Christmas Toys & Gifts from Yesteryear in Old Newspaper Ads

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to find advertisements for the toys our ancestors wanted for Christmas.

There’s no doubt that Christmas is more exciting when you are young. There’s the anticipation of getting that special toy or two from your Christmas list. The thrill of running from your room to the Christmas tree that morning to see what Santa brought you. My guess is that December was one of the months you looked forward to growing up.

What was your favorite gift as a child? I’m amazed when I look through old newspapers – like those in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives – to see how similar the toys are to ones sold now.

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1930 Toy Store Has Everything

In the vintage holiday newspaper advertisement for the Cullum & Boren Co. below, toys including footballs, magic sets, and dolls are all items you would see on modern-day kids’ lists. Sure, not everything is the same; there are a few items that are specific to that time period, like big bang tractors and keystone toys. What’s interesting is that while today’s retailers appeal to parents’ pocketbooks by claiming low prices, in this advertisement the store boasts of having everything from 25-cent toys to the most “elaborate and expensive on the market.” I guess that’s a 1930s way of saying they have something for everyone.

Christmas toys ad, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisement 7 December 1930

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 7 December 1930, section: Society, Art, Music, Amusements, Radio, page 3

Toys for “Real Boys”

For those who like their children’s toys educational, this 1919 Christmas advertisement for the A. C. Gilbert Company asserts that “real boys want real toys – not mere playthings…” These toys mimic occupations that would help a boy grow to “useful manhood.” While some of the toys mentioned lean toward the fanciful, like the magic set, others – like the chemistry, soldering and wireless sets – would have had more latter-day applications for young boys. Notice that one of the toys mentioned is a machine gun:

A real machine gun, shooting wooden bullets in clips from an air cooled chamber. Modeled after the famous Browning gun. Swivels around to fire in any direction and at different elevations. Fires ten shots a second but is not dangerous… it will delight any red-blooded boy.

Christmas toys ad, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper advertisement 14 December 1919

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 14 December 1919, page 25

Toy Makers: Disabled British Soldiers

There are always surprises to be found in old newspapers that educate us about the social history of the time. In this Christmas toy advertisement imploring parents to shop now to get toys that will “gladden the hearts of children,” there is also a mention at the bottom of the ad about new toys from England. These children’s toys are made by British soldiers “disabled at the front.” This 1918 advertisement from the Halle Bros. Co. would have served as a poignant reminder to readers that the pain and suffering caused by World War I meant that not everyone was having a merry Christmas. The war ended three days after this newspaper ad was published.

Christmas toys ad, Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 8 November 1918

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 November 1918, page 2

Christmas Shopping Countdown

Are you a last-minute Christmas shopper? Christmas falls on December 25 each year but inevitably the stores are saturated with shoppers picking up those last-minute holiday gifts in the days and hours before the big day. Seems this was true for our ancestors as well. This old advertisement from Herpolsheimer’s, published just two days before Christmas, urges Michigan shoppers to hurry (“shop in the morning if possible”) for their toy trains, doll chests, pop guns, and ice skates.

Christmas toys ad, Grand Rapids Press newspaper advertisement 23 December 1910

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 23 December 1910, page 14

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The Toy Department

One of the common themes of Christmas advertising from generations past is the opening of the toy department. These announcements, including a list of featured toys, can be found in many old newspaper advertisements. This 1914 example encourages adults to bring their children – or even other people’s children – to see the new and complete toy department. Wolf, Wile & Co. were opening their re-stocked toy department on November 30 to give shoppers a start on their Christmas shopping, promising that their “largest and finest assortments of toys we have ever had” make their toy department:

The Land of Toys—the Land of Joys—
The Land of Delight for girls and boys.

Christmas toys ad, Lexington Herald newspaper advertisement 29 November 1914

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 29 November 1914, section 3, page 6

Christmas No Longer as Exciting?

And of course Christmas wish lists aren’t just for the kids. But it would seem that once you become an adult your wish list becomes more “practical.” In this 1906 holiday advertisement from The Emporium, we are provided with ideas for gifts for the “older folks” like dishes, pots & pans, glasses and silverware. This vintage newspaper ad reminds you that you should “Get mother something that she will appreciate and that may be enjoyed by the whole family.”

Christmas gifts ad, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper advertisement 1 December 1906

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 1 December 1906, page 6

Yep, that’s just what we mothers like: pots, pans or something the whole family will enjoy (sarcasm fully intended). What’s on your Christmas wish list this year?

Merry Christmas!

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DIY Project: Your Own Holiday Family Advent Calendar

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary uses ideas and graphics from old newspapers to show how you can make your own Advent calendar for this holiday season.

One of the great joys of the holidays is the anticipation of what is to come!

My family celebrates Christmas, and one of my fondest memories is the childish expectation of seeing what is behind each door of the family Advent calendar. Day by day, we’d open a door or window to see what surprise awaited us. This family time was special and gave our parents an opportunity to discuss Christmas with us.

Christmas is only 25 days away, and the first door on the holiday Advent calendar can be opened tonight—so you have time today to make your own Advent calendar!

Many people receive their Advent calendars as gifts, and others elect to purchase them. However, they are very easy to make—so why not try making your own this year? Historical newspapers are a fun place to find a background setting or to locate clipart for the surprises behind each door.

