Here’s What Christmas Looked Like in the 1950s
Experience the joys of a retro 1950s Christmas, from aluminum Christmas trees to bubble lights and Barbie.
Though menus shifted as new products came on the market, holiday fare always included recipes passed down through the generations. And the main course centered on an impressive cut of meat. Green bean casserole, invented in 1955 by Campbell Soup Co., remains a popular addition to holiday menus. And in the post-war 1950s, cream cheese, bacon and spinach were the foundation of appetizers and side dishes. John Hafer shared this photo of Christmas in 1957 at their home in DeWitt, New York. Try these vintage Christmas recipes for a classic, retro menu.
Aluminum Christmas Trees
The aluminum Christmas tree was introduced in 1958. More than a million of the trees were welcomed into American homes until they fell out of favor in the mid-1960s. Mary Ann Gove of Cottonwood, Arizona, shared this photo of her Uncle Lewis and Aunt Dot’s aluminum tree. If families chose a real tree, they covered it in glittering tinsel. We love these awesome vintage Christmas decorations!
Bubble lights were all the rage in the late 1940s and ’50s. “This bubble light tree is among our most cherished Christmas decorations,” writes Carolyn von Gohren of Olympia, Washington. “My grandfather gave it to my parents in the early 1950s. The 27-inch tree has 18 lights that ‘bubble’ once their liquid reaches a certain temperature.” These Christmas decorating ideas will make your home merry and bright.
Millions watched Christmas parades showcasing the amazing balloon confections of Pittsburgh’s Jean Gros in the late 1940s and into the ’50s. Inspired by the giant balloons at Macy’s parade in New York City, Gros fashioned smaller versions for parades in small towns. This 1952 parade in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, featured more than 40 balloons. Eat these Christmas snacks while watching the parade.
Many new toys were introduced in the 1950s. Consumers went nutty over Silly Putty when the novelty item debuted in 1950. When Hasbro introduced Mr. Potato Head in 1952, there was no potato—kids had to use a real spud. In 1953, Jack Odell learned that his daughter couldn’t bring toys to school unless they were small enough to fit inside a matchbox. His employer, Lesney Products, went on to sell millions of the die-cast metal vehicles. Play-Doh showed up in 1956, the Frisbee (originally dubbed the Pluto Platter) in 1957 and the Hula Hoop in 1958. Greg Groom of Columbus, Ohio, shared this photo of Christmas morning in 1959, when he unwrapped a jet and a car. Enjoy these delicious recipes while you’re unwrapping Christmas gifts.
Dolls still stand atop many a child’s Christmas list. But the kind of dolls they’ve desired over the decades have been as varied as Barbie’s wardrobe. The Vogue Doll Company’s Ginny dolls, named after creator Jennie Grave’s daughter, Virginia, took girls by storm during the 1950s. Sweet Sue dolls, made by the American Character Doll Co., were also popular. But since the 1959 launch of Barbie, the doll world has never been the same. Sisters Vicki, Barbara and Jacqueline Strampe all received dolls from Santa Claus in 1952. Here are holiday gifts for kids who love to cook.
Large Family Gatherings
In those days, when most family members lived within a few miles of each other, large holiday gatherings were the norm. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all assembled together, as in this family photo from 1951. “My grandma (center) has hosted Christmas dinner in her farmhouse for more than 60 years,” says Amy Armes of Bright, Ontario. “She’s cooked turkeys as large as 49 pounds.” These recipes will remind you of Christmas at Grandma’s.
For some families, Christmas Eve wouldn’t be the same without a special story. After hanging stockings and putting out Santa’s snack, their mother, Rosemary, read the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, recalls daughter Deanna Harmon of Goodyear, Arizona. Deanna snapped this photo of her mom with younger siblings, Stephen and Trudy, in 1951, in Dennison, Illinois. This is what kids leave for Santa on Christmas Eve around the world.
Mary Beth Fulton of Lincoln, Nebraska, says her family never missed midnight mass on Christmas Eve in the 1950s. “My mom would fix up my hair in pin curls and do the same for my sisters. We’d wear new dresses with black patent leather shoes. After a traditional fish dinner, Dad asked me and my siblings—Judy, Janice and Terry—to kneel in front of our Christmas tree and say a prayer. Then we’d go to St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, where there’d be folding chairs in the aisle to handle the overflow crowd.”
It was common for people to dress up for Christmas in the 1950s. Even the trees wore their best. “Our tree, always a Scotch pine, was trimmed with red lights, red shiny balls and Ivory Snow laundry detergent flakes that had been whipped and layered on the branches to look like new-fallen snow,” says Gary Long of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. In 1952, Gary’s grandmother, Mary, was overwhelmed by the gift of a diamond ring. Grandpa Delbert could not afford one when they he proposed in 1922. Dress up your tree with these food ornaments.