Here’s What Christmas Was Like the Year You Were Born

December 13, 2023
26 mins read

On Christmas Day in 1914, British and German troops emerged from the trenches of World War I as weeks of bad weather cleared and called a truce. It was spontaneous and not approved by any higher-ups, but many soldiers on both sides ended up taking part. Soccer games were played between the British and German troops before they returned to their respective sides at dusk and continued fighting.

The Christmas Truce, as it is known today, is for many an illustration of the power Christmas holds over humanity’s collective imagination. The Yuletide is generally thought of as a time for family, togetherness, compassion, and generosity. However, the ways people celebrate and think of the holiday continue to change as society evolves.

To see how the holiday has changed over the last century, Stacker explored how popular traditions, like food and decorations, emerged and what major world events transpired from 1920 to 2022 in the U.S. and around the world, with references updated as of November 2023. Stacker also found when some of the most popular Christmas songs, movies, and books entered the canon of the holiday season and looked at gifts that topped many Christmas lists over the years.

Some traditions on the list are centuries old, and others are newer but no less cherished. At times, especially in eras of war and strife, families adjust their rituals to accommodate their new circumstances while still keeping their spirits up.

Read on to discover how Christmas has evolved over the past century.

Children participate in a Christmas nativity play.
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1920: Nativity plays are all the rage

By 1920, Christmas celebrations were shifting away from the public space and more toward the family. Nativity plays, a tradition still shared today, had become extremely popular for schoolchildren in 1920.

Men sit around a table listening to a radio broadcast.
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1921: Christmas takes to the radio

Many of today’s traditions began during Prohibition-era America. By this time, the radio had become ubiquitous. The recent invention had become a popular gift and also the center of most social gatherings—particularly for live-broadcast holiday concerts.

A play being performed in costume at a BBC radio studio in the early 1900.
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1922: BBC broadcasts first British radio play ‘The Truth about Father Christmas’

Radios were globally influential, and in 1922, the BBC started daily programs. The BBC broadcast its first orchestral concert on Dec. 23 and its first radio-broadcast play, “The Truth About Father Christmas,” on Dec. 24.

Calvin Coolidge and group pose in front of Christmas tree.
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1923: First Christmas tree in the White House

Alongside the radio, Christmas trees were a growing centerpiece of the holiday. In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge lit the first national Christmas tree in the White House—a 64-foot fir.

A little boy waves during the parade in New York City.
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1924: Macy’s parade ushers in Christmas

Today’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began as the “Macy’s Christmas Parade” in 1924. Reports reveal that 10,000 people showed up to see live animals from Central Park Zoo.

A boy looks up at a Christmas tree decorated with lights.
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1925: General Electric makes artificial lights more accessible

By the middle of the 1920s, the increasing popularity of Christmas trees meant a need for affordable and accessible lights. Enter powerhouse General Electric, who began production of pre-assembled, inexpensive lights to adorn homes and trees for the holidays.

A Christmas party at a hospital.
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1926: Alcohol poisonings abound thanks to the US government

A little Christmas libation never hurt anyone—except in 1926. Angered by the public’s continued consumption during Prohibition, the government employed a scare tactic by poisoning some manufactured liquor. On Christmas Eve in New York City, hospitals were overflowing with sick people.

Man in Santa Claus costume holds child admires Christmas ornament.
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1927: Artificial feather trees gain popularity

Besides more conventional lights, the trees themselves took on innovations. By the latter half of the decade, artificial trees were common. “Feather trees” were assembled from dyed goose feathers and attached to a “trunk.”

A man with a Joy-Buzzer reaches for a handshake.
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1928: Gag gifts make their debut

Who doesn’t love a good practical joke? The joy buzzer, invented in 1928, was a prank device comprising a coiled spring inside a disc worn in the palm. When the wearer shakes hands with another person, a button on the disc releases the spring, which quickly unwinds, creating a vibration that feels like a minor electric shock to the unsuspecting victim. The same year marked Hollywood’s first Christmas Parade in Los Angeles.

The White House fire underway with fire hoses and ladders.
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1929: The White House catches on fire

Christmas in 1929 will be remembered for a great blaze in the nation’s capital. As a children’s Christmas party took place for President Herbert Hoover’s aides and friends, the West Wing executive offices caught fire. Despite the four-alarmer bringing some 130 firefighters to the White House, the children were never aware. The press room was destroyed, and the offices suffered substantial damage. However, the fire was out by 10:30 p.m.

Illustration depicting boy surprising Santa Claus taking a Coca Cola out of the refrigerator.
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1930: First Coca-Cola ad featuring Santa debuts

Coca-Cola ads have shaped how Americans view Santa for decades, with his bushy beard and twinkling eyes fast becoming the template in people’s imaginations. But that design, created by Haddon Sundblom in 1931, wasn’t the first ad by the company to feature the jolly man himself. The year before, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa drinking a Coke for an advertisement in December 1930.