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Craft Supplies

Your family Advent calendar can be made with easy-to-find household supplies—or for more elaborate designs, these items can be found at a craft store:

  • Poster board, construction or craft paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Small craft embellishments

Calendar Style

Before starting, pick a style. As this newspaper article from 1972 demonstrates, you could craft poster board into a free-standing triptych reminiscent of a cathedral. Other ideas are to make wall calendars or to strap together construction paper using one page for each day of Advent.

article about Advent calendars, State Times Advocate newspaper article 2 December 1972

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 2 December 1972, page 13

Newspaper Images

Another idea is to find a traditional picture, either in your own collection or from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

drawing of a Romanesque-style church in Cleveland, Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 October 1890

Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 October 1890, page 8

This church image stems from an 1890 design of a Romanesque church located at the corner of Willson Avenue and Prospect Street in Cleveland, Ohio. Since many early structures are threatened with destruction, this also serves as an opportunity to introduce a history lesson. Follow this link to learn more about Cleveland history:
http://www.clevelandareahistory.com/2011/02/threatened-euclid-avenue-church-of-god.html

article about a Romanesque-style church in Cleveland, Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 October 1890

Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 October 1890, page 8

Calendar Images

The choice of images for the Advent calendar is only limited by your imagination. Early newspaper advertisements, and particularly those for toys, are easily found and can be matched to the same year as your image.

toys ad, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper advertisement 13 December 1890

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 13 December 1890, page 1

Religious and more traditional selections can also be found in the newspaper archives. Search for nativity, bells, creche, manger and other appropriate keywords!

church images, Times-Picayune newspaper article 18 December 1898

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 18 December 1898, page 32

If you have been inspired to make your own holiday Advent calendar, or have fond memories of using one as a child, be sure to let us know in the comments section and share your ideas!

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Holiday Genealogy Gift Ideas Pt. 1: Visual Family Timelines

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary presents the first in a series of genealogy holiday gift ideas: a project to create a historical visual timeline of one or more of your ancestors’ lives.

The countdown clock to the winter holidays is ticking, and if you want to have time to prepare a genealogy gift for your family, you had better get started.

But if you’re like most people, finishing a family history by a looming deadline is a daunting task. So don’t overwhelm yourself—pick a “doable” genealogy project, one that can be completed in a weekend and long before Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah.

Places of My Ancestor’s Life Booklet

The first genealogy gift idea I’m presenting (there will be more in upcoming blog articles) is a project to create a historical visual timeline of one or more of your ancestors’ lives. You can do this by taking images, presenting them in chronological order, and making them into a small booklet.

I’m lucky to have an impressive collection of images from my family’s past, but don’t worry if you don’t have the same—let GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and public images from the National Archives tell your tale by supplementing the story with period images of places your family frequented.

photo of an old house with the caption "If These Four Walls Could Talk, They'd Tell a Thousand Tales"

Source: from the Harrell-Sesniak photo collection

1) Step one is to pick a creative title. If you are stumped, you are welcome to select one of these.

  • Ancestral Home Towns
  • If Walls Could Talk
  • Life in the Past Lane
  • Gleanings from Grandma & Grandpa’s Lives
  • Now and Then: A Look at Where They Lived and Where We Live
  • Old House Tales
  • The Past Is Present Again
  • What Did Our Ancestors’ Home Towns Look Like?

2) Figure out where your ancestors were during specific eras. Create a timeline showing birth, marriage and death dates, but focus on the “dash,” or what occurred between birth – death. (See Linda Ellis’ copyrighted poem at her website www.linda-ellis.com/the-dash-the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis-.html.)

3) Target hometown hangouts. Did your family get married in a special church or synagogue, or attend special events such as rodeos or the World’s Fair? Did they conduct business at the market, sail from a wharf, or travel cross country in a wagon train? Use these clues to match locations to events that corresponded to their lives.

Enter Last Name

If you can’t find anything pertinent, find something from a person who had a strong influence in their lives. For example, this photo was taken on a family visit to Poland in 1999. Our guide was a history professor who said that Oskar Schindler lived in the apartment building to the left. If your family was affected by the Holocaust, you have my permission to use it in your visual timeline with proper credit.

photo of the Krakow, Poland, apartment building where Oskar Schindler lived

Photo: the Krakow, Poland, apartment building (on left) where Oskar Schindler lived, taken in 1999. Source: from the Harrell-Sesniak photo collection

4) Are any sites still there that would be familiar to your family? Search for un-copyrighted images in public archives and older newspaper archives. You might also try searching HistoryPin to find images and see what these places looked like in the past. Then contrast those images with current photographs that you have taken yourself or have permission to use. Tip: network on social media sites to see if any friends can take out-of-your-area photos for you to use.

5) Add historical maps to pinpoint events and locations during your ancestors’ lives. Everyone loves to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors and you’ll find an interesting selection in GenealogyBank’s Historical Maps section.

map showing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's trip to the Pacific coast, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 4 October 1937

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 4 October 1937, page 2

6) Compile your image findings into sequential order. Add appropriate captions, and consider keeping them short to inspire the younger set to pursue genealogy.

7) Create a family history scrapbook, or upload this new family heirloom to an online service that creates photo books on demand. Your family will enjoy this special genealogy gift for many years to come.

The following are examples to inspire you.

Massachusetts

If your family came early to America, they probably went through Massachusetts or settled in one of that state’s many historic cities. Perhaps they visited the house shown below, that was built in 1666 and still owned by the Moulton family in 1905. Its style is reminiscent of the John Howland House, built the same year in Plymouth.

article about the Moulton family home, Patriot newspaper article 13 October 1905

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 13 October 1905, page 12

New Jersey

Because of its delightful history, the Trenton Times ran a series on “Old Landmarks Around Town.” If you have Trenton roots, take time to read them. Example Number 48 below, reprinted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, displays a Quaker meeting house that existed when Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776.

article about the Quaker meeting house in Trenton, New Jersey, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 29 July 1897

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 29 July 1897, page 3

Pennsylvania

There are few states in our country with more history than Pennsylvania, and especially Philadelphia. So pull photos of Philly’s past, along with supplemental articles and advertisements.

Enter Last Name

An example is this advertisement for the Franklin Restaurant and Cafe which opened in 1842 at 105 Chestnut Street. Although no longer there, click the link to see where this address is in relation to the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing.

The Franklin Restaurant and Cafe, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 13 June 1842

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 13 June 1842, page 1

By 1897, many of Philadelphia’s early landmarks were disappearing. This old news article mentions a familiar view at the southeast corner of Broad and Chestnut Streets.

