Christmas in the 1930s

The Thirties were a time of great hardship for many people, as the Great Depression took hold of the continent. By the end of the decade, as World War II began in Europe, social programs and work projects such as those tackled by the Civilian Conservation Corps had been launched. Even the toys reflect the times: Board games such as Monopoly, which was introduced in 1935, became popular partially because they were less expensive than many other forms of entertainment.

Your Christmas Budget in the 1930s

The child’s red wagon in the following list remains a staple of childhood play even today.

  • “Satin or metallic” men’s pajamas: $10.95

  • Pullman men’s slippers: $4.00

  • Quart bottle of Monopole champagne: $5.00

  • Westinghouse radio: $21.00

  • Boys’ knickers: $1.49

  • Child’s wagon (red): $3.49

  • Doll, layette, and basket: $4.94

  • Dollhouse: $5.00

  • Toy airplane: 65 cents

  • Toy typewriter: $1.95

Holiday Helper

Two significant Christmas traditions find their roots in the 1930s. At this time, people began buying their Christmas trees from Christmas-tree farms rather than finding them in forests. This decade also saw the widespread practice of leaving out cookies for Santa Claus.

In the News in the 1930s

The President Rejects the Idea of a Long Weekend

In 1931, back in the days of the six-day work week, President Hoover granted federal workers the day off for December 26, a Saturday, but denied them the day after New Year’s Day. In less than a year, weary Depression-era voters would grant Hoover some time off.

Little Orphan Annie on Christmas During the Great Depression

ANNIE (after hearing two society ladies complain elaborately about the hectic holiday shopping season): Well, I haven’t but two or three folks to give to, and only a buck or so to spend—I guess in some ways it’s a cinch to be poor! Anyway, it’s lots simpler . . .

—From the December 24, 1936 syndicated comic strip by Harold Gray

A Bread-Line Christmas

In 1931, roughly 5,000 unemployed men showed up to eat a free Christmas dinner of turkey and mulligan stew at one site in Manhattan. The total number of New York City families receiving charity food baskets or free meals that year is not known, but it was clearly in the tens of thousands. An unspecified number of men took part in a Christmas dinner for “the city’s hoboes” at the Hobo College on East Fourth Street. Nationwide, six million people—perhaps 8 percent of the adult population of the country—were looking for work.

Mail Early—Postal Workers Need the Hours

A plea to “mail early” during the Xmas season, in order to aid the local unemployed, was issued last night over station WBZ by Postmaster William E. Hurley, who urged that Xmas cards and packages be sent this week.

“During the Xmas season,” said Postmaster Hurley, “the mail increases about 300 percent, and the handling of this enormous quantity of mail taxes the facilities of the Postal Service to the limit. It has been necessary to augment our regular force with a large number who are unskilled in Post Office work, but we cannot give them more than two days unless you give us your Christmas mail at once.”

Boston Globe, December 20, 1931

Christmas Spirit

Brooklyn salesman Sam Coplon. a Spanish Civil War veteran who recuperated from his wounds at a hospital in North Creek. New York, was eager to find a way to express his gratitude. For twenty years-most notably at the height of the Great Depression-he delivered toys to the impoverished children of the Adirondacks at Christmastime. In one year alone. Coplon delivered more than 12,000 toys with the help of local clergy and charitable organizations.

Christmas Advertising in the 1930s

Christmas Greetings That Are Spoken Ring True

Spreading over far horizons, Xmas voices will soon be bringing joy into millions of hearts and homes throughout the land.

Somewhere there is someone who would like to hear you say, “Merry Christmas”; someone whose happily surprised answer “The same to you and many of them” will brighten the day for you.

Although miles apart, the telephone will quickly bridge the gap, sending and bringing back holiday greetings with all the warmth and sincerity that only voices can give.

—A New York Telephone Company ad from the early 1930s

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