What Christmas was like the year you were born
On Christmas Day in 1914, British and German troops emerged from the trenches of World War I as weeks of bad weather cleared and called a truce. It was spontaneous and not approved by any higher-ups, but many soldiers on both sides ended up taking part. Soccer games were played between the British and German troops before they returned to their respective sides at dusk and continued fighting.
The Christmas Truce, as it is known today, is for many an illustration of the power Christmas holds over humanity's collective imagination. Christmas is generally thought of as a time for family, togetherness, compassion, and generosity. However, the ways people celebrate and think of the holiday continue to change as society evolves.
To see how Christmas has changed over the last century, Stacker explored how popular traditions, like food and decorations, emerged and evolved from 1920 to 2019 in the U.S. and around the world. Stacker also found when some of the most popular Christmas songs, movies, and books entered the canon of the holiday season and gifts that topped many Christmas lists over the years.
Some traditions on the list are centuries old, and others are newer but no less cherished. At times, especially in eras of war and strife, families adjust their rituals to accommodate their new circumstances while still keeping their spirit alive.
Read on to discover how Christmas has evolved over the past century.
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1920: Nativity plays are all the rage
By 1920, Christmas celebrations were shifting away from the public space and more toward the family. Nativity plays, a tradition still shared today, had become extremely popular for school children in 1920.
1921: Christmas takes the radio
Many of today’s traditions began during prohibition-era America. With the ubiquity of the radio by this time, the recent invention had become the most popular gift and also the center of most social gatherings—particularly for live-broadcasted holiday concerts.
[Pictured: Radio enthusiasts in 1922 receiving concert broadcasts on a radio apparatus and relaying them through a loudspeaker and headphones.]
1922: BBC broadcasts first British radio play 'The Truth about Father Christmas'
Radios were globally influential, and in 1922, the BBC started daily programs. The BBC broadcasted its first orchestral concert on Dec. 23 and its first radio-broadcasted play, “The Truth About Father Christmas,” on Dec. 24.
[Pictured: A play being performed in costume at a BBC radio studio in the early 1900s.]
1923: First Christmas tree in the White House
Alongside the radio, Christmas trees were a growing centerpiece of the holiday. In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge lit the first national Christmas tree in the White House—a 64-foot fir.
[Pictured: Calvin Coolidge and group stand beside the first White House Christmas tree in Washington D.C.]
1924: Macy’s parade ushers in Christmas
Today's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began as the “Macy’s Christmas Parade” in 1924. Reports reveal that 10,000 people showed up to see live animals from Central Park Zoo.
[Pictured: A little boy waves during the parade in New York City.]
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1925: General Electric makes artificial lights more accessible
By the middle of the 1920s, the increasing popularity of Christmas trees meant a need for affordable and accessible lights. Enter powerhouse General Electric, who began production of pre-assembled, inexpensive lights to adorn homes and trees for the holidays.
[Pictured: Christmas at the Keech house, Santa Ana, circa the 1920s.]
1926: Alcohol poisonings abound thanks to the U.S. government
A little Christmas libation never hurt anyone—except in 1926. Angered by the public’s continued consumption during prohibition, the government employed a scare tactic by poisoning some manufactured liquor. On Christmas Eve in New York City, hospitals were overflowing with sick people.
[Pictured: A 1925 Christmas party at a hospital.]
1927: Artificial feather trees gain popularity
Besides more convenient lights, the trees themselves took on innovations. By the latter half of the decade, artificial trees were common. “Feather trees” were assembled from dyed goose feathers and attached to a “trunk.”
[Pictured: A small Christmas tree made of goose feathers.]
1928: Gag gifts make their debut
Who doesn't love a good practical joke? The joy buzzer, invented in 1928, is a prank device comprising a coiled spring inside a disc worn in the palm. When the wearer shakes hands with another person, a button on the disc releases the spring, which quickly unwinds, creating a vibration that feels like a minor electric shock to the unsuspecting victim.
The same year marked Hollywood’s first Christmas Parade in Los Angeles.
[Pictured: Diagram of the first joke buzzer, later joy buzzer, from United States patent application 1845735, by Soren Sorensen Adams.]
1929: The White House catches on fire
1929's Christmas will be remembered for a great blaze in the nation’s capital. As a children’s Christmas party took place for President Hoover’s aides and friends, the West Wing executive offices caught fire. Despite the four-alarmer bringing some 130 firefighters to the White House, the children were never aware. The press room was destroyed, and the offices suffered substantial damage. However, the fire was out by 10:30 p.m.
[Pictured: President Hoover views West Wing fire ruins, Jan. 15, 1930.]
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