The caption notes that there was a railroad ticket office in this building, and that it was the setting for the old Cornucopia Restaurant which fed the populace in large numbers. If your family was in this area during the 19th Century, it is likely they partook of at least one meal in this establishment, or met at the tavern that had been there previously. Taverns were popular meeting places and served as backdrops for many of the meetings of our founding fathers.

Old Landmarks Disappearing, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 29 July 1897

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 29 July 1897, page 3

Diaries and Journeys

If you find enough material from your ancestors’ home towns, stop there. However, an interesting addition would be to add images from journeys made across country, or quotes from period diaries such as this one:

13th Oct. (1858). A drive of six miles brought us to Paint Rock, where we pass into Tennessee. Near Paint Rock we pass the chimney rocks, a great curiosity; they are in North Carolina. The Paint Rock is said to be 1000 feet high and appears to lean over the road, in fact looks dangerous, but I presume it was planted there until eternity by our Creator. Day’s travel 18 miles. We take the road to Dewetts Bridge, and camp for the day.

—from the diary of John C. Darr

See: http://www.argenweb.net/pope/wagon.html

If your family journeyed west or elsewhere, get inspired by weaving their travels into your tale. Include memories of the adventure, and if you are not fortunate to have a family diary, quote one from the time period. Add images such as prairies, wagon trains or even locomotives, many of which are found in old newspapers.

article about antique trains, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 9 July 1893

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 9 July 1893, page 23

Happy Holidays to one and all, and good luck with your holiday genealogy gift projects!

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Exploring & Preserving Family History with Christmas Cards

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about the history of Christmas cards, illustrating her article with vintage Christmas cards from her own collection.

What’s your favorite part of the holiday season? The decorations? The food? Time with family? I must confess that my favorite part is giving and receiving Christmas cards. I know that sounds odd but I really enjoy Christmas cards. I love simple ones made at home, those bought from the store, and even the lengthy family letters full of boasting and news. The ones that include photos are always a favorite because you can see how families have changed over the years.

a vintage Christmas card

Who Invented the Christmas Card?

The first Christmas card was designed by J. C. Horsley in 1843 England at the request of his friend Henry Cole, who wanted an easy way to send out greetings to his family and friends.* A card from that first set just sold at auction for nearly $7,000. Whether you currently send a photo card, a handmade card, a custom-designed card, or one you picked up at a discount retailer, Christmas cards have long been a way to keep in touch with family and friends during the holiday season. In some cases they have also been something to collect; one of the most famous collections was assembled by Queen Mary and is now housed at the British Museum.

a vintage Christmas card

Christmas Card History in Newspapers

You can learn about the history of Christmas cards by searching through old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Consider this newspaper article instructing readers to order their Christmas cards in November. While we are accustomed to holiday cards with either religious or seasonal designs (such as snowmen or Santa Claus), this was not always the case with Christmas cards. This article gives ideas for card designs including a “sketch made of an attractive nook in your house or garden.” The article’s author says that Christmas cards will be more popular in that year (1917) than ever before because of WWI: “…for many of us will wish to send this slight remembrance to the men who have gone to France or to the training camps, and many of us will wish to remember the families of the same men to at least this extent.”

Order Your Christmas Cards, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 8 November 1917

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 8 November 1917, page 9

a vintage Christmas card

Christmas Card Design

Many people have an opinion about Christmas cards. Some people only like the ones depicting religious themes; others prefer ones that include an annual letter or photo. Even the generations prior to us had their preferences. Maybe you feel the same as Betty Bellaire who remarks in her 1919 article that, while she loves Christmas cards of all kinds, she doesn’t like to receive ones where “the sender has not taken the trouble to write a single word of personal greeting.” I too believe in the importance of those added personal greetings and agree with her that Christmas cards are a “mental reunion with that big circle of friends whom one meets, enjoys and then, through forces of inevitable circumstance, loses touch with as one is swept along through the various phases of one’s life.” It would seem that even our ancestors felt the constraints and stresses of time.

A Few Words on Christmas Cards, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 24 December 1919

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 24 December 1919, page 12

a vintage Christmas card

Genealogy Tip: Save Your Family’s Christmas Cards

In January when the Yule time decorations seem to show their age, what do you do with your holiday cards? One thing to consider is to save them to preserve the signatures for future family history. Those signatures and comments may have some meaning for your family as people age and families change. You could also take some of the suggestions in this 1914 newspaper article, such as: making bookmarks, creating wallpaper, or sending them to a charity that reuses them for craft projects. In this article, Booker T. Washington recommends sending the cards to Southern schools, hospitals and homes. A quick search on the Internet may help you to find other modern-day charities that would welcome your cards.

Ways to Use Christmas Cards Suggested, Oregonian newspaper article 11 January 1914

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 January 1914, page 6

Happy Holidays!

[Editor’s note: the vintage Christmas cards illustrating this article are all from the author’s collection.]

————————–

* Buday, George. The History of the Christmas Card. London: Spring Books. 1965.

Christmas Family Reunion Articles Are Rich Genealogy Resources

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to show how much valuable family history information is provided by family reunion stories newspapers routinely printed around Christmas time.

The end of the year seems like the perfect time to renew acquaintances and hold reunions with family and friends. Even though families find it difficult to find time to get together throughout the year for other events like birthdays or anniversaries, Christmas is a time when people are more likely to make the effort to take a trip home. The other benefit of the Holiday season is that for many who normally would have to take vacation time off from work to travel, the Christmas/New Year’s holidays may mean some flexibility with work obligations. So the Holiday season is a great time to plan a family reunion.

