Retro Christmas Countdown – Xmas in the 20th Century

While Christmas dates back hundreds of years before, it was the start of the 20th century that saw the turn towards the lavish and very commercial holiday that we all know today. Here’s a very brief history of Christmas traditions from the last century.

1900s

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The first Christmas card was created in 1843 by John Horsley, and by the turn of the century the Victorian’s love of sentimental greetings had made this a popular tradition.

The Victorian styles of decorating carried into the start of the 20th century, with gilded nuts, candles and paper ornaments adorning trees.

This decade also saw the creation of what was to become one of the most popular children’s toys of the century; the Teddy Bear. Named after President Roosevelt, the charming story of the origin of this toy and its name can be read here.

1910s

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As Christmas rapidly became a highly commercialized holiday, more and more companies used it as a means of selling their products, and the image of Santa Claus began to morph into the one we are familiar with today. It was in the 1910s that Santa’s now unmistakable look, with red suit and pants trimmed in white fur, matching cap and long white beard, began to become the norm.

While a legend has grown that claims Coca Cola invented the modern-day image of Santa, that is not quite the case. Prior to the famous Coca Cola Santa (who was created in 1931), the jolly elf had been portrayed as anything from tall and lanky to a munchkin-sized man. Norman Rockwell had painted a Santa who is strikingly similar to the 30s Coke version all the way back in 1911, however it wasn’t until Coke began regularly producing consistent looking Christmas ads that the current version of St. Nick really began to stick.

For an interesting pictorial history of Santa, check out this link.

1920s

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By the 1920s the upper class had traded-in their candles for electric Christmas lights, and trees were as lavish and daring as the fashions of the decades.

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With the rising popularity of the wireless (radio), the 1920s also saw the first Christmas radio broadcast when, in 1922, Arthur Burrow presented “The Truth About Father Christmas”.

1930s

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Rockefeller Centre, 1931

In the midst of the Great Depression few had money to spend on food and clothing, let alone Christmas gifts and decorations. Still, the tradition of putting up a tree hung on, with many families owning decorations they had purchased in the more prosperous 1920s. Homemade ornaments also adorned the tree, made out of things like the foil paper saved from cigarette packs. As previously mentioned, Coca Cola started to advertise with their own version of Santa, and upbeat Christmas songs were enjoyed on the radio. Advertisements still bombarded shoppers with ideas for the perfect Christmas gift, only their tactics had changed; a focus on the practical and sometimes financing options were promoted.

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The popular character Rudolph, everyone’s favourite red-nosed reindeer, was created in 1939 by Montgomery Ward. Although it wasn’t until a decade later when Gene Autry released the song that we’ve all learned as kids.

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1940s

The 1940s saw the Second World War, and with that came rations and a reminder that the war effort should be supported above all else. Sales in non-necessities like Christmas lights dropped dramatically as many companies changed their focus to assist in the war effort. War bonds were promoted as a perfect gift for any family member or friend, and Santa himself switched his classic red & white outfit to don army duds and support the cause.

With many families missing fathers, brothers and sons overseas, Christmas could have been a bittersweet time. However, back home the masses were reminded to keep their spirits up while fighting the good fight, so many Christmas celebrations resumed some of the splendour they had seen before the Depression.

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1950s

The post-war boom made the Christmas of the 1950s one of the biggest and gaudiest yet. The Baby Boom meant there were lots of families with youngsters, and so the toy market was buzzing. Wide-spread prosperity meant most were lucky enough to be able to afford Christmas celebrations, and women’s magazines, eager to encourage them to return to the home, now that the war was over, pushed for the ideal Christmas season, full of elaborate recipes and decor.

Television was also becoming popular and with it came a host of Christmas specials. Stars like Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby recorded Christmas songs and popular shows like I Love Lucy recorded special Christmas episodes.

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1960s

By the 1960s, the fads of the 50s were firmly cemented; every toy imaginable was available on the market and they were advertised directly to children in between the cartoons they watched on tv. The Christmas shows we still see today – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Frosty the Snowman – first appeared on the airwaves and decorations were more colourful and outlandish than ever before.

There was significant variety now as well. Christmas trees could be anything from your traditional green pine, to the popular aluminum trees that came in silver, aqua and even pink! And don’t forget the fake snow! The concept of “Kitschmas” was truly born in the 1960s.

