to do if we were asked to pose in a Christmas tree-come-dress, either.
When Money Is No Object
We’re revisiting Christmas at Silent movie actor Harold Lloyd’s house in this photo as it’s just too good to miss. Here, we have an enormous tree that quite simply overflows with lights and decoration. Christmas present wrapping has changed quite a bit as well, as now we see the incorporation of more fun, bright colors like hot pink.
We’re not sure if Harold was trying to take his family’s eyes out with this one, but we can’t deny that this must have been a memorable Christmas at the Lloyd household. His family stands to the side of the tree next to a friend of the family’s, Lloyd bit player Roy Brooks, as they gaze at the presents excitedly.
Underdressed for the Season
American film actress of the 1930s, Grace Bradley, sent pulses racing in her short shorts and court heels. Not quite a practical outfit to wear when it’s snowing… but we can live by the assumption that they weren’t sticklers for making things realistic in the dirty thirties.
We think that she’d be better suited with some comfy snow boots and, come to think of it, a little weatherproof jacket couldn’t go amiss. But higher-ups opted for that under-dressed, frozen to the core look. Still, we can appreciate this digitally-colored vintage photograph all the same.
Santa Wears a Helmut
On December 25th in 1943, the injured soldiers at a Field Hospital in the Solomon Islands got a special visit from Santa himself. This Father Christmas didn’t look too much like the one on the Coca Cola ads – with his slim frame a board shorts – but they weren’t so bothered.
Despite his unconventional Santa Claus appearance, this Saint Nick did bear gifts. Slung across his shoulder are the presents he handed out to the soldiers as he greeted them. It won’t have been much and it won’t have been what they wanted most, but it was something.
They Come Bearing Gifts
The realistic colors in this photo from 1951 make us feel like we’re in the outdoors with them. These two aunties aren’t coming empty-handed – they’re prepared with food and gifts for under the tree. They’re also ready for the cold winter weather, wearing very impressive large fur coats.
And it looks like they’re having themselves a picture-perfect Christmas with all the snow. On top of that, they look lucky enough to have some Christmas day sun! No wonder they’re all smiles. This affluent family will have surely had a comfortable Christmas this time around.