The idea of a December family reunion is not a new one. Sure, it’s made easier with modern transportation conveniences, but it was a common occurrence in the late 19th to early 20th century, as shown by many newspaper stories at that time. These Christmas family reunion articles are a great way for family historians to catch a glimpse into the daily lives of their ancestors. A bonus for the genealogist is that these family reunion articles often included the names of all those in attendance. Even short newspaper announcements can contain genealogically rich information that could be of assistance to descendants.

I did a search for Christmas family reunions in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, and found many delightful examples.

Newspapers report on the lives of a community as well as the celebrities and leaders of a nation. So it’s not surprising that a Christmas family reunion in the White House was newsworthy. For Christmas 1910, newspapers nationwide reported that President Howard Taft had a reunion with his three children, Robert, Helen and Charles, at the White House—complete with a turkey dinner. The only thing missing was the Christmas tree because, as the article notes, the children were “older.”

Christmas at White House: Tafts to Hold Family Reunion and Partake of Turkey Dinner, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 25 December 1910

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 25 December 1910, page 2

While there are countless examples of newspaper articles detailing a family reunion, this one in the Social Affairs column of a 1903 newspaper caught my eye. In the historical newspaper article we find the mention of 13 separate family gatherings. One of the stories, reporting on the dinner at A. Galloway’s, mentions who was there (four generations were present), and reports that the Christmas reunion was leading up to some noteworthy wedding anniversaries. The A. C. Galloways and the A. Galloways would be celebrating their 67th and 56th wedding anniversary in 1904, respectively. It might seem like a breach of etiquette to modern readers but the addition of the words “if they live” came after that statement. If one needed any more hints revealing how old these two couples were, the last sentence of the article notes: “The combined ages of the four is 334 years.”

article about a Christmas family reunion hosted by A. Galloway, Daily Telegram newspaper article 28 December 1903

Daily Telegram (Adrian, Michigan), 28 December 1903, page 2

Maybe you are planning a family reunion of your own this season. Chances are it won’t be as large as this one, reported in a 1922 newspaper. Mrs. M. J. Nash had 91 family members attend her Christmas reunion! Lucky for any of her present-day descendants, the list of those who attended was printed in the newspaper.

The newspaper article concludes by saying she gave everyone in attendance a gift “by which to remember her.”

[Christmas Family Reunion]: Ninety-one Relatives Gather at Home of Mrs. M. J. Nash, Oregonian newspaper article 31 December 1922

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 31 December 1922, section 3, page 9

The old newspaper article about Mrs. Nash’s Christmas family reunion wasn’t the only one I found that included the names of other family members in attendance. This 1921 Christmas reunion article for the family of Mr. and Mrs. John Stanford included the names of those who attended and the number of children they had. As a genealogist, this historical newspaper article is very appealing since it also provides the couple’s street address and a sentence reporting on a family photo that was taken and who was in the photo: “A picture of the host and hostess, with their sons and daughters, grouped about them, was also another feature, and this should be a pleasant reminder for the parents of the event.”

Christmas [Stanford Family] Reunion Delightful Affair, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 28 December 1921

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 28 December 1921, page 6

Did your ancestor hold a Christmas family reunion? This fact may not be known to your present-day family—but if it did occur there’s a good chance it and the names of all gathered can be found in their local newspaper. Finding such an article full of relatives’ names would be a great genealogy gift to receive, something that would make any family historian smile.

‘Oh Christmas Tree’: History of Christmas Trees, Lights & Décor

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches through old newspapers to see how Christmas tree lights and decorations have changed over the years.

As genealogists and family historians, I do not need to tell you that the Christmas season is one filled with traditions, family, and memories. One of the first Christmas memories I have is of our Christmas tree. In our home when I was growing up, Santa brought the tree on Christmas Eve—which made Christmas morning all the more magnificent and magical to a child!

I recall inspecting the Christmas tree, every light and every ornament. On our Christmas tree were a few very special, antique ornaments. These were Christmas ornaments which had a small candleholder on their tops and wax drippings on them. As I eyed these I would always make my parents and grandparents recount how Christmas trees of their youth were decorated with real candles rather than electric lights, and every year I begged for us to please do candles like in the old days.

A Little Family Christmas Secret

Every Christmas Eve, when my family would go to my Nana and Gramps Phillips’ house to celebrate Christmas with them, I always got a very special Christmas treat! When everyone was in other rooms, Gramps would secretly take me with him to their tree, pull a small wax candle out of his pocket, put it on one of the old ornaments, and light it for me. To this day I don’t know whose smile was bigger, his or mine. But I do know this: that memory is just one of the many reasons that I loved my Gramps so very dearly!

Lights, Christmas, Action!

Recently as I was researching an ancestor in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I decided to look for more information on the venerable Christmas tree and its decorations, especially how we have lighted trees over the generations for our viewing pleasure.

photo of author Scott Phillips and his Christmas tree

Photo: Scott Phillips and his family’s Christmas tree. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Christmas Traditions with Pagan Origins?

I must admit I was surprised when one of my initial discoveries was an article from a 1920 newspaper about how pagan some Christmas traditions are. This article actually made me laugh since it seems it could have been in one of today’s newspapers. But I moved on in my Christmas tree history investigation!

Much Paganism in Observance of Christmas, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 24 December 1920

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 24 December 1920, page 1

Then I came across a 1908 article in my old hometown newspaper, the Plain Dealer. This old news article interviewed several ministers who were all in favor of trying to discourage the common practice of decorating Christmas trees with lit candles.

Christmas Tree Candles Hard Hit, Plain Dealer newspaper article 29 July 1908

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 29 July 1908, page 12

Real Candles on Christmas Trees

However, (and I SO wish that I had known about this next article when, as a child, I would make my annual plea for candles on our tree), I found a wonderful, full-page story from a 1908 newspaper titled “Watching for an Expected Guest.” This historical newspaper article included dozens of stories about Christmas traditions around the world, such as “Worship at Cross of Ice” and “In the Realm of the Czar.” But it was an item at the bottom of the page titled “The Christmas Tree” that caught my eye:

“Wax candles are the only real thing for a Christmas tree, candles of wax that mingle their perfume with that of the burning fir, not the by-product of some coal-oil or other abomination. What if the boughs do catch fire? They can be watched, and too many candles are tawdry, anyhow.”

