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What Was Christmas Like in the 1930s?

Updated on December 25, 2019
Allain Christmas profile image

I love Christmas and history, so I'm sharing what I learn about Christmas and its customs as they've changed over the decades and centuries.

Christmas Calendar for December 1930

from the Ellsworth Reporter newspaper,  Ellsworth, Kansas 11 Dec 1930, Thu  •  Page 14
from the Ellsworth Reporter newspaper, Ellsworth, Kansas 11 Dec 1930, Thu • Page 14 | Source

What Was Christmas Like in the Great Depression of 1930 - 1939?

In the year 1930, the worst of the Great Depression was still to come. Christmas was still a merry time for those who still had jobs and homes and hope. Many were worrying about the bad economic news but tried not to let their children know that hard times were ahead.

As the decade progressed, more families lost their incomes or had to take reduced wages. Families sometimes took in boarders to help cover the mortgage. Bread lines started to appear in cities and people lost their homes to the bank.

Christmas became a struggle to "be of good cheer" with such hard times. The government under FDR's New Deal created work programs to get people back to earning.

Hundreds of people line up for the free Christmas dinner at the New York Municipal Lodging House during the Great Depression December 25, 1931.
Hundreds of people line up for the free Christmas dinner at the New York Municipal Lodging House during the Great Depression December 25, 1931. | Source

At the Grocery Store -

you would see barrels of nuts out front, inside you would see hard candy, fruit cakes just 50 cents a pound, mince pies, cranberry sauce in cans, and plum pudding.

Popular Toys of the 1930s and Other Gifts

Clipped from the Ellsworth Reporter  Ellsworth, Kansas 11 Dec 1930, Thu  •  Page 15
Clipped from the Ellsworth Reporter Ellsworth, Kansas 11 Dec 1930, Thu • Page 15 | Source

Gift Ideas for Children and the Whole Family

  • For boys and girls there were bicycles, air rifles, velocipeds, pop guns, coaster wagons, doll buggies, scooter, aeroplanes, pedal cards, train sets, Kiddie Kars, drums, ice skates, toy automobiles, swings, sleds, doll houses, boxing gloves, toy tractors, footballs and basketballs, toy trucks.
  • The family might wish for pool tables, backgammon sets and board games.
  • Gifts for the home might be electrical appliances like waffle irons, toasters, percolators (coffee makers), heaters, irons, sandwich toasters, and lamps.
  • Under the category of practical gifts, the ads suggested casserole baking dishes, teapots, waffle batter jugs, Pyrex glass ovenware, aluminum and enamel roasters and Wagner cast aluminum ware. Other gifts for mom might include decorated cake covers, decorated breadboards, French drip coffee pots, scissors and shears, carving sets.
  • Additional ideas were bird cages with a stand, decorated heat-proof china, auto robes and shawls.
  • For dad, there were flashlights, safety razors, pocket knives, guns and rifles, tool sets, hunting and fishing gear, auto tools, carpenter tools, lanterns and Coleman lamps.


Newspapers printed children's letters to Santa. Sometimes a kindly person would read these and get some of the gifts for the children.  This is fromThe Belleville Telescope  Belleville, Kansas 18 Dec 1930, Thu  •  Page 1
Newspapers printed children's letters to Santa. Sometimes a kindly person would read these and get some of the gifts for the children. This is fromThe Belleville Telescope Belleville, Kansas 18 Dec 1930, Thu • Page 1 | Source

It was interesting that almost all the children mentioned

wanting candy and nuts after they told about the toys they wanted. Some asked for practical things like a dress or a coat. Many asked for something for a younger sibling too.

Special Foods for the Holiday

Sally remembers her mother's story of that time, "we popped corn in a skillet with a lid, on a woodburning stove. We had to shake the skillet to make sure the popcorn didn't burn."

They made pumpkin pie from home-grown pumpkins. You cut them into sections and scrape out the seeds, then bake them until soft in the oven. After cutting off the skin, the pumpkin was mashed up and spices added and cream to go into the homemade pie crust. If there was no pumpkin, the pie could be made from sweet potatoes with the same cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves seasoning. You could hardly tell the difference.

Hot chocolate was made in a pan on the stove from cocoa powder, sugar, and milk. There was no instant hot chocolate in those days.

Cookies from that time included molasses cookies, sugar cookies, and oatmeal raisin cookies. "Great grandmother loved oatmeal raisin cookies. She always boiled the raisins before folding then in so they would be moist and not chewy." Fudge, divinity, and taffy were popular too. Making taffy and pulling it to harden could even be a party with friends.

People Mailed Christmas Cards in the 1930s

Advertisement from the Ellsworth Reporter - Kansas 11 Dec 1930, Thu  •  Page 14.  You could even get your name printed on them for that price. The price of a first-class stamp was 2 cents but later in the decade, it went up to 3 cents.
Advertisement from the Ellsworth Reporter - Kansas 11 Dec 1930, Thu • Page 14. You could even get your name printed on them for that price. The price of a first-class stamp was 2 cents but later in the decade, it went up to 3 cents. | Source

Christmas Activities

The newspaper featured news items about school programs for the holiday or church gatherings and parties. There was caroling, family dinners on Christmas Day, and other traditional holiday activities.

Source

Decorating for Christmas During the Great Depression

Memories of Long Ago Christmas Decorations

  • My mother remembers, "We had little money when I was very young so we made paper chains and popcorn strings with cranberries between a few bits of popcorn. We cut out cardboard stars and pasted the silver foil from chewing gum onto them."
  • Susan tells that her dad would go to the woods and cut down a small pine tree to bring home for their holiday tree. Nancy's grandmother remembered cutting holly branches in the wood. They put them in a bucket of water on the porch, then brought them inside at Christmas to tie red ribbon on the swags.
  • Lisa's father showed the children how to make paper chains without using glue. You cut an L on each end and fold them together with the end tabs on the inside. You could use construction paper if you had it or cut the strips from magazine pages. They saved the chains to use again next year and kept adding to them so they were really long.


Thrifty Gifts for a Depression Era Christmas

As the Depression years dragged on, many workers were laid off, businesses closed down, and money was tight. The government provided some jobs in different programs to get people back to work, but there weren't enough of those for everyone.

So people economized, and lived by the slogan "make do or do without." At Christmas, they would make gifts with whatever they could manage. These needed to be things that involved labor rather than money. You could unravel an old sweater to use the wool for knitting a pair of socks or make mittens. Scavenging some wood meant you could hand-carve a wooden toys. An old orange crate combined with some baby buggy wheels from a broken carriage could be turned into a go-cart.

I'll be adding more on this page about the later part of the 1930s when families were more financially strained.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Virginia Allain

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