I’m looking for ideas for a 1940s Christmas vignette I’m doing for a charity event. It will benefit a hospice organization. Every year, various groups decorate trees to be auctioned off. We can create little vignettes around them as well.
Anyway, my little scene is of a 1940s kitchen corner. I have a small wood red kitchen table with a white porcelain top, and that’s where my color scheme of red and white began. I am going to gather and swag red and white kitchen towels for a garland. I will be making gingerbread cookies to hang on the tree, and I have some items for the table (a wood rolling pin with red handles, a red crockery bowl, retro style tin cookie cutters with red and green wood handles). I am going to make a red and white apron (retro style) to hang on a chair next to the table, and pile some gifts on it. The gifts include a 1949 game of Clue (reissued), handknit wool mittens in the 40s style, and some other things. Plus, I have some flour sack kitchen towels with embroidery on them for the table. Oh, and I will have a retro radio on the table and will be making a chair cushion out of a 1940s red & white tablecloth.
But I am stumped for a tree topper. Any ideas for making one? Anyone remember a handmade Christmas from back then? What other things did people make back then? What else can I hang on the tree? Any other ideas for the vignette itself? Thanks a bunch!
When I was young, we had real candles on the tree. You don't have to light the candles (horrors! even then) but I have seen clip-on candle holders at antique stores and seem to remember seeing brightly coloured replicas which hold bulbs (now).
Not everyone had running water (is this a country kitchen?), if so a dipper and bucket on the counter would be authentic.
For decoration we mainly had home-made swags made of circles of coloured paper diagonally across the room with a paper bell in the centre.
You seem to have the matter in hand, such good ideas.
My mother used copper cookie cutters hung with red ribbon on a tree. Home made ornaments of felt or wood. You can make little sleds out of popsickle sticks with yarn "ropes", reindeer and angels out of clothespins and lace or cloth. Stars of foil and glitter. Strung popcorn and cranberries, pepermint sticks. A bowl of apples. Oranges with cloves punched in star shapes. A doll house. A beebee gun. "home made looking wooden blocks, wheelbarrow, rocking horse, tobaggon, or "carved" whistles or trains. Raggedy Ann and Andy. Norman Rockwell comes to mind. I bet you are having so much fun with this project! I want to come play! Mary
Oh, Mary, thanks for the trip down memory lane! You hit it right on! We also didn't get as many gifts then as we do now - I always got a pair of flannelette pjs, a doll & a puzzle, book or game.
Oh, thank you for these wonderful replies. I did look at my copy of It's A Wonderful Life too to see that tree but it was too fuzzy. But I do think I'll tie some bells on the tree with red ribbon~ have always liked the idea of every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. Am trying to keep it somewhat sparse in the style of those times. Late forties, post war is what I'm after. It IS fun, and it's an extremely popular even around these parts, with thousands of visitors each year, special Santa, lunch, and dinner events in the huge hall where it takes place, etc.
Yes, bells are good. When you get it all together, let us know how it turned out - even a picture would be nice.
Is this by any chance the Festival of Trees, in Atlanta, that you're designing for? I love your ideas, especially the porcelain-topped kitchen table. As I recall, many trees in the 40's were topped with tinfoil-covered paper stars. ( I remember saving foil gum-wrappers and finding discarded foil-lined cigarette packets, to save the foil for crafts projects. We had to be oh-so-careful to separate the foil from the backing paper without tearing it. We were quite frugal, even in the late forties.)As others have said, the trees were not as heavily decorated then as now, but we did have tinsel and icicles and glass ornaments. We strung popcorn and cranberries, too.
Edited 10/16/2007 8:29 pm ET by Josefly
How about a Teddy bear for Teddy Roosevelt? Ice skates? I like the bell idea too. Mary
Yes - ice skates, for sure, plus the sled & teddy bear! At the rate we're going, she'll maybe have too large of a vignette! :)
It's fun to think about isn't it? I was born in the fifties but have heard about the forties from my family. Those were difficult times, but families seemed so much closer back then. Now, everyone seems so busy anywhere except at home.
I think families were closer together then because they didn't live so far apart physically as they do now. Most people then stayed in their communities that they grew up in. Families are so scattered now - too far apart to visit often without taking vacation time - or too expensive, too. It's sad, eh? And everyone's so busy now, too, (or their time is overscheduled, with no down time for relaxation or just to be alone for awhile - & some people can't stand spending time alone - that old BOREDOM thing again) . . . don't get me started! :)
can you rent a copy of "it's a wonderful life" and see what's on top of the tree that SuSu hangs the bell on? i can't recall if the topper is visible, but i think there was tinsel. is there going to be any evidence of rationing or wartime?
Our trees in the 40s didn't have as much decoration as they do today, but we also made paper chains to go around the tree as garlands, besides all the wonderful ideas of Mary's. The lights we had on the tree were the bigger ones that have come back into style again. For the tree topper, a simple tinsel star (that didn't light up). Not too much tinsel on the tree, either (our trees looked rather sparse compared to today's Christmas trees). Your vignette should look super when you're done! It was a good idea & really different from all the sophisticated ones of today. Happy collecting!
Tree topper... I vote for the star, made out of tin foil covered cardboard.(Attached with a pipe cleaner.) Even better if you use the foil wrapper off a chocolate bar (do they still come wrapped in foil?, haven't bought one in a long time!)
A homemade star - perfect! I think, though, that you can still buy the old-fashioned gold tinsel ones that attach onto the tree with a coiled wire, can't you?
