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A century of festive traditions: from ‘mock goose’ dinners and the creation of the Snowball to the dramatic debut of pigs and blankets

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Written by High Life North
Published 22.12.2020

1920s

Decorations: Glass baubles and electric fairy lights for the upper classes. The less well-to-do decorated their trees with handmade paper ornaments, candles, and dried fruits.      

Food and Drink: Turkey and bread sauce was starting to enter the mass consciousness, although the traditional Christmas goose remained very popular.                     

Festive Film: The Little Match Girl (1928)               

Must-have Toy: Dismal Desmond, a soft hound-dog toy.

Fun Fact: Decorations would go up no earlier than Christmas Eve in most 1920s homes.

1930s 

Decorations: The first bristle-style artificial tree was made by Addis Housewares Company in 1930.

Food and Drink: Brandy butter made its first appearance and cooks began adding alcohol to Christmas pudding.        

Festive Film: A Christmas Carol (1938)    

Classic Song: ‘Winter Wonderland’, Guy Lombardo (1934)         

Must-have Toy: The first Mickey Mouse toy was produced in 1930. 

Fun Fact: The Royal Christmas Message began in 1932, when George V made his first broadcast over the wireless radio.  

1940s

Decorations: Paper chains made from newspapers were common during the war years, as were sprigs of real holly and ivy.

Food and Drink: Strict rationing meant turkey was off the menu for most households. Instead, creative cooks served up home-reared rabbits, chickens, or ‘mock goose’ – a type of potato casserole.

Festive film: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Classic Song: ‘White Christmas’, Bing Crosby (1942). Somewhat unbelievably, it remains the best-selling single of all time.

Must-have Toy: There was a greater focus on practical handmade gifts, like hand-knitted clothing, soap, and war bonds.

(Not so) Fun Fact: During Christmas 1940, Britain was still in the middle of the Blitz. Many spent Christmas Eve in air raid shelters, and the holiday that year would become known as ‘Blitzmas’.    

1950s

Decorations: White artificial trees became very popular during this decade, as did spray-on fake snow and train sets around the base of the tree.

Food and Drink: As rationing ended, people began to experiment with more decadent festive foods. Pigs in blankets made their Christmas debut in 1957.

Festive Film: White Christmas (1954)

Classic Song: ‘Santa Baby’, Eartha Kitt (1953)    

Must-have Toy: Model kits were top-sellers during this decade.

Fun Fact: In 1957, the Queen’s Royal Christmas broadcast was televised for the first time.

1960s

Decorations: Metallic-silver Christmas trees brought a touch of glamour to homes in the ’60s. ‘Angel’s hair’ tinsel was also very popular.

Food and Drink: In the late ‘60s, Christmassy cocktails like the Snowball became popular. Turkey also became the go-to meat of choice, especially served with cranberry sauce.

Festive Film: Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Classic song: ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’, Andy Williams (1963)

Must-have Toy: Etch-a-Sketches, Scalextric racing tracks and Meccano construction sets.

1970s

Decorations: Ceramic and porcelain Christmas trees were a popular decorative accent during the ‘decade that taste forgot’. 

Food and Drink: For many people, the prawn cocktail starter was the dish that would define ‘70s cuisine. Bailey’s Irish Cream also launched in 1974.      

Festive Film: Scrooge (1970)

Classic Song: ‘Merry Christmas (War is Over)’, John Lennon and Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1971)

Must-have Toy: Star Wars took the box office by storm in 1977 and, by Christmas of that year, the official figurines were the most sought-after toys around. Original figurines from this era can fetch thousands today.   

1980s

Decorations: Hanging foil decorations and garlands were very popular throughout the ‘80s.

Food and Drink: Fashionable canapés – like smoked salmon blinis, vol au vents and stuffed olives – were a must at festive gatherings during the ‘80s. Elaborate desserts also become commonplace, with family-favourite Viennetta launching in 1982.

Festive Film: The Snowman (1982)           

Classic Song: ‘Fairytale of New York’, The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl (1987)             

Must-have Toy: The Rubik’s Cube was at the top of every child’s Christmas list in 1980.

Fun Fact: The seasonal soap opera special was at its zenith in the ‘80s. On Christmas Day 1986, a record 30.1 million viewers tuned in to watch the classic EastEnders episode where Dirty Den served divorce papers to his wife Angie.

1990s

Decorations: Fibre optic Christmas trees were a must towards the end of the decade. 

Food and Drink: Ferrero Rocher was created.

Festive Film: Home Alone (1990)

Classic Song: ‘All I Want For Christmas is You’, Mariah Carey (1994)

Must-have Toy: For ‘90s kids, the Tamagotchi was the must-have toy of the decade.

2000s

Decorations: Artificial trees became more convincing than ever in this decade, as were the first pre-lit artificial Christmas trees.

Food and Drink: Pigs in blankets went from being an optional side dish to a staple part of the Christmas meal. The increasing availability of sparkling wines like Prosecco and cava made festive fizz more affordable.

Festive Film: Elf (2003)

Classic Song: ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)’, The Darkness (2003)

Must-have Toy: The Sony PlayStation 3 launched in the run-up to Christmas 2006. 

Fun Fact: The first John Lewis Christmas advert aired in 2007, warming hearts across the nation and sparking a new media trend.

2010s

Decorations: Sustainability began to take centre-stage over the decade, with consumers embracing LED fairy lights and moving away from plastic decorations. The stripped-back Scandi look also became a major décor trend towards the end of the ‘10s.

Food and Drink: Prosecco, Prosecco and more Prosecco. 

Festive Film: Arthur Christmas (2011)     

Classic Song: ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, Michael Bublé (2011)            

Must-have Toy: The singing Snow Glow Elsa Doll, based on the character from Disney’s smash-hit Frozen, was so popular during Christmas 2014 that it was almost impossible to find in shops.

Huge credit to Denby for the research that helped create this article. 

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