What’s your favourite Christmas decade? Tweet your replies to @BygoneTheatre #RetroXmas 

-E.

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Retro Radio Hour: Holiday Special – Performer Spotlight – Ivan Lopez

This is Ivan’s first show with Bygone Theatre; we’re always looking for new blood!

Ivan Lopez

Ivan Lopez

What made you want to be a part of Bygone Theatre’s “Retro Radio Hour: Holiday Special”?
As an individual who is looking for experience in the performing arts industry I thought it would be good to be a part of this production so I can learn more about performing.

What is your favourite holiday tv special?
I would have to say my favorite oldies TV special would have to be “Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer” from the early 1960’s, that special always gets me in the holiday spirit.

What is your fondest holiday memory?
My fondest holiday memory would have to be the first Christmas I could afford to buy my family presents, it was the first time I felt the gift of giving and it was great.

What is your most funniest holiday memory?
I would have to say my funny holiday memory is when I went to sit on Santa’s lap as a kid and I cried because he scared me

What are you most excited for in regards to “Retro Radio Hour”? Why should everyone come to see it?
I am most excited for being able to give people that Christmas joy and spirit through performing and music. Everyone should come so that they can get in the Christmas mood before everyone else does in December.

 

Come check out Ivan and the rest of our fabulous cast on Saturday November 30th, at the Winchester Kitchen. Check out our facebook event for more details!

Retro Radio Hour: Holiday Special – Performer Spotlight – Emily Dix

Emily Dix is one of the founding members and the Artistic Director/Producer of Bygone Theatre. She has directed all of their shows and is the main driving force behind all artistic decisions and fundraising efforts. It was her love of oldies radio plays that inspired the idea for the Retro Radio Hour series, and she is thrilled to be organizing the Holiday Special, as well as revisiting her role of Baby Snooks in the Baby Snooks and Daddy play, “The Christmas Skates”! Be sure to check out her online portfolio and connect with her on Linkedin! 

Emily Dix

Emily Dix

What inspired you to create Bygone Theatre’s “Retro Radio Hour: Holiday Special”?
The first “Retro Radio Hour” was a big success; we got a surprisingly large turnout and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Plus, it’s a fairly easy show to put together, and a cheap way to get a large number of our talented friends involved at once, so it’s a really fun show to do. Plus, I think people like to get into the holiday spirit by watching Christmas specials, singing carols, sipping hot chocolate – why not add a holiday radio show to the mix?

What is your favourite holiday tv special?
I love watching kids Christmas specials on tv. I think the “Muppets Christmas Special” is probably the best, but it isn’t really Christmas without “The Grinch”, “Rudolph” and “Frosty”. I’ve tried watching some of the newer Christmas specials as well but I think they got it right in the 60s – those stop motion shows are always the best and I can’t imagine the holidays without them.

What is your fondest holiday memory?
When I was a kid I used to always come to Toronto to see my Grandparents for Christmas. I especially loved being at the Dix’s because it was usually the only time of year I got to see my cousins from Ottawa. I have lots of happy memories of crawling around in the crawl space, playing with our new toys and eating those delicious arrowroot squares my Grandma used to make every year. I can’t think of any bad moments about those early Christmases.

What is your most embarrassing holiday memory?
Thankfully I don’t have many of those! All I can really think of is getting underwear for Christmas from my Grandma, when I was still young enough that the mere mention of the word would make me blush. All my cousins are around me frantically tearing the paper off of video games, trucks and action figures, and suddenly I’m holding frilly pink underwear. Mortifying for a 5 year old.

What are you most excited for in regards to “Retro Radio Hour”? Why should everyone come to see it?
The last couple shows we’ve done have been rather dark and serious, which is funny because I usually consider myself to be more of a fan of comedy. I love doing “Retro Radio Hour” because it’s just silly, harmless fun. There’s no deep messages or questions, nothing haunting or frightening, it’s just a chance to sit back, relax and laugh; and you will. We have an amazing cast and some hilarious plays, including ones originally performed by everyone’s favourite redhead, Lucille Ball, and the “funny girl” herself, Fanny Brice. What’s not to love?

Be sure to join us on Saturday November 30th, 8:00pm at the Winchester Kitchen. Tickets are only $5. Check out our event page for all the details.