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Christmas Tree Decorating in the 1930's, 40's and 50's

Christmas Tree Decorating in the 1930's, 40's and 50's

Decorating a Christmas tree in the 1930’s was a vastly different task than today’s decorating where many dollars can be spent on a single decoration.

Now a days, trees have themes…colors, old fashioned items, naturals, contemporary, whimsical – the list goes on and on. But fifty years ago, decorating the Christmas tree was very different.

While sitting on the back porch one day with family and friends, my dad and mother in law talked about “the good old days” and their memories of “puttin up the tree.”

cedar tree

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We lived in the South, so choices were limited when it came to Christmas trees.

A cedar tree was the chosen tree and it did smell good. The tree would typically be chopped down with an ax from a pasture or wooded area. The best cedar trees could be located in pastures… the pasture didn’t necessarily have to be on one’s own property!

None of the neighbors minded kids cutting a Christmas tree. The task of chopping down the tree was usually handled by the one who was most eager to put a tree!

In the 50’s, this task usually fell to me and my childhood friend who lived down the road. It was always nice to have a male to handle the chopping, but I did my share of dragging the thing to the house.

My dad said they usually nailed the tree to the floor or the wall!

At first I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about, then he explained the tree was nailed to a crossboard and the board was nailed to the floor. Of course, there was no covering on the floor back then, so…why not.

Otherwise, the tree was placed in a bucket or large can filled with rocks or dirt. Trees were not watered to keep them fresh, so they were usually only put up a few days before Christmas and died very quickly. 


Decorations were sparse and consisted mainly of handmade items. Popcorn was strung with a needle and thread and used as a garland.

Sometimes pinecones were used and decorations made with papers and crayons.

Paper garland was made by cutting “tablet paper” into small strips and using “flour paste” to glue the strips together making a linking chain.

Lights didn’t come along in this family until much later, probably in the 50’s. My grandmother had a few Christmas decorations that she used for many many years.

One was a red crepe paper fold-out bell that she hung over the kitchen table each Christmas.

In grammar school, we always decorated a Christmas tree in each room. I went to a small school where two grades were contained in one room.

We made lots of paper decorations and paper chains, but the most fun part was making “snow” out of washing powder and water.

We mixed the washing powder in a can until it was about the consistency of cake batter. Then we flug it by small handfuls all over the tree. Yes, it was messy, but so much fun and we probably wound up with more on us that the tree.

We never got much snow during the winter, so we had to improvise)))

The first lights that I can remember on our tree at home were medium sized colored lights. One bulb could go out or become loose and the whole string would go out.

Bubble lights were special too and I may be wrong, but seems like they made a little tinkling sound.

We also used angel hair sometimes and this would give the lights a beautiful soft blurry glow. The wispy angel hair would get everywhere!

We hung silvery or gold Icicles on the tree, single strand one by one. Until we got tired and then threw handfuls toward the top of the tree. Sometimes we might get new blue ones. The icicles were saved from year to year and you can imagine what kind of wad they would be in when you took them out of the box the next year.

Sweet gum balls were sometimes painted gold or silver, or wrapped in scrap pieces of tin foil. Paper decorations were still used when I was a kid, but we had advanced to colored construction paper by my time.

Popcorn was strung and sometimes cranberries if they could be purchased. We did have a few glass balls, but not many.


Santa Claus always made his visits to our house on Christmas morning. He might make a rare visit on Christmas Eve if the family was away, but not very often. We never went anywhere on Christmas eve other than my grandparents. And we never stayed overnight anywhere on Christmas. We were always home.

My dad (born in 1922), remembers getting an apple and orange, maybe some candy. On one occasion he remembers getting a rubber ball.

If I remember correctly, he said my grandfather rode a mule 5 miles to the store and 5 miles back just to get that rubber ball for him to have on Christmas. This was in the dead of winter too. 

And we think shopping for Christmas is so hard sometimes. 

My mother in law also remembers an apple and orange, candy, pecans and english walnuts. Occasionally she said they would get a small plastic toy such as a ring or watch.

The stockings that were hung on the mantle with nails, were actually socks of the tallest, largest person in the family, usually the dad!

Toys would be tucked in the socks, then followed by fruits and candy.

The Christmas mornings I remember the most were the ones when my Tiny Tears doll arrived one year and another when Santa left my treasured Daisy pump action B B gun. 

Tiny Tears Doll

Then one year, mother came in with the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. A silver tinsel tree with a color wheel!

silver tinsel tree

This tree was gorgeous. It was put together quickly and the color wheel assembled easily enough. The color wheel had a light bulb behind the color plate which rotated and changed the tree from a beautiful blue, to green, to red, and  yellow.

The tree was placed in front of the “picture window” in the living room so that  anyone driving by could see it. I can still remember the quiet hum the wheel made with its changing colors.

color wheel

“Puttin up the tree” is an old family tradition. It doesn’t matter if you use a real, plastic, or an aluminum tree; or whether you have priceless ornaments or ones made with construction paper and crayons.

What’s important is creating memorable traditions with the people you love.

We would love to hear about your experiences of decorating a Christmas tree. Just drop us a note! Trendy Tree Blog

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