People walking around the fountain at Rockefeller Center.
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1931: Rockefeller Center lights up officially for the first time

An international sensation, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lit up for the first time in 1931. Back then, the tree was just a 20-foot balsam fir bought with the pooled money of construction workers to lift their spirits.

King George V sits at a table making radio address.
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1932: George V delivers the first Christmas Broadcast

A significant tradition in the U.K. and around the world, the Christmas broadcast is a sort of State of the Union at year’s end—a barometer of national and global issues and events. British King George V (pictured here making his annual broadcast) began the tradition in 1932.

The Rockettes lined up in formation with elaborate costumes.
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1933: The Rockettes kick off their annual ‘Christmas Spectacular’

Two years after New York City’s other famous tradition, the Rockefeller tree-lighting, the Rockettes started their “Christmas Spectacular” at the nearby Radio City Music Hall. The 90-minute show remains a holiday staple for New Yorkers and international tourists each year.

Shirley Temple holding her doll.
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1934: Debut of the Shirley Temple Doll

The next big toy following the joy buzzer, the Shirley Temple Doll made its debut based on the most famous child star of the time. Both the real-life Temple and the doll version were major uplifting influences on Depression-era Americans, who found a little reprieve in her talents and chipper spirit.

A man pours beer from a can in front of a dispenser with a Beer in Cans sign.
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1935: The popularity of canned beer

The first canned beer hit from Gottfried Krueger Brewery hit the market in Virginia in 1935. By Christmas, 37 additional breweries were proprietors, selling more than 200 million cans. Canned beer had become the drink of choice and a home staple during the holidays.

Men in military uniform play the Monopoly board game.
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1936: The rise of Monopoly

Charles Darrow sold his game, Monopoly, to Parker Brothers in 1935. Darrow said his creation came from being unemployed and in need of a distraction. By the end of the year and into the following Christmas, the game was a smash hit. It was later found, however, that it was actually Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie who originated the rules of the classic game.

Amelia Earhart poses beside plane.
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1937: Amelia Earhart-inspired gifts

Following the disappearance of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart in July 1937, her aviator-style hat and goggles became a popular children’s Christmas gift. Earhart was declared dead in January 1939, and various theories continue to circulate about what could have happened to the famed pilot.

Illustrated cover of a Superman comic book.
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1938: Superman is born

The current superhero boom can be traced back to Action Comics #1 in 1938 when Superman was introduced. Reports revealed that 200,000 copies were printed that first year, and it became a major Christmas gift of the late 1930s.

Cropped shot of plastic green army men toys.
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1939: Little green army men craze

You may know them primarily from “Toy Story,” but little green army men took off in the 1930s. The toys represented mid-20th-century American soldiers. These tiny fighters, clad in U.S. Army olive green, sold for mere pennies in 1939.

Firemen spray water on the remains of buildings in Manchester.
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1940: Manchester’s Christmas Blitz claims hundreds of lives

Christmas during times of war is difficult, but the Manchester Blitz in the days leading up to the holiday left the U.K. devastated. By Dec. 22, 684 people died, and 2,300 were wounded in the German bombing of the city. Many shops and homes were completely demolished.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt poses with with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the White House.
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1941: Winston Churchill visits a country at war

Christmas this year was subdued, with the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 and the United States’ subsequent entry into World War II hanging over the populace. For the holidays that year, President Franklin Roosevelt hosted Winston Churchill, prime minister of the United Kingdom.

Mother reading Christmas story to children by the fire.
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1942: Little Golden Books hit the shelves

Produced in partnership with Simon & Schuster, the Artists and Writers Guild, and the Western Printing and Lithographing Company, this collection was created to make books more affordable for children everywhere. Coming out in September, these titles (which included “The Little Red Hen” and “The Alphabet from A to Z”) only cost a quarter, making it easy and affordable to put books under the tree.

Bing Crosby poses for a portrait.
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1943: ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ is a hit among war-weary Americans

Bing Crosby’s heartfelt promise to be home in time for the holidays struck a chord with soldiers and civilians alike, shooting to #3 on the charts shortly after its release and staying up for 11 weeks. It was one of the most requested songs at USO shows on both fronts and proved to be a significant boost to soldier morale.

Father Christmas wearing a tin soldier hat walks through the streets.
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1944: Rockefeller tree goes dark

Due to wartime blackout regulations, the Rockefeller tree and all other outdoor Christmas decorations were forced to remain dark throughout the holiday season. However, the year after, they would return bigger than ever, with organizers going all out to celebrate the end of the war.

Family opening presents around a tree at Christmas.
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1945: First post-war Christmas

After the twin blows of the Great Depression and World War II, America was ready to celebrate in a big way. As such, Christmas 1945 remains one for the history books as stores stocked up, and communities ensured returning soldiers would receive gifts for the holidays. Rationing was beginning to ease, holiday lights were permitted once more, and the mood was hopeful as people started looking toward the future.

