What We Can Learn From Christmas During the Great Depression

by Simplify

Melissa from Modern Homesteading talks to her dad about what it was like to grow up in Western Washington in the 1930s and 1940s, in the mountains.

Was it the same or different than today? And what did Christmas during the Great Depression look like? Which traditions are the same and which were different then?

According to Melissa’s father, Christmas during the Great Depression was considerably different than today. For starters, the decorations were different.

Before they had electricity wired into their homestead, Melissa’s father remembers decorating the tree with glass candles that they lit. They also added homemade decorations.

The cold Washington winters limited travel quite a bit. Melissa’s father remembers two to three feet of snow that stuck around for months on end.

To get to the small two-room schoolhouse, they had to ford a creek. The creek sometimes dried up in the winter, however, because the streams that fed it froze. Sometimes they rode a horse to school instead.

When the snow fell hard, the county roads were frequently not paved for days. That meant that winters, and sometimes even Christmases were spent snowed-in. The family needed to stock up on supplies in advance.

They had running water from a hand pump in the kitchen and a wood cook stove with a 15-gallon reservoir on the side to heat water for baths.

Christmas traditions

One challenge of Christmas during the Great Depression was that money was tight. Melissa’s father remembers his parents hanging up stockings. The younger children would find presents in their stockings. The older kids got a special treat instead, something like an orange, or a banana.

The important part of Christmas in the Great Depression wasn’t the presents. It was family and togetherness. Huddled up, snowed-in, in their homestead, the family would enjoy a warm, delicious Christmas meal with sausages, hamburgers, and ham that they butchered themselves.

Melissa’s dad’s mother made chocolate gravy and biscuits for Christmas morning, and the family enjoyed the treat and being together.

Christmas during the Great Depression

We can learn a lot from these stories of Christmas during the Great Depression. Christmas doesn’t need to be about expensive presents but should be about family and togetherness.

What are some ways that you celebrate Christmas and create warm and memorable family traditions? Let us know in the comments.

For more frugal ideas from this era, discover this guide to what we can learn from the Great Depression and this collection of homesteading self-sufficiency tips from the Great Depression.

To see more videos, check out the Melissa K. Norris - Modern Homesteading YouTube channel.

Join the conversation
  • Teresa Pecoraro Wagner Teresa Pecoraro Wagner on Dec 24, 2022

    We still make at least one homemade gift for everyone. Some years, that was all we could do. It has been a tradition since my kids were little to make ornaments for them to give to special friends, grandparents, teachers, etc. That tradition remains with my grandchildren. Thank you for sharing and reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas!

  • Shawn Brown Shawn Brown on Dec 16, 2023

    I was blessed to grow up with both grand and great grandparents. My great grandparents had 5 daughters. For Christmas my great grandmother gave each girl had a new hand-sewn set of doll clothes. My great grandfather would save the free wooden orange crates thru the year and make each girl a handmade and painted doll crate. The doll crates were a sacrifice because the wood was usually used for the fire to keep the house warm.

    This was during the depression is a western PA coal mine town.