Weird Ways Christmas Was Totally Different 100 Years Ago

Flaming trees, ox hearts in jelly, and terrifying Santas? Nah, I’l stick to 2017.

1. Oyster soufflé was a common part of Christmas dinner.

Oysters were plentiful and cheap in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before overfishing reduced the supply and made them a luxury item. Typical festive menus would usually include an oyster dish, as well as plum pudding, turkey, chestnuts, boiled ham, orange jelly, and olives with anchovies for some reason. Blech.

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Oysters were plentiful and cheap in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before overfishing reduced the supply and made them a luxury item. Typical festive menus would usually include an oyster dish, as well as plum pudding, turkey, chestnuts, boiled ham, orange jelly, and olives with anchovies for some reason. Blech.

2. And the very rich would have eaten ox heart in jelly.

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For people who lived in Downton Abbey-style homes and had plenty of servants, the Christmas feast was as lavish as you can imagine. One example menu featured a braised ox heart in aspic, roast quail with grapes, pigs’ hearts cooked in wine, a whole roasted pig’s head, mussel jelly, and a gilded marzipan peacock, because why the hell not?

3. People bought their turkeys from shops like this.

There was a huge demand for turkeys, despite their luxury status and high price (a turkey cost the equivalent of a week's wage right up until 1930). People who couldn't afford a turkey could pick a pigeon, peafowl, capon, or chicken instead.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

There was a huge demand for turkeys, despite their luxury status and high price (a turkey cost the equivalent of a week’s wage right up until 1930). People who couldn’t afford a turkey could pick a pigeon, peafowl, capon, or chicken instead.

4. Carol singers wore masks and creepy-looking cloaks.

Like these spooky bin bags, collecting in aid of a charity in 1910. The costumes are a throwback to a pagan tradition called "mumming", where revellers would wear disguises and visit neighbour's houses, singing and dancing in return for food, booze, and money.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Like these spooky bin bags, collecting in aid of a charity in 1910. The costumes are a throwback to a pagan tradition called “mumming“, where revellers would wear disguises and visit neighbour’s houses, singing and dancing in return for food, booze, and money.

5. Kids were sent out to hunt down holly and mistletoe.

Ivy, holly, and even rosemary were used to decorate houses. In pagan times, holly was believed to ward off evil spirits, but by the Edwardian era it was thought to represent the crown of thorns Jesus wore when he was crucified. Country kids would gather greenery for free from lanes and fields, while city kids would be sent to buy it from markets.

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Ivy, holly, and even rosemary were used to decorate houses. In pagan times, holly was believed to ward off evil spirits, but by the Edwardian era it was thought to represent the crown of thorns Jesus wore when he was crucified. Country kids would gather greenery for free from lanes and fields, while city kids would be sent to buy it from markets.

6. And rich kids went to swanky, hotel-based parties that looked no fun whatsoever.

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This 1918 children’s party at the Savoy Hotel in London looks like a riot. Usually called “Christmas-tree parties“, these events were an opportunity to admire a hotel’s Christmas tree decked with ribbons, oranges, and toys, and stand round looking bored.

7. Most trees were illuminated with real candles.

The tree candles would often be enclosed in little glass or metal lanterns to cover the flame and (theoretically) reduce the fire risk, but it was still pretty dangerous.

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The tree candles would often be enclosed in little glass or metal lanterns to cover the flame and (theoretically) reduce the fire risk, but it was still pretty dangerous.

8. Though electric lights were slowly taking hold.

In 1906, a novelty lighting company in the US began to sell the first coloured electric tree lighting kits, and they gradually gained in popularity. They weren't much safer, though, as the electric lights were incredibly hot when switched on. Whoops.

Twitter: @MichiganHist

In 1906, a novelty lighting company in the US began to sell the first coloured electric tree lighting kits, and they gradually gained in popularity. They weren’t much safer, though, as the electric lights were incredibly hot when switched on. Whoops.

9. Suffragettes sent campaigning Christmas cards.

Museum of London

These cards were popular in both the UK and the US, and often depicted a jolly, progressive Santa bringing “votes for women” in his sack. The cards were produced and sold by various charities in the UK, and also the Women’s Journal in the US.

10. Soldiers put Christmas trees in their trenches.

Conditions in the freezing trenches were pretty terrible, particularly on the Western Front, but soldiers tried to make the best of a bad situation by decorating their dugouts, trenches, and bunkers with trees and handmade ornaments.

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Conditions in the freezing trenches were pretty terrible, particularly on the Western Front, but soldiers tried to make the best of a bad situation by decorating their dugouts, trenches, and bunkers with trees and handmade ornaments.