Oh, how I would have used this as “ammunition” in my fight for candles on our tree!

Watching for an Expected Guest [Santa Claus], Repository newspaper article 13 December 1908

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 13 December 1908, page 43

An Old Christmas Quiz

Then I made a really fun newspaper discovery! It was an article from a 1983 newspaper titled “A Christmas Quiz.” If you love Christmas like I do, then you have to look this one up and take this awesome 25-question Christmas quiz!

While I didn’t score well on the Christmas quiz, I did learn a lot and one of the questions I did get correct was #11; “Which American President was the first to decorate the White House tree with electric lights?” Do you know who it was? It was Grover Cleveland and at that time (1895) he made a big push for families to switch to electric lights on all Christmas trees. By the way, since GenealogyBank.com has complete editions of its historical newspapers, you can jump to the next page of the Oregonian and check your answers—but no cheating! Remember Santa knows who is “naughty” and who is “nice”!

A Christmas Quiz, Oregonian newspaper article 25 December 1983

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 25 December 1983, page 98

Electrocution by Electric Christmas Lights

Next up I found another article that I could have used in my childhood campaign against electric lights on our Christmas tree—and this was a safety issue I remember. This 1959 newspaper article reported a warning about the new all-aluminum Christmas trees that had just been introduced. It turns out they posed a potential risk of electrocution if electric lights were used on them.

Warning Is Given: New [Aluminum] Christmas Tree Is Electrical Hazard, Springfield Union newspaper article 2 December 1959

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 2 December 1959, page 2

The One Blown Bulb

I finally found what could have been a real winner in my candle crusade when I read an article from a 1920 newspaper. This article, while extolling the virtues of electric lights over “small wax candles,” did explain the difficulties of working with lights wired in “series.” You remember those: if one bulb went out, then the whole string went dark. Oh, my father (God rest his soul) would recall those lights I am sure! I can still hear him “discussing” this issue with the darkened string of lights. I bet if I had only asked right then, he would have acquiesced to my plea for candles!

New Christmas Tree Lights, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 12 December 1920

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 12 December 1920, section: Feature, page 6

Asbestos for Christmas?

Then I discovered even more support for my argument when I read this article from a 1913 newspaper. The very first sentence offered this advice:

“Asbestos snow for the Christmas tree and asbestos whiskers for Santa himself are part of the latest advice from the fire department.”

You see even the experts can be wrong!  Asbestos whiskers for Jolly Old St. Nick? Perhaps using reverse psychology, I could have wheedled those candles onto our tree.

Remember That X'Mas Trees, Easily Ignited, Often Bring Death through Carelessness, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 21 December 1913

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 21 December 1913, page 8

Bubble Christmas Tree Lights

Then my entire imaginary crusade for real candles on the Christmas tree fell apart when I discovered this advertisement in a 1947 newspaper article. It offered for sale my very favorite Christmas tree light of them all: the venerable “Bubble Light”! For only $3.98 I could get a whole set described as:

“NOMA BUBBLE LIGHTS for your Christmas tree…novel idea—the lights bubble and flicker like real candles and seem to make the tree dance with joy…nine lights, each 5 in. tall in assorted colors…special clip for fastening to tree…3.98

ad for Christmas tree bubble lights, San Diego Union newspaper advertisement 7 December 1947

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 7 December 1947, page 9

As you can see from this photo, I still adore bubble lights and have this one as a night light in my own home.

photo of a bubble nightlight

Photo: bubble nightlight. Credit: from the author’s collection.

NOMA & Christmas Lights

By the way, the San Diego Union article rekindled another Christmas memory. The NOMA label on Christmas lights was something I well remember my mother and father referring to when shopping for Christmas lights. NOMA (the National Outfit Manufacturers’ Association) began as a trade association and morphed into almost a monopoly on Christmas lights.

New NOMA X'Mas Lights, Oregonian newspaper article 20 December 1949

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 20 December 1949, page 14

You can read more about NOMA and Christmas lights history at this Library of Congress webpage.

Thinking about my love of bubble lights, I guess some things can change for the better; I can live without candles on my Christmas tree after all, as long as I have bubble lights!

Merry Christmas everyone—and now I have to go put the lights on our Christmas tree!

5 ‘Must-Haves’ on a Genealogist’s Dream Christmas Gift List

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott lets his imagination loose and dreams up five fantastical genealogy gifts he’d like to receive this Christmas.

As lovers of genealogy and our families’ history there are two things we can all take for granted: the first is that we are always on Santa’s “Nice List,” and the second is that there are always a multitude of new gadgets, books, and gizmos that we put on our list for Santa when this festive time of year rolls around. One of my very favorite Christmas gifts was from my wife, and was a “one-a-day” genealogy calendar with this quote on January 1st: “I used to have a life and then I started doing genealogy!”

Recently, while I was searching through GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I got into the Christmas spirit—and I spent some time thinking about what my Genealogy Dream List for Santa would be if I ever got on the Jolly Old Elf’s special list: the one titled “These genealogists were SO nice they get whatever they want—money is no object!”

These are my five dream genealogy gifts, inspired by newspaper articles I read:

Ground-Penetrating Radar Unit

  • My own Ground-Penetrating Radar Unit for those cemeteries I visit that are not very well marked or not marked at all. Cost: around $40,000—but I am only asking for one! You see I was reading an article in a 2005 Vermont newspaper that told the story of some local folks using ground-penetrating radar to try and locate Native American remains.