James Stewart and Donna Reed in a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life.
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1946: ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ releases

George Bailey’s journey to self-acceptance almost didn’t happen, and certainly wasn’t the Christmas classic many know and love today. The shooting was incredibly expensive and ran far longer than initially intended. The movie didn’t even make its budget back upon release. It wasn’t until 1974 after the film forgot to renew its copyright that it became a Christmas staple, as television stations could play it nonstop without paying.

Still image from Miracle on 34th Street.
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1947: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ has people believing in Santa again

20th Century Fox released its tale of a department store rivalry and a legal case that gets a young girl to believe in Santa to huge success, winning three Oscars. Since then, the film has been adapted and remade several times, most recently in 1994, though the original remains popular with audiences.

President Harry Truman poses with Christmas turkeys.
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1948: Truman lights the tree from across the country

The White House Christmas tree has long been a popular staple, but the president wasn’t always there to attend the actual tree lighting. From 1948 to 1951, President Harry Truman signaled the lighting of the National Christmas Tree from his home in Independence, Missouri. He and his wife delivered their greetings to the people of Washington D.C. via a young boy and girl who were the recipients of the 1948 Recreation Department Youth Award.

Colorful clay form the word Silly.
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1949: Silly Putty finds its purpose

Like chocolate chip cookies and penicillin, Silly Putty was created by accident in 1943 during an engineer’s attempt to create synthetic rubber for the war effort. It didn’t fill the government’s need, so it languished in obscurity until this year when toy store owner Ruth Fallgetter was convinced by advertiser Peter Hodgson to put the putty in her annual catalog. It was a hit, and Hodgson went on to brand it as the “Silly Putty” we know today.

Bing Crosby sings in a recording studio.
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1950: Bing Crosby croons about ‘Silver Bells’

Less than a decade after he made it big with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Bing Crosby once again made his mark on the holiday season with “Silver Bells.” Written for the movie “The Lemon Drop Kid,” songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans were hesitant to write a Christmas song as new ones rarely charted. This one might not have either had it kept its original name, “Tinkle Bells.” Luckily, Livingston’s wife pointed out the slang meaning for “tinkle,” leading to a hasty name change.

A scene from the film A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim.
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1951: Alastair Sim stars as Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’

A few weeks before Christmas in 1951, a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” hit theaters in the U.S. Though it didn’t make as much of a splash stateside as it did across the pond (where it was called “Scrooge”), the film became a holiday favorite on American television throughout the remainder of the ’50s and continues to be to this day. Many would say Alastair Sims’ Scrooge is the definitive one.

A child plays with a Mr. Potato Head toy.
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1952: The first toy commercial airs

Christmas lists would never be the same after 1952 when the first toy received its own commercial. The toy in question? The Mr. Potato Head, a body-less composite of facial features. The toy made more than $4 million in sales in the first few months after its launch in 1952.

Eartha Kit poses for a studio portrait.
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1953: Eartha Kitt’s ‘Santa Baby’ takes over the airwaves

A new Christmas song hit the airwaves in 1953, setting the tone for the decade. Eartha Kitt’s rendition of the Christmas classic has been copied countless times since, including by the likes of Madonna.

Original Wiffle ball box with text reading, It curves! Bat it! Bounce It! Safe Anywhere!
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1954: Wiffle balls under the tree

A new gift for milder temperatures arrived in 1954, with the invention of the Wiffle ball. A father looking for a safer way for his son to play baseball without breaking the neighbor’s windows invented a lighter version of a baseball. Unsurprisingly, the adaptation was a hit.

Men sit below radar at NORAD headquarters.
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1955: NORAD tracks Santa across the world

Helping millions of children around the world believe for a little longer, an American Air Defense colonel started a tradition that carries on to this day on Christmas Eve in 1955. Thanks to a clerical error, he was connected to a little girl who wanted to know if Santa was real and how his rounds were going. The colonel told her, and a tradition was born.

Four children play with pogo sticks in the street.
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1956: Pogo sticks

To the delight of children and their parents alike, an updated pogo stick was available for gifting in 1956. The new design had two handles instead of one, which was safer for the rider’s chin.

Dr. Seuss Geisel holding illustrations for his book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
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1957: Dr. Seuss releases ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’

In 1957, the classic Christmas book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” was published on Oct. 12 in Redbook magazine as an illustrated poem. Geisel, with help from his wife Helen, released a full-length book version more or less simultaneously in December 1957.

Children play with Hula-Hoops in a city street.
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1958: Hula Hoops sweep the nation

One gift likely to be on many children’s lists in 1958 was the hula hoop. The toy debuted to wild fanfare that year, with over 25 million sold in several months.

The first Barbie doll on display in an exhibition.
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1959: The world meets Barbie

One of the most famous toys of the 20th century came on the market in 1959. Barbie was unveiled at the New York Toy Fair in 1959. Although Barbie initially received mixed reviews, retailers sold more than 300,000 Barbies that year alone.