11. And ate their Christmas dinner in shell holes.

Troops in the trenches were expected to make do with their usual rations, usually corned beef. But some battalions would club together to buy hens or rabbits from local markets, share food gifts from home, and steal or requisition other items. It was a real team effort.

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Troops in the trenches were expected to make do with their usual rations, usually corned beef. But some battalions would club together to buy hens or rabbits from local markets, share food gifts from home, and steal or requisition other items. It was a real team effort.

12. Christmas dinner for officers was much fancier.

Officers' mess tents were comfortable, they had army cooks to cater for them, and their meals featured (according to British officer John Wedderburn-Maxwell) "roast pheasant, plum pudding and plenty of rum. Of course, the colonel could always get rather more than the ration! No, we had a real slap-up meal." Lucky for some.

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Officers’ mess tents were comfortable, they had army cooks to cater for them, and their meals featured (according to British officer John Wedderburn-Maxwell) “roast pheasant, plum pudding and plenty of rum. Of course, the colonel could always get rather more than the ration! No, we had a real slap-up meal.” Lucky for some.

13. German and British soldiers came together for a truce.

German soldiers made the first move by delivering a chocolate cake to the British line along with a note asking for a ceasefire so the Germans could hold a concert. The British soldiers agreed. Troops from both sides sang songs and traded jokes along the entire 27-mile length of no-man's land, and even took part in friendly football matches.

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German soldiers made the first move by delivering a chocolate cake to the British line along with a note asking for a ceasefire so the Germans could hold a concert. The British soldiers agreed. Troops from both sides sang songs and traded jokes along the entire 27-mile length of no-man’s land, and even took part in friendly football matches.

14. People argued about the use of the word “Merry”.

This cartoon from a 1916 copy of the Chicago Tribune is making a moral statement: Namely, that Christmas should not be a time of "merriment", which was associated with drunkenness, noise, and "loose" behaviour. Instead, people should carry out charity work and sit around smiling at each other. Spoilsports.

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This cartoon from a 1916 copy of the Chicago Tribune is making a moral statement: Namely, that Christmas should not be a time of “merriment”, which was associated with drunkenness, noise, and “loose” behaviour. Instead, people should carry out charity work and sit around smiling at each other. Spoilsports.

15. Cigarettes were the most popular present in the UK.

Vast numbers of parcels, letters, and cards were sent to male relatives at the front, but the War Office encouraged people to send only sensible, useful items. Socks, boots, gloves, razors, and watches were popular, but cigarettes (nicknamed "the fuel of the British Army") were particularly in demand. So healthy.

Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

Vast numbers of parcels, letters, and cards were sent to male relatives at the front, but the War Office encouraged people to send only sensible, useful items. Socks, boots, gloves, razors, and watches were popular, but cigarettes (nicknamed “the fuel of the British Army”) were particularly in demand. So healthy.

16. In America, movie star pillow cases were all the rage.

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The meteoric rise of Hollywood’s movie industry from 1912 onwards led to an equally fast rush to cash in on it. These pillow cases featured some of the hottest stars of the era, including Theda Bara, whose lavish (and now lost) movie Cleopatra was a huge hit in 1917. It cost $500,000 to make, equivalent to $9.35 million today.

17. Kids used their own socks as Christmas stockings.

Unless it has freakishly large feet, this baby has clearly borrowed an adult woman's stocking. But in general, kids either hung up their own socks or raided their dad's sock drawer. There were no jumbo-sized, sack-shaped, personalised bags back then.

General Photographic Agency / Getty Images

Unless it has freakishly large feet, this baby has clearly borrowed an adult woman’s stocking. But in general, kids either hung up their own socks or raided their dad’s sock drawer. There were no jumbo-sized, sack-shaped, personalised bags back then.

18. The poorest children got penny toys as gifts.

These cheap, cheerful tinplate models were manufactured in Germany and then sold in the UK for a single penny between around 1890 and 1920 by street traders, so that (in theory) even cash-strapped families would be able to afford at least one toy for their child.

liveauctioneers.com

These cheap, cheerful tinplate models were manufactured in Germany and then sold in the UK for a single penny between around 1890 and 1920 by street traders, so that (in theory) even cash-strapped families would be able to afford at least one toy for their child.

19. And Santa was creepy as hell.

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Mainly because the tradition at the time was to wear a papier-mâché mask as well as a beard. Please stay the fuck away from my chimney, creepy 1900s Santa.

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Mainly because the tradition at the time was to wear a papier-mâché mask as well as a beard. Please stay the fuck away from my chimney, creepy 1900s Santa.