Creating an American Christmas

Written by: Katie Cannon, DAR Museum Curator of Education
December 16, 2014

Have you ever wondered when Santa Claus came on the scene? How long Americans have used Christmas trees?  If you have, you won’t want to miss the DAR Museum’s special exhibit, Creating an American Christmas, which is up now through January 6th.

The DAR Museum chose twelve of the period rooms to contain displays of Christmas throughout American history. Christmas traditions have changed over time, and the holiday was not always celebrated the way it is now. Most of the traditions we associate with this holiday come from the 1800s or later.

Go to the Georgia Room to discover which songs people knew about in the 1770s, and which were yet to be written. For example, in a 1770s tavern you could join along with “The First Noel,” but no one would recognize “Jingle Bells.” Take a look around at the very simple decorations: a few sprigs of greenery, and nothing else. No Santa Claus, no piles of presents, and no Christmas tree.

Then, travel forward in time to the mid-1800s in the Missouri and Texas rooms, when Christmas starts to look more familiar. The Missouri Room displays the kind of Christmas tree that first became popular in America, after Queen Victoria’s marriage to the German Prince Albert brought German customs (like the Christmas tree) to the English-speaking world.  The Texas Room shows German immigrant children hopefully putting out their stockings… and shoes... to collect gifts from “Kris Kringle.” The gifts are few and small, but represent treasured items of the time, such as an orange.

World War II overshadows the celebration in the Indiana Room. The 1940s setting shows how people managed to stay festive in the midst of uncertainty, tragedy, and material shortages. A “Son in Service” banner in the window shows that the family had a loved one serving in the war. The tree might have some pre-war ornaments, but the ornaments made during the war’s growing metal shortage had to make do with paper parts!  Even children’s toys were manufactured with wood or paper. 

Throughout this exhibit, we want you to reflect on your own traditions as well. No matter what holiday you celebrate, what do you do? Is the celebration a time for family and friends, for extravagant gift-giving, for quiet reflection? The American Christmas holiday has been all those things at different times and for different people. A tradition has to start somewhere, and this exhibit explores the roots of some of America’s most treasured customs.

View the slideshow below to see the holiday decorations in the 12 period rooms which are part of Creating an American Christmas.


Alabama

Alabama

View Photo

Georgia

Georgia

View Photo

Indiana

Indiana

View Photo

Maine

Maine

View Photo

Missouri

Missouri

View Photo

New Hampshire

New Hampshire

View Photo

New Jersey

New Jersey

View Photo

New York

New York

View Photo

North Carolina

North Carolina

View Photo

Ohio

Ohio

View Photo

Texas

Texas

View Photo

Virginia

Virginia

View Photo

Connect with DAR

Stay Up-to-Date

Subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Search, Subscribe, & Send us a comment

Get Involved
 

Historic Preservation,
Education, Patriotism

Through restoring historic properties, funding scholarships and supporting our troops, DAR makes a difference in local communities.