An Etch a Sketch toy displayed on store shelf.
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1960: Etch A Sketch shakes things up

Another marquee toy came on the market in 1960 with Etch A Sketch. The Ohio company that had purchased the rights to the toy invested heavily in advertising, and it was a smash hit that holiday season.

A girl plays with Barbie and Ken dolls and record player.
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1961: Ken and Chatty Cathy compete over the doll market

Hot on Barbie’s heels, Chatty Cathy made her debut in 1961. The doll was powered by a phonograph record in her stomach and came with 11 prerecorded phrases. By the end of the year, she was the second most popular doll in the country after Barbie.

Cancelled Christmas postage stamp from 1962.
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1962: First Christmas postage stamp arrives

Customers had requested a Christmas postage stamp for years, but it wasn’t until 1962 that the USPS gave it to them. The inaugural stamps featured a wreath and two candles and rapidly sold out.

Close up aluminum christmas tree with blue ornaments.
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1963: Americans go crazy for aluminum Christmas trees

The aluminum Christmas tree reached peak popularity in 1963. The tree appealed to families looking to add sparkle to their holiday decor without all the mess of cleaning up ferns and remembering to hydrate a living tree.

Burl Ives holds up the stop-motion snowman puppet of Sam from the Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
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1964: Stop-motion animated ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ airs

One of the most popular Christmas songs became an animated special in 1964. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was produced by Videocraft International Ltd. and cast with puppets. The show remains a beloved classic today.

A collection of Charlie Brown Christmas books, puzzle, ornaments and other merchandise.
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1965: ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ becomes an instant classic

Another television Christmas special became an instant classic in 1965 with the release of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The hit was initially considered a gamble by The New York Times, which thought it was risky to adapt a comic strip to television.

Kwanzaa candles and table setting.
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1966: Kwanzaa emerges as a response to Christmas

African Americans began celebrating the holiday of Kwanzaa in 1966. The holiday was meant to be a response to the commercialization of Christmas. The holiday is similar to harvest festivals like Thanksgiving, encouraging gratitude and celebration.

Soldiers in Vietnam with a Christmas tree in mortar pit.
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1967: North Vietnam ceasefire lasts most of Christmas Day

The Vietnam War was raging by 1967. But on Christmas Day, a ceasefire was held for most of the day, allowing troops stationed in the country a moment of respite from fighting for celebration.

Apollo 8 Crew James Lovell, William Anders and Frank Borman pose for a portrait.
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1968: America celebrates Christmas while orbiting the moon

A new frontier opened for humankind on Christmas Eve in 1968. Apollo 8, the first mission to the moon, was launched that night. The launch was broadcast back to Earth, with the crew reading from the Book of Genesis.

Tornado funnel moving over a rural area.
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1969: The most tornadoes ever recorded on Christmas Day

The year 1969 held the inauspicious distinction of being the Christmas with the highest number of tornadoes on record until 2012. Twelve tornadoes touched down that day, killing one person and injuring 17 others.

José Feliciano plays the guitar and sings onstage.
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1970: José Feliciano releases ‘Feliz Navidad’

The Christmas classic “Feliz Navidad” was released in 1970. Singer José Feliciano recorded the song with lyrics in both English and Spanish to promote multiculturalism and to ensure American stations would play it.

A large Christmas peace message reading 'War Is Over !' from John Lennon and Yoko Ono on a billboard in New York City.
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1971: John Lennon and Yoko Ono release ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’

Four years after the Christmas Day ceasefire of 1967, the Vietnam War was still raging on at Christmastime in 1971. As outspoken protestors of the war, John Lennon and Yoko Ono hosted bed-ins and put up billboards in 12 major metropolitan cities around the world in 1969, launching their “War Is Over (If You Want It)” campaign. Then, in December 1971, they released a song for the campaign with the Harlem Community Choir that’s since become a Christmas standard.

People walk in the street in Hanoi carrying stretcher.
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1972: The US bombs Hanoi on Christmas

Far from the Christmas truce several years earlier, 1972’s Christmas in Vietnam was chaotic and violent. Richard Nixon announced a surprise Christmas bombing of North Vietnam, concentrated in the capital of Hanoi.

Richard Nixon embraces country music entertainer Tex Ritter at the White House.
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1973: Watergate overshadows Christmas tree lighting

Unfortunately for Nixon, even the lighting of holiday trees couldn’t overshadow the scandal engulfing his presidency. Despite Nixon’s attempt to project an aura of normalcy, Watergate would derail his presidency and result in his resignation.

Christmas hat with film clapper in the snow.
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1974: ‘Black Christmas’ revolutionizes horror

Christmas had typically been reserved for heartwarming film and television. But in 1974, the slasher classic “Black Christmas” debuted and forever altered the horror genre.