Abenaki Remains Lie in Alburg, page 1, St. Albans Daily Messenger newspaper article 19 December 2005

Abenaki Remains Lie in Alburg, page 2, St. Albans Daily Messenger newspaper article 19 December 2005

St. Albans Daily Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 19 December 2005, pages 1-2

Google Street View Car

  • How about a Google Street View Vehicle with a camera for viewing any place on earth when I want to see where my ancestors used to live? Cost: Google headquarters did not return my call asking for their pricing for one of these vehicles—but I am sure, dear Santa, you have all the clout you need, even with Google, to make this happen. After reading an article in a 2008 Illinois newspaper, I decided to add this vehicle to my list. By the way Santa, I hope you are up-to-date on this technology, since I have learned that Google now has their Street View cameras mounted not only on cars, but also on snowmobiles, trolleys, bikes, and even backpacks.

Genealogy Tip: There is an app that will overlay Google Street View with historical images called HistoryPin. It is free to use.

Google Map Feature Now Gives People Close Look at Rockford Streets, Register Star newspaper article 28 March 2008

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 28 March 2008, page 31

NASA Spy Satellite

  • I also “need” my own NASA Spy Satellite, so that I can get truly awesome aerial views of anywhere on earth my ancestors might have lived (and I bet a few terrific sunrise and sunset photos in my free time). Cost: $500 million in 1988 dollars. Just so you know Santa, I got this price tag from an article in a 1988 South Dakota newspaper that referred to a “Lacrosse” model satellite. I realize the price may be a bit higher now than in 1988, but I like the comment in this article that a Lacrosse satellite would provide “extremely sharp” images. So please, Santa, if you have to modernize this request, keep the “extremely sharp” images requirement in mind.

Genealogy Tip: Google Earth may be the next best thing for aerial views. It is free to download and use.

Invisible Shuttle Countdown Clock, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 29 November 1988

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 29 November 1988, page 8

Top-of-the-Line Magnifying Glass

  • A really top-grade Magnifying Glass is also on my list. I got the basic idea for this from a fascinating article about the use of magnifying glasses in ancient times, from an 1893 South Carolina newspaper. I’m not interested in just any magnifying glass, however—I have discovered that there is a Swarovski Crystals magnifying glass encrusted in jewels. This would look just lovely on my desk! Even though the advertisement I read didn’t list the price, I am sure you can swing getting me one, Santa…or maybe a matching pair so that my wife doesn’t feel slighted!
Evidence of the Existence of the Magnifying Glass in Ancient Times, State newspaper article 10 September 1893

State (Columbia, South Carolina), 10 September 1893, page 6

“Wayback” Machine

  • I have just one more gift request if you would, Santa. If the spirit moves you to assign some of your elves to working on a new, sure-to-be-popular gift, how about this idea? My inspiration came from a 1981 California newspaper article titled “All-Time Top 40 TV’s Best? Try These.” I noticed the inclusion of one of my favorite shows as a youngster, Rocky and His Friends, which triggered my imagination. I recalled that my favorite segment on the show was “Peabody’s Improbable History” and his instruction to his assistant, Sherman, to “Set the Wayback Machine.” The more I think about it, the more I am sure every genealogist in the world would stand in any line necessary to get their own Wayback Machine. It’s a surefire winner—and my last Christmas gift request.
Rocky and His Friends, San Diego Union newspaper article 25 October 1981

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 25 October 1981, page 211

So tell me…what would you have on your Ultimate Genealogy Christmas List for Santa?

GenealogyBank Gift Memberships

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Perfect Holiday Gift for Genealogists: GenealogyBank Membership

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And there’s more: our genealogy website’s expansive online archives also contain rare books, personal writings, military records, official government documents and more rich material for in-depth ancestry research.

With a gift membership to our website, your loved one can trace their family tree back in time over three centuries, with historical records that are exclusively available in GenealogyBank’s ever-growing digital archive collections.

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Did Grandma & Grandpa Write Letters to Santa Claus as Kids?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find some of the cute, funny, and heartwarming letters our ancestors wrote to Santa Claus.

In our genealogical quests, we often overlook valuable sources of family history—such as time-honored childhood traditions like writing to Santa Claus (once known as Saint Nicholas).

I recommend you include “Letters to Santa,” published in hometown newspapers, as part of your genealogy research. Can you imagine finding a letter to Santa Claus written by Grandma or Grandpa when they were tots? It would certainly bring a jolly twinkle to your eyes this holiday season!

Yes—it’s very possible that you might find a letter to Santa your ancestor wrote in the historical newspaper archives—and you might even find one with a home address!

Fact: Many Letters to Santa Were Shipped to the North Pole

The U.S. Post Office, not knowing what to do with the abundance of letters to Santa they received throughout the Christmas season, often shared them with newspaper publishers. After air travel became feasible, many letters were (and still are) sent to the North Pole in Greenland, often causing overtime for postal workers. This article from 1950 reports that as of mid-November that year, over 70,000 letters had been received in Copenhagen, Denmark; by Christmas they were expecting about 200,000.

Mail for Santa Claus Keeps Postoffice in Denmark Busy, Boston Herald newspaper article 17 December 1950

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 December 1950, page 47

Letter to “Dear Old Man” (Santa Claus) from Tom (1888)

Here is an early letter to Santa published after the 1887 Christmas holiday. Although it doesn’t reveal “Tom’s” surname, it has an interesting description about the custom of using a chimney post office for the children’s letters.

The little boy made it clear he didn’t care for peppermint sticks, and had some interesting requests—including this instruction to Santa: “Don’t put my things in Jim’s stockings. My stockings are red, with holes in the knees.” Tom also advised Santa Claus: “Ma and Pa are always foolin’ about Christmas Eve, but come along and don’t mind them.”

