Christmas at Turn of Century

Dublin Core


Christmas at Turn of Century


A look at how Madisonians celebrated Christmas at the turn of the Century shows us some ways in which our customs have changed.

In the year 1900, there were no brightly colored electric lights on Christmas trees and on the streets and houses as we see them in profusion this year. Compared to the vast array of rather complicated action toys which will be found under the Christmas trees a few days from now, there were a few simple toys made mostly of wood, cast iron, and celluloid. The girls were likely to receive dolls which were unable to do any of the numerous activities which little girls of today just naturally expect them to perform. Boys frequently received wooden or cast iron animal banks or model horses or other animals. All in all there was a great deal less emphasis upon the giving of toys, and gifts were about as likely to be fresh citrus fruits and nuts as they were to be toys.

Advertisements in local newspapers during the month of December were more concerned with regular business and pre-inventory, end-of-the-year sales of clothing and furniture. Ads for Christmas food reflected the great emphasis upon the dinners to which relatives, friends and neighbors were invited. E. Deatherage & Co., for example, suggested that folks call by telephone to order their Christmas turkeys. Alfred Douglas, who operated a butcher shop at "Culton's old stand" on Irvine Street, advertised that he had the "choicest cuts of meat for the Christmas market." In case some of the ladies needed some practical assistance in preparing the holiday foods, E.V. Elder advertised stove burner lifters and one-dozen boxes of candles for lighting for five cents. For ten cents a person could buy butcher knives or granite wash pans. Coffee pots were "nine cents and up." C.E. Wines invited the public to his drug store "for the cheapest and nobbiest (slang for a sign of social status) gifts for Christmas."

Drawings of Santa Claus appeared in only two advertisements, those of Jack Freeman's shoe store and the C.F. Brower Co. of Lexington. Santa was pictured as having a broad, almost unsmiling face with a beard that looked rather messy compared to today's drawings of him. His jacket had a fur-trimmed "V" neckline, and his pants were short with a fur cuff just above the knee.

The holiday dinners for family and friends all over Madison County were reviewed at some length in the local weekly papers "Good cheer and good will abounded" in their community, said the Paint Lick correspondent to the Climax. Dinner parties with heavily laden tables and guests who called out "Christmas gift!" as they arrived were scheduled for many of the evenings in that neighborhood. The hosts included Mr. and Mrs. William Wallace. Mr. and Mrs. Lear and daughters Alma and Mary, and Miss Fanny Parks whose beautiful home had its front hallway decorated with the many trophies of fox hunts which her father had collected over the years. Other dinners were served in the homes of Mr. and Mrs. H.L. Wallace and a Mr. McCormick and daughter Mattie. The last social affair of the season was at the home of the Misses Francis, whose table, it was reported, was most richly spread.

Dr. Hobson, a dentist whose office was "next door to the federal building," on Main Street, was well aware of the economic implications of the customs of holiday dinners. In his ad which appeared weekly in the Climax during December he asked, "Can you eat your Christmas dinner and other meals in comfort? If not, we will remove useless teeth...or supply complete sets of teeth." And as far as saving teeth with cavities was concerned, he offered to install the finest alloy fillings at 75 cents each.

A happy Christmas season from the co-authors of this column to all our readers.


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “Christmas at Turn of Century,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed December 4, 2023,