Nowadays, many people celebrate Christmas simply because it has become tradition to do so, rather than because of any religious beliefs. However, Christmas celebrations have changed considerably over the years to become what they are today, and these changes are very interesting.
The last 100 years or so have seen many changes to Christmas celebrations, as technology has become a larger part in the seasonal festivities. The First and Second World Wars also had a big effect on Christmas, as people were affected by the hard times. Despite all of this though, Christmas has always been a time when people come together to celebrate as a family.
So, here are just some of the changes to Christmas celebrations in the last 100 years:
The late 1800s was a time of prosperity in the UK, with the Industrial Revolution helping the country to boom. This created an even larger divide between the classes though, with the Victorian era seeing many middle class families emerging.
historic-uk.com has a great page dedicated to Victorian Christmas celebrations and explains that:
The wealth generated by the new factories and industries of the Victorian age allowed middle class families in England and Wales to take time off work and celebrate over two days, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Boxing Day, December 26th, earned its name as the day servants and working people opened the boxes in which they had collected gifts of money from the “rich folk”. Those new fangled inventions, the railways allowed the country folk who had moved into the towns and cities in search of work to return home for a family Christmas.
One of the most notable historic parts of the early 1900s was the start of the First World War in 1914, and this obviously had a huge impact on how people celebrated Christmas. There were of course men fighting in the trenches over Christmas, and this created one of the best WWI stories there is. Firstworldwar.com describes it:
The meeting of enemies as friends in no-man’s land was experienced by hundreds, if not thousands, of men on the Western Front during Christmas 1914. Today, 90 years after it occurred, the event is seen as a shining episode of sanity from among the bloody chapters of World War One – a spontaneous effort by the lower ranks to create a peace that could have blossomed were it not for the interference of generals and politicians.
At home, though, families enjoyed a frugal Christmas with Christmas trees, carol services and presents. Christmas presents were very different what we get nowadays as well – ‘children born in the late 1800s and early 1900s looked upon the orange as a luxury, a rare treat only available at Christmastime’ ( http://www.nwitimes.com ).
Christmas decorations were also very different back then – first starters, people used lit candles to decorate Christmas trees rather than the LED fairy lights we have nowadays. As about.com explains, ‘in 1882, the first Christmas tree was lit by the use of electricity [and] by 1900, department stores started using the new Christmas lights for their Christmas displays’. Safety Christmas lights appeared in 1917 – ‘Albert Sadacca was fifteen in 1917, when he first got the idea to make safety Christmas lights for Christmas trees’.
Christmas in the mid-1900s was overshadowed by the Second World War, which spanned from 1939 to 1945. The BBC has an excellent and in-depth article on how Christmas was celebrated throughout WWII, from a mildly-inconvenienced Christmas in 1939 that ‘was little different from how it had always been [with just a] few extra restrictions’, to ‘the most joyless Christmas of the war’ in 1945, when ‘an extra 1 1/2 pounds of sugar, 8 pennyworth (3.5p) of meat, and half a pound of sweets’ were granted as Christmas treats by the Ministry of Food.
The 1950s were much more joyous though and the BBC has another fantastic article depicting a typical 1950s Christmas. By the 1960s there was more technology available, and so Christmas was even better during this decade. The Cawston Parish website has a list of traditional 1960s decorations that were used, such as real Christmas trees (artificial ones were available though), holly, ivy and mistletoe. The article also explains how Christmas cards were displayed around the house as decorations and carollers would come knocking regularly throughout the festive period.
By the 1970s Christmas had become much more like today’s celebrations and was incredibly commercialised. One of the biggest industries around the festive period was that for children’s toys, and the Christmas in the 70s blog has some excellent examples of 1970s toys, such as space hoppers, Barbie dolls, Action Men, comics and more.
The 1980s and the 1990s were very similar, with yet more memorable children’s toys being released and Christmas becoming a universally renowned celebration. Christmas decorations became increasingly more modern and ‘artificial trees became increasingly popular during the late 20th century’ (Wikipedia).