Pet Rock creator Gary Dahl poses for a publicity photo.
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1975: Pet Rock takes the country by storm

To the relief of parents everywhere, hoping not to be asked for a dog or a cat, the pet rock became a wildly popular toy in 1975. The pet rock required very little in the way of upkeep and even less in maintenance costs.

Muhammad Ali poses with book.
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1976: Muhammad Ali and Cher top Christmas lists

While Barbie remained popular, dolls modeled after real people became a new trend in the 1970s. Dolls modeled on the singer Cher and the boxer Muhammad Ali topped holiday wish lists in 1976.

A plastic Star Wars toy on a white background.
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1977: ‘Star Wars’ fans get an empty box for Christmas

Toy companies were unprepared for the outright mania for “Star Wars” toys in the weeks before Christmas in 1977. Rather than rush the toys to market, they sold empty boxes with IOUs for the toys to be delivered in the following months.

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew pose on set.
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1978: Wild Christmas TV specials dominate airwaves

1978 was a banner year for Christmas TV specials. That year included The Pink Panther in “A Pink Christmas” and the “Star Wars Holiday Special.”

An Afghan solider sits on a Soviet tank near Salang Pass.
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1979: USSR invades Afghanistan

Christmas 1979 was a militaristic one for the Soviet Union. That year, the country invaded Afghanistan, kicking off a yearslong conflict.

Close up on a Rubik’s Cube puzzle on a white background.
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1980: Rubik’s Cube hits the shelves

One of the most popular toys to this day was launched in 1980. The Rubik’s Cube would be a defining feature of the entire decade.

Close up detail of Christmas Tree ornament.
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1981: The first White House ornament

The first White House Christmas tree ornament was designed in 1981. Every year since then, the White House Historical Association has designed an official ornament.

Snowy street scene with traffic.
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1982: Christmas blizzard buries part of US

It was a very white Christmas for many parts of America in 1982. A blizzard buried parts of the country in extreme snow that day, a bonanza to those who found a sled under the tree.

Peter Billingsley sits on Santa's lap in a scene from the film A Christmas Story.
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1983: ‘A Christmas Story’ changes the landscape of holiday film

The beloved film “A Christmas Story” premiered in 1983. The film follows a young boy attempting to evade a bully and convince his parents a Red Ryder BB gun is the perfect gift for him.

Bob Geldof wearing a Feed the World t-shirt poses with Midge Ure during the recording of Do They Know It's Christmas?
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1984: Supergroup Band Aid releases ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

You couldn’t turn on the radio during Christmas in 1984 without hearing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, a supergroup created by British rock star Bob Geldof to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. The record—which also featured Bono, George Michael, Phil Collins, Sting, Boy George, and Phil Collins, to name a few—sold a million copies the week it came out in December 1984 and became the fastest-selling single in U.K. history at the time.

Children listen to a story at a train station.
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1985: Chris Van Allsburg publishes ‘Polar Express’

In 1985, popular Christmas entertainment went analog. “The Polar Express” was a children’s book published to great acclaim and popularity that year and told the story of a young boy encountering a train headed to the North Pole.

Christmas stockings and lights hang above a cozy lit fireplace.
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1986: Yule Log special stops airing

In 1966, New York station WPIX filmed a “Christmas card” to fill up programming space. For three hours, the station looped a 17-second clip of a Yule log burning in a fireplace. For the next 20 years, this stunt would be a Christmas tradition in New York City. Unfortunately, as the clip played with no commercials, it was a financial loss for the station, prompting its end.

A woman in handcuffs holds a notepad.
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1987: Former Manson family member Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme recaptured after prison break

In 1975, former Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme was arrested for the attempted assassination attempt of President Gerald Ford in Sacramento, California. Fromme was sentenced to life imprisonment and was sent to the Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin. Transferred to Federal Prison Camp Alderson for attacking an inmate, she escaped on Dec. 23, 1987. Fromme was attempting to see Charlie Manson, who she suspected was dying. Fromme would be recaptured on Christmas Day.

Bruce Willis running with automatic weapon in a scene from the film Die Hard.
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1988: ‘Die Hard’ enters the Christmas canon

Is “Die Hard” a Christmas movie? It’s a question that’s divided fans of the ever-popular action movie starring Bruce Willis since it was released in 1988, and the main action in the narrative takes place during an office holiday party. Today, it’s impossible to escape the film during the holiday season.

Hershey’s Kisses in red and green.
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1989: Hershey’s Kisses commercial first airs

The Hershey’s Kisses ringing bells commercial is one of the most iconic sights during the holiday season, having aired unchanged from its 1989 conception to the present day. The 30-second spot almost didn’t happen; it was entirely the initiative of brands manager John Dunn, who was sure he could sell his boss on the whimsical ad despite not having permission to make it.

Students working in a computer lab in 1990.
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1990: The internet connects a web browser and server

The year 1990 brought a new gift to the world at large when computer scientists from CERN set up the first successful connection between a web browser and a server, setting the blueprint for the internet as we know it today. It would take several years after this date for the internet to be adopted by more than just scientists, and it would only happen thanks to a tireless push from the scientists who marked this first Christmas Day achievement.

