20 Vintage Christmas Ideas to Borrow from the Past

From vintage Christmas decorations to classic cocktails, these 20 ideas will bring old-school charm to your holiday festivities.

A Very Vintage Christmas

vintage christmas decorating ideas

Festive feather trees, classic cocktails, decorative popcorn garlands… revelers of yesteryear really knew how to embrace the holiday season. This year, add a festive touch of seasonal cheer to your home with these 20 old-school ideas. The vintage Christmas decorations and comforting treats will impress any guest and create lasting memories for years to come.


Have a Spot of Christmas Tea

Christmas Tea Tradition

Christmas teas aren't just for the British. This traditional activity, which came to America in the 1830s as part of the temperance movement, brought families together to converse while drinking a variety of teas at long communal tables. So, put on a pot of boiling water, make some fancy finger sandwiches, and enjoy a warm mug of tea with your loved ones.

Related: 20 Easy Ways to Be the Best Holiday Host


Display a Feather Tree

Feather Tree for Christmas

The first artificial Christmas tree, the feather tree, has origins dating back to mid-19th-century Germany. The thin-branched trees became popular in America in the 1920s, when European immigrants carried their holiday traditions to their new homes. Add a feather tree, like this one from Balsam Hill, to your holiday decor for a touch of whimsy and historical charm. 

Related: 15 Artificial Christmas Trees That Look Like the Real Deal


Bake Old-Fashioned Christmas Cookies

Old-Fashioned Christmas Cookies

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s nice to unwind by baking cookies with family and friends. Whip up a batch of homemade sugar cookies, gingerbread men, or Jim Dandies, an old-fashioned classic that features maraschino cherries, chocolate, and marshmallows. While you're at it, bake a few batches—remember, cookies can be scrumptious gifts for relatives and neighbors!


Mix a Classic Christmas Cocktail

Classic Christmas Cocktails

Classic cocktails have made a grand resurgence in bars around the country. Learn how to make your own versions of these boozy beverages so you’ll have something to keep yourself warm—and impress your guests—over the holidays. Old-fashioned favorites include the hot toddy (made with a bracing spirit like brandy, rum, or whiskey, mixed with honey, spices, and boiling water) and the Tom and Jerry (a concoction of eggnog, brandy, and rum).

Related: The Weirdest Things Anyone Has Ever Used to Make an Awesome DIY Christmas Wreath


Make a Christmas Jell-O Mold

Christmas Jell-O Mold

Jell-O long ago lost its spot as the star of the dessert table, but we think it's about time the jiggly treat made a comeback! Pull out one of your grandma’s old recipe books and have fun constructing your very own holiday Jell-O mold, sure to be a crowd-pleaser at the kids' table this year.


Deck the Halls with an Aluminum Tree

Aluminum Tree for Christmas

When families in the 1950s and '60s didn’t want to maintain real Christmas trees , they opted for aluminum versions instead. Nowadays, these shimmering trees can add a little sparkly elegance to your seasonal decor while giving a nod to a long-lost trend. You can order your own aluminum Christmas from Amazon.

Related: 8 Things You Never Even Knew About Christmas Trees


String a Popcorn Garland

Popcorn Garland on Christmas Tree

Before people adorned their trees with lights and ornaments, they decorated with homemade popcorn garlands. The string of popped kernels was budget-friendly and simple to construct. This year, spend quality time with your kids, parents, or grandparents making your own vintage popcorn garland.

Related: 15 Imaginative Garlands to Add Charm and Whimsy to Your Holiday Home


Give Your Letter Carrier a Thank-You Gift

Give the Postman a Thank You Gift

In the past, people traditionally thanked their loyal letter carriers by giving them a small Christmas gift. Though we often don't have the chance to develop relationships with our letter carriers today, you can still give them a token of appreciation around the holidays. Just remember that federal guidelines stipulate that postal employees can't receive gifts worth more than $20. 


Stuff Your Stockings With Oranges

Put Oranges in Your Stocking

Stockings overflow with chocolates and toys on Christmas morning, but in simpler times children were excited and grateful to find oranges in their stockings. Put an orange in your child’s stocking this year to remind your family of its good fortune—and also get a healthy dose of vitamin C!

