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British Christmas Through The Ages: The Roaring 1920s!

20 Oct 2021 by Liz Tod

*Updated 21/11/2022*

In the last blog article, we discovered how Victorians celebrated Christmas and how many of their traditions and sentiments they expressed over this festive period have continued.

It’s interesting that despite some Victorian continuations, each decade since has had its own distinctive flavour when it came to Christmas time.

Today – we’ll look at the roaring 1920s!


Picture the scene

WW1 had ended in victory in 1918 and peace had returned.

Due to the famous Christmas truce of WW1 in 1914, there was said to be a strong feeling amongst people that Christmas should be a time of peace and companionship.

This had been strengthened by the popularity of sending British troops chocolates during the Boer War and by the setting up of the Soldiers’ Christmas Fund.

King George V reigned (1910-1936) and Winston Churchill was Secretary for War and Air.


Why was it called the ‘roaring’ twenties?

The 1920s was thought of as a very lively, exuberant time with nightclubs, jazz clubs and cocktail bars flourishing in the cities and of course the flapper girls.

Certainly, for the upper and middle classes, these were exciting days!

The decade started with a boom of prosperity. The mood was buoyant. The manufacturers and suppliers of goods needed for the war effort had prospered.

Rationing had mostly ended in 1919 (some foods continued being rationed for a while after).

Confidence was growing. Women had been used to working in factories during the war so were used to a wage and women over 30 had been given the vote in 1918 (extended to all women over 21 in 1928).

It was also a decade of contrasts…

By the mid-1920’s unemployment had risen to over 2 million. Churchill had introduced the Gold Standard and interest rates were high and UK exports expensive.

Then there was the General Strike of 1926, Britain’s largest ever industrial dispute.

However, the spirit of Christmas endured, and it was a time to get together with families and celebrate!


Can you picture a 1920s house at Christmas?

Red’s the colour:

There was no lengthy build up to the festive season like today’s and decorations, including the tree, weren’t put up until Christmas Eve!

Red was the favourite festive colour. One of the most popular decorations was a honeycomb bell made from paper - red of course! The bell was hung in the middle of the living room and was accompanied by streamers usually red and green.

Art Deco style was coming in too.

  • Christmas trees: Trees, bought from markets, were popular and were starting to come into the living rooms of ordinary people.

    They tended to be short, stocky and bushy (mostly because people had to chop the tops of them to fit them in!) and were decorated with glass balls, glass ornaments in festive shapes, glittery garlands and childrens’ small toys and treats.

    Poorer people would decorate with hand-made paper ornaments. People still used real candles on the tree.                                   
  • Christmas Cards: Hand-made cards were becoming popular, using foil and ribbons and usually hand-delivered. Christian themed cards were in the minority. Other themes included Charles Dickens, children playing in snow, robins and art deco styled.                                                              
  • Wrapping paper: This was just coming in! The choices were red holly sprigs or green holly sprigs.  Otherwise, you’d just use brown paper and string.                                                                                                         
  • Top Toys: Favourites during this decade were:
    • Whip and top
    • Teddy bears.
    • Skipping ropes.
    • Tinker toy construction sets.
    • Lionel trains.
    • And top comics were Tiny Tots, Schoolfriend and Boy’s Own Paper.

Did you know?

In 1927 the most popular toy was a soft toy dog called Dismal Desmond. He had been the mascot for the English Cricket team that year and for the ladies’ changing room at Wimbledon!                                                                                      

  • Christmas Stockings: No ‘Christmas stockings’ were made. Children used a large sock which was filled with fruit, nuts and a small toy or whatever the family could afford.                                                         
  • Food, so important! Turkeys were popular amongst the wealthier. The birds would be hung up overhead in bars for people to choose from. The less better-off would enjoy goose, rabbit or pheasant. All fresh food was bought close to Christmas as refrigeration was rare in the 20’s. Other festive food enjoyed was:
  • Ham (though a little expensive).
  • Glazed ox tongue.
  • Cheeses, especially cheddar and stilton.
  • Chutneys and pickles.
  • Gingerbread.
  • A tin of special biscuits or sweets.
  • But no cranberry sauce or brandy butter YET!

Did you know?

The Christmas pudding (or plum pudding) was traditionally made several weeks before Christmas. Sainsbury’s published recipes for their shoppers, encouraging them to use their ingredients.

A Christmas pudding known as the Empire Christmas Pudding started to be made in the 1920’s which aimed to include ingredients from countries in the British Empire (e.g spices from Ceylon and West Indies and dried fruit from Australia).                                

  • Favourite after-dinner cocktail: Mint julep.                                                 
  • Top films: Cinema was becoming a main form of popular entertainment. All movies were silent in the early 20’s but by 1927 ‘talking pictures’ had begun with Al Jolson in ‘The Jazz Singer’. For children ‘The Little Match Girl’ (1928) was popular. Who knows, perhaps a trip to the pictures was part of the festive celebrations?

From the turbulent twenties we go to look next time at Christmas in the 1930’s; the era of the Great Depression.