People stand in front of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union central office in Moscow.
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1991: USSR President Gorbachev resigns

Christmas 1991 marked a new phase for world politics when USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation from his position, and the fall of the Soviet Union was confirmed. His 10-minute televised speech focused on the successes he’d brought to the region, including strides in human rights, before ceding control of the government to Boris Yeltsin, functionally ending the Cold War.

A solider stands with a Somalian child.
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1992: The US delivers food to Somalians

The story of U.S. involvement in the Somalia conflict is a complicated one that analysts and military officials are still trying to sort out today. During this conflict, on Christmas Day, there was a mission to deliver grain to  Somalis struggling with famine.

Plush Beanie Baby toys on a shelf.
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1993: The Beanie Baby craze takes the world by storm

Beanie Babies debuted in 1993, and the children’s toy quickly became a huge success and a popular Christmas gift, despite its creator’s decision to limit the number sold and refusal to place them in big stores. In the years following, collectors would go crazy over the stuffed toys, spending thousands of dollars on them before the Beanie Baby bubble burst in the late 1990s.

Mariah Carey sings in a Christmas performance.
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1994: Mariah Carey releases ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’

Every year like clockwork, Mariah Carey’s holiday smash “All I Want For Christmas Is You” begins climbing the charts once again, breaking records on its annual ascent despite considerable changes in the music industry since its release. The song differs from most Christmas anthems due to its upbeat tempo. The song’s later inclusion in the film “Love Actually” probably didn’t hurt its popularity either.

Two musicians playing onstage.
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1995: Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings down the house with ‘Carol of the Bells’

A Ukrainian folk melody found new life in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s adaptation of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “Shchedryk” (also known as “Carol of the Bells”). Featuring electric guitar, bells, and cello, the song invokes the story of a single cello player who played Christmas carols on his instrument in the square of a war-torn Sarajevo and has become a key part of the instrumental Christmas canon.

Hillary Clinton looks at Christmas ornaments on the White House tree.
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1996: The Family Channel begins its ’25 Days of Christmas’ programming

The Family Channel started ushering in the Christmas season with 25 straight days of holiday cheer in 1996. Today, the channel (now known as Freeform) starts the fun even earlier with the “Countdown to the 25 Days of Christmas” and features holiday movies, romantic comedies, and animated specials to entertain during the holiday season. It’s one of the channel’s biggest events of the year, allowing it to continue competing even as streaming services dominate the entertainment sphere.

Close up detail of a red coffee cup with the Starbucks logo.
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1997: Starbucks releases its first Christmas cup

Everyone knows that once Starbucks replaces its pumpkin spice lattes with peppermint mochas, it’s time to get ready for its iconic holiday cups, featuring cheery classics like reindeer, snowflakes, and wrapping paper. However, not everyone has been pleased with Starbucks’ graphic design choices; starting in 2015, Starbucks has come under fire several times for not being “Christmas-y” enough with their designs.

Promotional image of the interactive Furby toy.
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1998: Furbys make their debut

Talking toys were all the rage in the ’80s and ’90s, from Teddy Ruxpin in the mid-’80s to Tickle Me Elmo in the mid-’90s to the Furby craze in 1998. Made by Tiger Electronics, Furbies were animatronic pets that interacted with the world around them, their moving eyes, ears, and beaks showing their reactions. At the end of the millennium, you couldn’t escape their creepy voices, which uttered words in Furbish until they were taught English.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lit at night.
STAN HONDA // Getty Images

1999: Rockefeller’s tree sets records

The tree in Rockefeller Center normally tops out at around 75 feet, but on the final Christmas of the 20th century, it reached 100 feet. It took 30,000 light bulbs to light up the tree, which hailed from Killingworth, Connecticut.

Taylor Momsen and Jim Carrey in How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
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2000: Jim Carrey becomes the Grinch

Dr. Seuss’ beloved holiday classic has been adapted many times over the years. Still, perhaps the most controversial is the live-action adaptation starring 1990s comedy king Jim Carrey as the titular antihero. While some immediately adopted the Ron Howard-helmed flick into their Christmas collection, critics and audiences alike have panned the feature. Even Carrey wasn’t a fan, reportedly hating his costume so much that it drove the lead makeup artist to therapy after filming wrapped.

Detail of a sweater decorated with tinsel and ornaments.
Zoltan Tarlacz // Shutterstock

2001: The birth of the ugly sweater party

Wearing your grandma’s ugly Rudolph sweater might be a tried and true tradition today, but it’s a relatively recent development in the grand scheme of Christmas. According to the book “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On,” the tradition didn’t become popular until 2001, and the ironic donning of holiday knitwear remains popular as the decades have worn on.