The Letters Santa Claus Receives, Haverhill Bulletin newspaper article 2 January 1888

Haverhill Bulletin (Haverhill, Massachusetts), 2 January 1888, page 2

Santa’s Letter Box (1899)

The previous letter to Santa seems more of a novelty, as it was published in the newspaper after Christmas. Around the turn of the century, delightful children’s correspondence to Santa became a regular feature in many newspapers in the United States, and their letters were printed in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In the following 1899 newspaper article, you can read these letters to Santa:

Albany, Tex., Dec. 15.—Dear Santa Claus: Will you please send me a doll, if you have one to spare? I want one eighteen inches long, kid body and bisque head, light hair or dark will do. Yours truly, BESSIE TILGHMAN.

Oak Cliff, Tex., Dec. 15.—Dear Santa Claus: Please send me a toy cannon, train, magic lantern and a small boat, some candy, nuts of all kinds, apples, oranges and some fireworks. I am a little boy 6 years old. Your little friend, JULE BERAND.

Dallas, Tex., Dec. 17.—Dearest Santa: Though I look older, I am only 4 years old. I don’t want a doll, but I want a watering pot and a carpet sweeper, and some ginger-snaps and jaw-breakers. Yours lovingly, BROOKSIE T. SMITH.

Santa's Letter Box, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 December 1899

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 December 1899, page 5

Notice the letter authors are clearly identified by first and last name. Are any of these letters to Santa written by your ancestors?

Georgie Freeman and Charlotte Ostan from Evansville, Indiana (1905)

These children had been very good all year, one performing night work and carrying in meat, and the other who didn’t want her five-year-old brother Tony Ostan forgotten.

Letters to Santa Claus, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 15 December 1905

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 15 December 1905, page 6

Almira and Kenton Christopher from Belleville, Illinois (1919)

As we all know, many families have a tough time at Christmas. Not wanting to disappoint their children, Mom and Dad often make up cover stories to explain the lack of presents, as shown in the following letters to Santa Claus.

In 1919, the Christopher children wrote that they were sorry Santa’s reindeer were sick, and that he wouldn’t be coming this year. However—just in case—Almira did wish for a coat, hair ribbon, dress, cap, shoes, fruit and nuts, and some other items, including a little piano.

Among the presents Kenton hoped for were a popgun, new suit and cap, an auto, bicycle, football suit, and a tree. He also added, “Do not forget to leave something for my sisters, brother and parents.”

letters to Santa Claus, Belleville News Democrat newspaper article 15 December 1919

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 15 December 1919, page 7

Ruby Grace Coker from Marietta, Georgia (1923)

Some letters to Santa are purely fun, such as this one from a little girl who lived in Marietta, Georgia:

Dear Santa Claus—Christmas, I want you to bring me a doll that walk, talk and sleep. I want a pair of skates, and I want a box of water colors. Please bring some fruits, nuts and candy of all kinds. There is one more thing I want and that is a raincape. I won’t ask for anything else, because there is lots more little boys and girls that you have to see, but remember mother, daddy, brother and my little baby sister.—Your friend, Ruby Grace Coker.

letter to Santa Claus, Cobb County Times newspaper article 20 December 1923

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 20 December 1923, page 6

Letters to Santa Claus Contest (1937)

With so many children’s letters to Santa sent to newspaper editors, the competition to be published was fierce. Not wanting to disappoint, some newspapers created contests—such as this one from the Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper, which offered a first place prize of $5 and a second place prize of $3, with six runners-up to receive $1 each. (I wasn’t able to locate the winning entries, but perhaps some of our readers would find them and report it on the blog.)

Letters to Santa Claus Entered in New Contest, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 12 December 1937

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 12 December 1937, page 2

Letters from the Echo of Richardson, Texas (1941)
In this collection of letters from 1941, many children told Santa Claus that they love him. (Don’t we all!)

Dear Santa Claus: I have been good. Please come to see me. Fill my stocking with fruit and candy and toys. Don’t bring me very much, but don’t forget other boys and girls. I love you, Ray Johnson.

Dear Santa Claus: I have been good. Please come to see me. Fill my stocking with fruit and candy and toys…I love you, Sylvia Jean Terry.

Letters to Santa Claus, Richardson Echo newspaper article 19 December 1941

Richardson Echo (Richardson, Texas), 19 December 1941, page 5

There are so many letters to Santa Claus in the newspapers, I hope you’ll take time to research them—and please let us know when you find any of these priceless family treasures!

Search Tips

Try entering your ancestor’s first and last name in combination with “letters to Santa” or “letter to Santa” in the “Include Keywords” field on GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives search page to get started.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page, looking for letters to Santa Claus

You might also try searching for your ancestors’ letters to Santa from the Newspaper Letters search page.

Christmas card from Mary Harrell-Sesniak to her blog readers

Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Merry Christmas!
Mary

Christmas Presents of the Past: the Strange, the Unusual—and More

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott looks through old newspapers to find some truly strange, unusual—and sometimes heartwarming—presents given during past Christmases.

I always feel extra thankful around Christmastime that I am a genealogist. It is the best time to be with, and think about, family. Of course some of the most fun memories that always come flooding back are those of giving and receiving Christmas presents!

I grew up with many Christmas family traditions handed down from my Czech ancestors. I fondly recall that we always celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6th and that Santa Claus always brought our Christmas tree along with our gifts on Christmas Eve after we fell asleep listening for sleigh bells in the night. Now as an adult, I can hardly imagine how much work my parents must have done those late Christmas Eve nights…putting out packages, assembling toys, AND decorating a full Christmas tree. But, I certainly recall that those Christmas mornings were magical, seeing the tree for the first time with all those gifts for us kids under it.

Speaking of Christmas gifts, I remember being thrilled and amazed at what I found under the tree with my name on it! These fond family memories and my genealogy work got me to thinking about what presents other people might have found under their Christmas trees, so I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for a bit of fun to see what I might find.

The Elephant in the Yard

My first discovery, from a 1985 South Dakota newspaper, was a “white elephant” gift: literally, an elephant. It seems a certain Marie Christianson, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, woke to find an eight-foot-tall fiberglass elephant on her front lawn! Now, my family will tell you I have “missed” on more than one gift over the years, but at least I never tried giving anything that big!