Related: 20 Surprising Stories Behind Popular Christmas Decorations


Hang the Tinsel

Hang Tinsel on Christmas Tree

Tinsel became extremely popular in the United States during the 1950s as people sought a way to add shimmer to their Christmas trees without using Christmas lights, which were considered a fire hazard. Re-create this vintage trend and give your tree a shiny, icy look by draping strands of tinsel on the branches.


Go Christmas Caroling

Go Christmas Caroling

With roots in solstice celebrations of ancient times, caroling is one of the oldest holiday traditions in the world. So, channel your jolly ancestors, and spread holiday cheer throughout your neighborhood by taking your family Christmas caroling this year! Don’t worry if your singing voice sounds nothing like Beyoncé's—this tradition is more about having fun than showing off your vocal chops.


Put a Toy Train Around the Tree

Put a Toy Train Around the Christmas Tree

In the early 20th century, people relied on trains as a primary mode of transportation. It’s no wonder that toy versions of these all-important vehicles started appearing underneath Christmas trees during that time. Set up a track around your Christmas tree to take your holiday visitors back in time, or gift a toy train to young relatives.

Related: 10 Ways to Decorate Your Xmas Tree for Under $10


Watch a Christmas Special on Live TV

Watch a Christmas Special on TV

With the convenience of Netflix and DVRs, it’s easy to forget that children used to have to wait all year for their favorite classic Christmas specials to air on TV—and how excited they'd get when that day finally rolled around. Try to re-create the joys of a less plugged-in era by looking up the airtimes of old favorites, such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” then whipping up a fresh batch of popcorn to enjoy a movie night with your family!


Pull Out the Old Figurines

christmas figurines

Find a spot on the mantle for the classic figurines your family collected growing up, like Pixie Elves, Byer's Christmas Carolers, or Snowbabies. While Elf on the Shelf might be the more common character right now, these guys were the original ones keeping watch over the house before Santa arrived.


Set Up a Christmas Village

Set Up a Christmas Village

If you don't already have a growing Christmas village collection, consider starting one this year. The tradition of tiny structures for Christmas decor can be traced all the way back to the 17th century, but the charming ceramic houses and stores you know and love kicked off in the 1970s. Today, there are various groups and chatrooms where Christmas village enthusiasts share their tips and tricks for creating elaborate setups. 


Roast Chestnuts

Roast Chestnuts

We sing about it every year, but have you ever actually had a roasted chestnut? On a weekend afternoon or cozy evening, try your hand at roasting chestnuts—a stovetop will work just as well as an open fire for this!


Display a Ceramic Tree

ceramic christmas tree

Everything old is new again, and that includes ceramic Christmas trees. This '70s Christmas decoration has roared back into style. If you don't have one hiding in the basement, you can buy one from Plow & Hearth.


Opt for Blow Mold Lawn Ornaments

blow mold christmas decorations

If you have ever been to or seen photos of Dyker Heights Christmas lights then you're familiar with blow mold Christmas decorations. The playful plastic figurines first popped up on the market in the 1930s. Although many folks today like inflatables, we believe there's enough room on the lawn for both. 


Hang Big and Bold Lights

color christmas lights

Tiny warm white lights are most common nowadays—on the tree and outside—but why not decorate with some retro flare? The big colorful lightbulbs you remember from previous decades are now available in eco-friendly LED bulbs (like these from Target). The burst of color outlining your house will make you standout from everyone else on the block.


Send Christmas Cards in the Mail

Send Christmas Cards in the Mail

Virtual Christmas greetings get the job done, but they aren’t nearly as sentimental as old-fashioned handwritten cards. Crisp stationery and seasonal stamps never fail to spread holiday cheer. Get a boxed card set (like this one from Amazon) or take a picture with your kids (or pet!) and incorporate it into a personalized greeting for everyone on your mailing list.

Related: 10 Last-Minute Tricks for a Stress-Free Christmas


Throwback Traditions

vintage christmas decoration ideas

Add some old-school flair to your holiday decorations this season. 


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