The New York Stock Exchange lit up with Christmas decorations and fresh snow.
Mario Tama // Getty Images

2002: A huge snowstorm brings an inconvenient white Christmas

The Northeast was pounded by a huge snowstorm in the days leading up to Christmas. The snowstorm shut down flights and made holiday travel difficult for almost everyone involved. Though some residents appreciated the stereotypical white Christmas coming to them on Christmas Eve, others were not so grateful, especially once another messier snowstorm came through on New Year’s Day.

Hand holding a book titled The Complete Fan Guide to Elf with a photo of Will Ferrell.
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2003: ‘Elf’ hits theaters

Very few new classic Christmas movies have come out in the 21st century, but there have been a couple of breakout hits—and “Elf” is one of them. The movie, a Will Ferrell vehicle that also stars James Caan and Zooey Deschanel, centers on a human raised as an elf named Buddy (Ferrell) on the hunt for his biological father in New York City. The movie hit theaters in early November 2003 and by the end of the year, it had made almost $170 million at the U.S. box office, becoming an instant classic.

Bill O’Reilly at desk during a broadcast of his television show.
Rob Kim // Getty Images

2004: Bill O’Reilly kicks off the modern ‘War on Christmas’

Come November and December, a familiar fight breaks out in media circles: Is there a “war on Christmas,” causing people to replace “Merry Christmas” with more neutral holiday greetings—and if there is, what does it mean? This modern political debate got its fuel and its name from a book by John Gibson, which claims liberals have something against the holiday. On Dec. 7, 2004, Bill O’Reilly hosted a segment about the book, and “Christmas Under Siege,” later picked up by other conservative commentators, continues to shape the annual holiday debate.

Close up of a letter addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole.
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2005: Postmaster General formalizes Operation Santa Claus

Children have been writing letters addressed to the North Pole for more than 150 years, but the question remains: What do we do with all the correspondence to St. Nick? After years of destroying them or sending them to an office, people began responding to them with the permission of their local postmaster. This hodgepodge system lasted for nearly a century until 2005. The next year, the Postmaster General announced Operation Santa Claus, which put guidelines into place about who could respond to letters and how they could go about doing so.

TMX Elmo on display at a store.
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2006: Elmo tops toy wish lists again

Tickle Me Elmo caused Cabbage Patch Kid-levels of chaos at toy stores when it came out in 1996, with parents doing anything they could to get their hands on one of the laughing animatronic toys. A decade later, Elmo was back at the top of the pack, this time as T.M.X. Elmo, with the X acting as the Roman numeral for 10 to honor the anniversary. Though he looked very similar to the original version, the new T.M.X. Elmo could roll on the floor laughing, bang his fists on the ground, and get himself back up. So, maybe the X also stood for extreme?

Men in hard hats prepare to raise the 100 foot Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center.
Spencer Platt // Getty Images

2007: The Rockefeller tree becomes a home for the needy

So, what do people do with a towering Christmas tree once Christmas is over? Rockefeller Center cuts it into lumber and donates it to Habitat for Humanity. Since 2007, NBC/Universal—the owner of Rockefeller Center—has given the lumber from its Christmas tree to a local Habitat for Humanity site. The nonuseful parts of the tree are ground into mulch for the paper to be used for a limited edition book about the life cycle of the tree.

Close up detail of the Elf on the Shelf toy on a bookshelf.
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2008: Elf on the Shelf wins awards

This tradition of parents placing an elf toy in different places throughout their home over the holidays was birthed by the publication of the 2005 children’s book, “Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.” The newfound tradition proved to be a hit, winning Learning Express’ Best Toy Award for three years straight from 2008 to 2010. Not everyone finds Mr. Elf’s cheery demeanor relaxing. There are plenty of critics who find his smiling face creepy or overly commercial.

Queen Elizabeth poses with a Christmas tree behind her.
WPA Pool // Getty Images

2009: Queen Elizabeth honors soldiers lost in Afghanistan

In her annual Christmas message, the British monarch took a moment to remember the 106 soldiers from the U.K. who died in the war in Afghanistan, the most British casualties since the 1980s. She also highlighted the difficulties faced by families during the global recession, noting that it was a “difficult year” for many all around.

People shopping in an Apple store.
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2010: An iPad craze for Christmas

It’s hard to imagine a world where touch screens don’t reign supreme, but Apple launched its signature iPad in April 2010 to huge fanfare. Though not the first tablet by any means, it was the first to reach an audience outside of the tech world and others who like to be the first to get their hands on the newest gadget. In Christmas 2010 alone, it was estimated that Apple sold anywhere from 5 million to 7.5 million units.

People crossing a tabular iceberg on a sunny day.
Handout // Getty Images

2011: Christmas heats up in Antarctica

The South Pole rarely has to worry about whether they’ll have a white Christmas, but recent years have seen things getting hotter thanks to impacts wrought by climate change. In 2011, Antarctica noted its warmest temperature at the time. The reading was taken at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, clocking in at -12.3 degrees Celsius.