Woman Gets Surprise from Elephant, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 15 December 1985

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 15 December 1985, page 20

A Gold-Dipped Cow Chip

Next up I just had to read an article I found in a 1980 Texas newspaper, since it was headlined “Oh, just what I always wanted…a gold cow chip.” No kidding! This strange story leads with the opportunity to buy, for only $125, a gold-dipped cow chip made into a Christmas ornament, and it didn’t stop there. The article also reports on such gifts as cow chip drink coasters, a “hospital booze” dispenser, and other strange gifts. As the reporter comments: “But, of course, with Christmas gifts, like anything else—beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

"Oh, Just What I Always Wanted...a Gold Cow Chip," Dallas Morning News newspaper article 14 December 1980

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 14 December 1980, page 177

The Worst Christmas Gifts Ever

Then I came across a 1975 article from a Texas newspaper titled “Christmas gifts. Everything they never wanted.” It seems that the UPI undertook a survey to find some of the worst Christmas gifts ever. Right up there at the top was the WWII GI who was fighting in the mud of the western Pacific when he received his Christmas gift: a shoe shine kit! That one really had me laughing, as did several of the others as the UPI interviewed a host of big-name celebrities including Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller, David Niven and others. While I laughed over gifts such as Carol Burnett’s “a case of chicken pox” and shuddered over Phyllis Diller getting a snake, the gift that took the cake for me was Stanley Marcus, of the Neiman-Marcus Department Store chain. It seems his children couldn’t figure out what to give the man that probably literally had everything, so they gave him a live donkey for Christmas!

Christmas Gifts: Everything They Never Wanted, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 24 December 1975

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 December 1975, page 9

Oh! It’s Moleskin Pants…Again

The laughter really rolled around my office when I came across a real “winner” of a Christmas gift in a 1984 Massachusetts newspaper article. This one makes me wonder if the genealogy and family history of Roy Collette of Owatonna, Minnesota, will include his Christmas gift of a pair of moleskin pants. It seems Roy and his brother-in-law gift and re-gift the same pair of moleskin pants each Christmas. In the article, Roy tells the story that it took him two months to unwrap his Christmas present of those pants since his brother-in-law, Larry Kunkel, sent them wrapped “cemented in a 12,000-pound, 17-foot-high red space ship”! Can you imagine? The two of them had been exchanging this same pair of pants, wrapped in various zany ways, since the mid-1960s.

Moleskin Pants Finally Free from Concrete Cocoon, Springfield Union newspaper article 29 March 1984

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 29 March 1984, page 2

The Real Santa of Danby & Mount Tabor

Soon I found a heartwarming article from a 1983 Louisiana newspaper, which told the story “Christmas legacy continues” from the small towns of Danby and Mount Tabor, Vermont. It seems a local boy, who made a fortune in the lumber trade, never forgot his hometown. When Silas Griffith died in 1903, his will set up an endowment to buy Christmas gifts each year for all the boys and girls in the towns of Danby and nearby Mount Tabor. This old newspaper article begins with a 75-year-old fellow recalling “washtubs full of large, juicy oranges” beneath the Griffith endowment tree as holiday gifts. William Crosby comments: “In those days, an orange was a pretty scarce item. It meant an awful lot to me.” That one really took me back, since every year when I was a child, year in and year out, my Christmas stocking held an orange in the toe as a very special winter treat. I can still taste the marvelous flavors as my sisters and I would stick a peppermint stick into the orange and drink the juice through our makeshift straws. Christmas magic indeed.

Christmas Legacy Continues, Advocate newspaper article 25 December 1983

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 25 December 1983, page 3

The Red Cross Delivers a Great Gift

Tears formed in my eyes as I read the next article I came across, titled “The Funny Christmas Gift,” from a 1918 Pennsylvania newspaper. This news story was incredibly moving to me, especially as we approach the centennial of World War I. If you want to truly get into the Christmas spirit and have immigrant ancestors in your genealogy as my family does, you must read this great story about a gift both simple and hugely meaningful. The story is told by a Red Cross worker who is helping process packages to troops overseas during WWI, and concludes this way:

The Funny Christmas Gift, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper article 26 November 1918

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 26 November 1918, page 12

Remember Rural Free Delivery?

Things got lighter after this when I found myself reading an article from a 1905 Pennsylvania newspaper, titled “Christmas with the Rural Free Delivery Carriers.” Now if you are old enough to recall sending mail with an address that featured “R.F.D.” in it, then you will really enjoy this wonderful trip back in time. This one is almost like having your own genealogy time machine! Be sure to check it out and read about what these wonderful rural carriers got from their appreciative customers around Christmastime. It was special to read how these fellows often received “potatoes, flour, apples, preserves, etc., in such quantities that the family is kept supplied with these things all winter in this manner.”

Christmas with the Rural Free Delivery Carriers, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 17 December 1905

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 17 December 1905, section: comic, page 2

Strange Christmas Presents of the Rich & Famous

I was especially intrigued when I came across an article from a 1909 Louisiana newspaper, titled “Some Queer Christmas Presents.” This story tells of many gifts received by actors and actresses at Christmas, and I was pleased to see that several had been given bricks from a building that was significant in their lives.

Some Queer Christmas Presents, Times-Picayune newspaper article 12 December 1909

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 December 1909, page 48

I was given a brick once, as you can see in the photograph below. While it may not be from an opera house or famous theater, mine is from a community center in a small village in Michoacán, Mexico, that I was instrumental in getting built. I do believe that, as the earlier reporter noted, the beauty of a gift truly is in the eye of the beholder.

photo of author Scott Phillips with a brick he received as a present

Photo: Scott Phillips with his prized brick. Credit: from the author’s collection.

What have been some of your favorite, strange, or outrageous Christmas gifts in your family? Please tell us about them in the comments section.