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If there’s one thing our archives will attest to, it’s that times change, but the holiday spirit remains constant. For 138 years, the most wonderful time of the year arrived without fail, whether we were at war, in the midst of a Communist takeover, or mourning over failed space expeditions. That being said, we’ve compiled several of our favorite holiday DIY, how-to’s and gift guides from over the past hundred years. You’ll be surprised at what we put at the top of our wish lists just a few decades ago.
The 20th century began with a Christmas tree shortage, a phenomenon we could only attribute to “Santa’s stinginess in handing out real Christmas trees.” Being shop work enthusiasts, we suggested that readers make their own high-tech tree by boring holes into wooden poles, sticking decorated pine branches into those holes, and then mounting the structure onto a rotating wooden base.
Later that century, when cameras became more commonplace, we recommended that readers forgo store-bought cards to create their personalized holiday greetings out of family pictures–and so began a tradition we continue today, albeit with the aid of a Photoshop rather than the lightning techniques we describe in the article.
Of course, you can’t have the holidays without presents. One of our earliest Christmas gift guides, published in 1926, gave pointers on buying a radio. (Cone-type loudspeaker? Check. Matches the furniture? Check.) Elsewhere in our pages, we provided housewives with diagrams for eye-catching Christmas decor, such as snowflake-addled balloon-mobiles and a Styrofoam Santa lounging in a Model T.
Whether you need a little holiday cheer, or–like us–you simply enjoy looking at old stuff, click through our gallery for the best of PopSci’s retro holiday coverage.
DIY Christmas Tree: January 1919
PopSci’s Guide to Buying a Radio: December 1926
How to Make Homemade Christmas Cards: December 1932
Santa’s Tobacco Factory: January 1936
When Christmas Meets Microbiology: January 1937
Retro Christmas Decorations: December 1940
The Best Christmas Toys You Can Build: November 1953
Don’t Be Fooled, That’s Not Snow: November 1954
Christmas Bow Machine: December 1961
New Christmas Colors: November 1962
PopSci’s Christmas Gift Preview: December 1967