The 2012 Capitol Christmas Tree lit up at night.
Alex Wong // Getty Images

2012: Federal workers get a long weekend

Christmas fell on a Tuesday this year, leading the White House to issue an executive order giving all nonessential personnel Monday off to spend additional time with friends and loved ones.

The white carpet outside the El Capitan Theater at the premiere of Frozen.
Joe Seer // Shutterstock

2013: ‘Frozen’ hits theaters in time for the holidays

Released on Thanksgiving, Disney’s “Frozen” captured hearts with its sweeping snowy landscapes and Elsa’s ballad “Let It Go.” The film’s popularity quickly carried over into the Christmas season, but its late release gave it staying power. A year after its release, forecasters projected that Elsa dolls would be the hottest toy of the Christmas season because it was released too close to the holiday to make it onto wish lists the year before.

Pope Frances on the altar with attendants.
Franco Origlia // Getty Images

2014: Pope Francis prays for refugees, exiles

In 2014, Pope Francis gave a radically different Christmas blessing than popes had given in years prior. The Pope prayed for groups, including refugees and exiles, persecuted Christian communities, and workers fighting the Ebola epidemic.

People wearing short sleeved shirts admire Christmas trees in Washington D.C.
YURI GRIPAS // Getty Images

2015: Huge heat wave breaks records

There wasn’t much of a white Christmas in 2015. That year, record-high temperatures were recorded across the country, with temps as much as 35 degrees above average.

Elevated view showing the damage caused by a truck in the Christmas market in Berlin.
ODD ANDERSEN // Getty Images

2016: Berlin truck attack leaves 12 dead

On Dec. 19, 2016, a truck ran into the Christmas market near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, killing 12 and injuring five. The driver was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head in the passenger’s seat. The incident, claimed by the Islamic State group, was deemed a terrorist attack.

Christmas lights, a tree, TV, remote and popcorn in a living room.
FTiare // Shutterstock

2017: Netflix’s ‘A Christmas Prince’ launches a thousand memes

Netflix made a splash when it started producing original content, launching “House of Cards” to critical acclaim in 2013. It similarly made headlines in 2017 when it dropped “A Christmas Prince,” its first attempt at a Hallmark-style Christmas romance. This tale of a young journalist who falls in love with a prince while researching a story was dubbed “so bad it’s good” by many a critic, leading to an explosion of memes, two sequels in as many years, and a surge in Christmas movies of similar campy quality.

Elevated view of Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree at night.
John Lamparski // Getty Images

2018: Rockefeller’s star gets a new look

On Nov. 28, 2018, a new star, a spiky, geometric piece composed of 3 million Swarovski crystals and weighing 900 lbs, was hoisted atop the tree at Rockefeller Center. It was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, a Polish immigrant and child of Holocaust survivors. Libeskind is known for designing the World Trade Center memorial and surrounding construction.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker marquee advertisement.
Urbanscape // Shutterstock

2019: ‘Star Wars’ saga continues with a 9th movie

The ninth movie in the “Star Wars” main arc, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” landed on Christmas Day in 2019. This marked the end of the 42-year saga that told the story of the Skywalker line of Jedi Knights. As “Star Wars” is a Disney property, however, “Rise of Skywalker” is just one of the many movies and shows that have since extended the franchise.

A person in a wheelchair waves to a person outside the window with face mask.
Mario Tama // Getty Images

2020: Coronavirus pandemic forces forgoing tradition

Like everything else in 2020, COVID-19 changed the way people around the world celebrated Christmas. It was a year without large parties, family gatherings, and other hallmarks of a holiday built around tradition and togetherness. By December 2020, the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. was growing by more than 1 million on the first five days of that month. Official guidance was to avoid gatherings with people outside of your household, but if you must, do so outdoors, six feet apart, and with masks on.

Despite restrictions on many holiday traditions, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci ensured children around the world that Santa is immune to COVID-19 and would still be paying them a visit.

A person uses a COVID test with a Christmas tree in the background.
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

2021: Omicron, canceled flights, and supply chain issues

The COVID-19 pandemic dragged into 2021, further frustrating another holiday season. The omicron variant was more contagious than previous strains and spread like wildfire. It sidelined many airline employees exposed to the virus, resulting in 4,000 flight cancellations globally on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Supply chain issues became even more apparent with the shortage of truckers and a backlog of ships in ports. Besides receiving necessary goods, many doubted whether the gifts they ordered would arrive on time.

People visit a blue and gold Christmas tree lit by generators in Sofiivska Square, Kyiv.
Yurii Stefanyak/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

2022: The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

By Christmastime 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started in February of that year, had reached devastating proportions. Ukrainian counteroffensives at the beginning of December led to heightened retaliatory attacks from Russia. Just before the holiday, on Dec. 21, 2022, the U.S. announced plans to provide Ukraine with $1.8 billion of military aid, including the Patriot missile system, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House.

Additional writing by Jaimie Etkin.


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