A Very Vintage Christmas
Festive feather trees, classic cocktails, and 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 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, fire up the tea kettle, make some fancy finger sandwiches, and enjoy a warm mug of tea with your loved ones.
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Display a Feather Tree
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 feather tree from Wayfair, to your holiday decor for a touch of whimsy and historical charm.
Related: 15 Artificial Christmas Trees That Look Like the Real Deal
Mix a Classic Christmas Cocktail
Classic cocktails have made a grand resurgence in bars around the country. Learn how to shake up 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 cocktail 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). Pouring your potables into fancy cocktail glasses makes them even more festive.
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Make a 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
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. Wellwood’s 6-foot aluminum Christmas tree comes in three colors, and comes with 24 ornaments.
Related: 8 Things You Never Knew About Christmas Trees
String a Popcorn Garland
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
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
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 as a reminder of your family’s good fortune—and for a healthy dose of vitamin C!
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Hang the Tinsel
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
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
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.
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Watch a Christmas Special on Live TV
With the convenience of Netflix and DVDs, 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 “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” then whipping up a fresh batch of popcorn to enjoy a movie night with your family!
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Pull Out the Old Figurines
Find a spot on the mantel for the classic figurines your family collected growing up, like Pixie Elves, Byers’ Choice Christmas Carolers, or Snowbabies. While the 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
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 chat rooms where Christmas village enthusiasts share their tips and tricks for creating elaborate setups.
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
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 browse our roundup of ceramic Christmas trees that you can buy online.
Opt for Blow Mold Lawn Ornaments
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.
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Hang Big and Bold Lights
Tiny warm white lights are most common nowadays—on the tree and outside—but why not decorate with some retro flair? The big colorful light bulbs you remember from previous decades are now available in eco-friendly LED bulbs . The burst of color outlining your house will make your home stand out from everyone else’s on the block.
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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. Buy a boxed card set (like these funny Hallmark Shoebox greetings), or take a picture with your kids (or pet!) and incorporate it into a personalized greeting for everyone on your mailing list.
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Cut Down Your Own Tree
While it’s certainly convenient to pick up a freshly cut Christmas tree from your grocery store’s parking lot, that tradition doesn’t have quite the same sense of holiday magic as venturing into a snow-covered wood to choose the perfect evergreen to display in your home. Depending on where you live, there are likely Christmas tree farms in your area that allow you to choose and cut down your own Christmas tree.
Choose a “Lord of Misrule”
In the Middle Ages, the Lord of Misrule was a figure who was appointed to take charge of planning the Christmas activities in royal courts and noble houses. But this tradition came with a twist—the “Lord” often subverted traditional hierarchies and planned holiday pranks and jests. Try out this historic practice in your home this holiday season by allowing children to take turns being the Lord of Misrule for the day by giving them control of which treats to eat after dinner, which holiday special to watch, or letting them arrange the Elf on the Shelf for the following day.
Cook a Christmas Goose
While today's Christmas supper typically features turkey or ham as a main dish, goose was once the centerpiece of many holiday dinner tables. In fact, eating goose for Christmas is a tradition that dates back as far as ancient Greece! A goose may be tricky to track down, but it’s generally possible to order one in advance from a high-quality butcher. Try out Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for a traditional Christmas goose preparation.
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Make Homemade Gifts
For much of history, Christmas gifts were homemade rather than commercially produced. Bring that tradition back by getting creative with your gifting this holiday season. Try your hand at making candles, personalized artwork, or body scrubs. You don’t even need to be crafty to give something homemade this season: You can make something as simple as a signature spice rub or chocolate chip cookie mix and place it in a decorative jar.
Create a Vintage Soundtrack
While there are plenty of modern holiday hits to enjoy, try setting a retro mood in your home this season by creating a playlist full of vintage classics with tracks from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. While music-streaming services like Spotify already have plenty of premade options to choose from, you can also curate a selection that reminds you of Christmases past.
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Get Dressed Up
Today, getting dressed up for Christmas dinner typically involves choosing a pair of comfy elastic-waist pants to accommodate for second helpings of turkey. In photos of midcentury Christmases, however, you’ll likely see men in ties and women in chic dresses with nary a pair of sweatpants in sight. Update your holiday dress code this year to bring back some vintage holiday glamour.
Watch Holiday Classics
Evoke the feeling of a vintage Christmas by watching some holiday classics this December. Introduce your family to some timeless black-and-white picks like Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, or It’s a Wonderful Life. If you’re already familiar with these perennial favorites, there are also countless other underrated holiday flicks like Christmas in Connecticut or I’ll Be Seeing You.
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Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas
You’re probably familiar with the tradition of the 12 Days of Christmas because of the popular yuletide carol, but it’s a tradition that has largely died out in North America. Christians traditionally celebrated from December 25 to January 5 or 6, and gave one another small gifts each day. Extend the holiday season in your home by keeping festivities alive until Twelfth Night and continue to enjoy Christmas treats and festive holiday movies.
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While in many ways Christmas has become commercialized, you can bring back the spirit of giving that the holiday season once held by engaging in an activity to lend a hand to your neighbors or community. Help an elderly neighbor hang Christmas lights, volunteer at a toy drive for underprivileged children, or spend a day working at a soup kitchen to spread holiday cheer to those who need it most.
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