Yes, you can still get gold foil covered chocolate bars, unfortunately. I admire your fortitude in not buying one for so long! I only buy 1 or 2 a year, & that's 1 or 2 too many :)
okay, I'm going to start a chocoholic thread......Mary
Hmmm . . . a chocoholic thread - wonder how many entries we'd get on that one? :)
Wow! There are so many good ideas here that I might have to keep up this theme for the next couple of years. Oh, and this isn't in Atlanta, it's in Wisconsin, but I hear there are many, many such events around the country.
I love the idea of a candy foil wrapped cardboard star. This got me to thinking that I might include a package of cardboard stars, chocolate bars, and pipecleaners with a how-to page for making more stars. I don't think anyone's ever included a make-your-own kit before, and it'd be in the spirit of those times.
The best thing about this festival is that it benefits our local hospice organization, so it truly is the embodiment of the holiday.
The only thing wrong with the gold foil chocolates is that you'll have to (or won't be able to resist, for us chocoholics) eating the chocolates while we're making the stars :)
I just remembered another item for your vignette - Lincoln logs! Most kids had those in the 40s & I think they've made a comeback in the past couple of years - so try to find a set & make a little log cabin for under your tree.
Oh, that reminded me of those metal erector sets, my brother made such marvelous things. I thought he was a genius! He even made a ferris wheel.
Sock monkeys too! doll houses, barns.....
Those were Meccano sets! They, too, have come back! As I said, she'll have too large a vignette if we keep remembering things to add :)
This wouldn't necessarily be a pretty addition but when I think about the '40s I always think of the hours and hours that kids spent pouring over the Sears catalog. Without malls,TV, etc., the "wishbook" was anxiously awaited in the fall and that's where most kids in the U.S. saw the items they dreamed about. I imagine they are collector's items, but would certainly add a note of authenticity that would probably bring a smile to the face of older viewers.
I thought about the Sears & Roebuck "Wishbook" also, Ralphetta. I guess a 1940's issue would be hard to come by, though. The erector sets and lincoln logs reminded me that Tinker Toys were ubiquitous toys for boys, and I loved playing with my brother's set.
Edited 10/19/2007 9:29 pm ET by Josefly
coloring books and crayons?
I just found this thread, the first post war Christmas I remeber was in my Grandmothers in England, she painted small branhes white then tied thread around the middle of coloured crepe paper about 2 inches long and opened them up to make snow blossoms. She tied them to the branches and hung them above the fire place. I also remember she had a box of very precious pre war long glass tree ornaments, and a box of glass globes. They were wrapped in cotton wool. The firelight would dance off them, I thought they were magical.
Our Christmas tree topper was a paper Angel, the body was porcelain but the skirt and wings were stiff paper. It slipped over the top branch of the tree. Sweets, meat and most foodstuffs, and most luxury items were still rationed but we had home made crackera, paper hats, and hand written little jokes. I know I had a wooden pencil box with the two layers. You had to open the sliding lid to twist the top and get to the bottom layer. I got a drawing pad, pencil, box of wax crayons. A new penny and one gift under the tree, the most wonderful pop up book ever. In my stocking was a very precious orange, apple, hazel nuts, walnuts, (we grew them here) a pair of knitted gloves, hat and scarf, long hand knitted socks and a small toy that jigged around when you pushed its base in.
I don't know how the mums managed to create a Christmas dinner, but they did, I know many would save their sweet coupons so they could get sweets for the children at Christmas. The monthly allowance of dried egg, fat and sugar would be saved as would the meat coupons. Stringy mutton, fatty boiling bacon, whale meat, rabbit and pigeon, all would be utilised somehow to make dinner that day as festive as they could make it.
Are you a writer? You painted a beautiful picture with your words. Thank You so much for sharing your beloved memories with us!
Now I feel as if I have a much more realistic vision of what it was like then. Mary
coloring books and crayons? Absolutely...in the stockings with tangerines and walnuts.
What about Raggedy Ann and Andy?
I was born in 1943 and the trees I remember from my childhood had "angel hair" which I think was some kind of ikky fiberglass but it was pretty. We also had crinkley foil icecycles (sp) - not the smooth, shiny plastic ones we see now - these were actually foil and my mother insisted that we place them one by one with one end hanging longer than the other.....beautiful. Our treetop angel was paper with something that resembled fiber optics without the lights for wings. The angel was flat with a tube on the back that fit over the treetop. And don't forget those little "bottle brush" trees - I think they came in sizes from about 2" tall up to about 6".
Your ideas sound wonderful and charming.
Did you take a peek at the movie THE CHRISTMAS STORY? It takes place in the 40's, is very funny and might give you some more ideas.
Christmas Movies set in the 1940s
You might try Christmas in Conneticut. There's the pasted summary from the library catalog:
Columnist Elizabeth Lane's (Barbara Stanwyck) publisher, Sydney Greenstreet, invites himself and a handsome war hero to Stanwyck's fictitious Connecticut home for Christmas. Stanwyck quickly rounds up a cottage, husband, baby and cook before the guests arrive, but real trouble begins when 'married' Stanwyck begins to fall in love with engaged navy man Jones.
But it really is about a "Martha Stewart" type columnist who really can't cook, sew, etc and must fake it for the war hero.
Love it and it was released in 1945.
That was a funny movie!
I'm going to try and find it to watch. There are so many good ideas here! Thanks!
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