Christmas by the book

Does any major holiday inspire the sort of nostalgia that Christmas fosters for so many? Yes, we chuckle to ourselves when remembering the dime-store Valentines we distributed to our classmates back in the day, and we recall with guilty fondness the mayhem we used to cause when playing with fireworks on Independence Day. Halloween inspires recollections of trick-or-treating, and Thanksgiving certainly yields its share of special memories,

But Christmas stands alone, in our considered opinion.

Apparently, author Susan Waggoner agrees with us. She’s built something of a cottage industry around books that celebrate Christmas past and present (but mostly past), and she’s not published just one or two but four such books, each as delightful and engaging as the last.

It’s a Wonderful Christmas: The Best of the Holidays 1940-1965 (2004) recalls Christmas as it was celebrated during World War II and the years after, a period many people consider the “golden age” of Christmas. Under the Tree: The Toys and Treats That Made Christmas Special, 1930-1970 (2007) revisits the must-have kids’ gifts of years gone by, while Christmas Memories: Gifts, Activities, Fads, and Fancies, 1920s-1960s (2009) traces the evolution of Christmas practices and traditions with the passing of the decades.

Waggoner’s latest, the recently released Have Yourself a Very Vintage Christmas, examines the crafts, decorating practices and food that were so key to Christmas from the 1920s through the ’60s.

All four volumes are chock full of vintage graphics, and they’re loaded with plenty of holiday trivia we’re betting you don’t know.

For instance, did you know that:

  • In 1900, only one in five American families had a Christmas tree.
  • Until the 1920s, Christmas cards were generally postcards, not the folding cards used today.
  • It was Gimbel’s, not Macy’s, who threw the first Thanksgiving Day parade—in 1920. (The first Macy’s parade was in 1924.)
  • Mr. Potato Head was the first toy ever advertised on television—in 1952.
  • The Sock Monkey was born in the 1920s when Nelson Knitting Mills started putting a bright red heel on their brown and white work socks. Some crafter came up with the idea for the familiar stuffed monkey, and it wasn’t long before Nelson began including instructions for making the monkeys with every pair of socks sold.

No, of course you didn’t know that, and neither did we (well, we know about the origins of the Macy’s parade, but not about Gimbel’s beating them to the punch!)

Any of these four volumes would make a great Christmas present for anyone who loves this season, and—perhaps even better—delightful host/hostess gifts to bring to those holiday parties that await you later in the month.

What’s more, we’re pleased to announce that Waggoner will be a guest blogger here at Cladrite Radio in a few days. We’re very excited about that, as we know she’ll share some very interesting stories about Christmas as it was celebrated in the earlier decades of the 20th century.

So check back—you won’t want to miss this.