The Quaint and Complicated Christmas Dinners of 100 Years Ago

What we make for the holidays certainly has changed over the years. When we compare what graces our tables now to what our ancestors were eating a century ago, it isn’t just the absence of canned whipped cream or other conveniences that have become annual staples. Christmas dinners 100 years ago, while very special, were sometimes cobbled together from what was on hand.

Via/ Library of Congress

We think of Christmas dinner as being ham or turkey, occasionally something a bit more unconventional like a roast chicken. But, around the turn of the century into the ’50s it was not uncommon to have any number of possible meats on the menu. Roast beef, pork crown roast, baked fish or even wild venison served for the main dish. As TV and other media presented the All American Christmas dinner, the variety of meats deemed appropriate for the holiday meal shrank.

Via/ State Archives of Florida

But, the nation’s spending habits were also rapidly changing. As the middle class increased in number after World War II, the idea that one would simply roast whatever meat was on hand fell away as families could now plan ahead for the roast of their choosing.

1900 Christmas menu from The Griswold House Hotel in Detroit showing opossum and lamb sweetbreads as two of the many main course options. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections

Consomm√©, tomato soup, game soup, or even gumbo were common items to be served at the Christmas table. Today it’s rare that you find soups and stews being served on Christmas Day.

San Diego naval base Christmas menu from 1934 has chicken gumbo as one of the options. Via/ Flickr

Christmas pudding and mincemeat pie are just two of the many English dishes which, 100 years ago at least, were still being served as special holiday dishes in the U.S. Available pre-made in cans and mentioned in many a cookbook, English style puddings were quite common up until the years following World War II.

Plum pudding and mincemeat advertisement from turn of the century Boston. Via/ Flickr

Often interchangeably referred to as plum pudding or Christmas pudding, the type of dried fruit inside can vary quite bit. The popularity of plum pudding over many centuries at one point hinged on the the fact a pudding can last for up to a year, but this is not such a selling point in our modern age of convenience.

Plum pudding is still a common Christmas treat in England, but has fallen from favor stateside. Via/ Flickr

Add to the changing times that each family has their own unique holiday traditions, and it’s no wonder that what we’re serving on our holiday tables is so different from what was being had 100 years ago.

If you enjoyed this then click here for 6 historical recipes that are hard to believe!