History Holidays

One hundred Christmases Ago

One Hundred Christmases Ago | Alex Inspired

One hundred Christmases ago, like today, children all over the world were writing letters to Santa Claus.

Unlike today, some of the items listed are a tad unconventional; I don’t know of any children who write to Santa asking for fruit and nuts nowadays.

The year 1916 brought on many challenges – especially that of the Great War.

The War began in July of 1914, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary) by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip. Within weeks the major powers were at war, the conflict spread and the British Empire (Canada) was heavily involved.

Many of the letters to Santa (below), illustrate two totally different worlds. I have specifically looked for letters from both Canadian and American children. At this time, the United States has not yet entered the war.

The children’s letters evoke various emotions, (I have transcribed them as they were written) take a look. 100 Christmases Ago | Alex inspired - Little Girl asks for Black Mammy Doll

Dear Santa…

“I am a little girl, just three years old. I met you at the train, but you were so big and round I was afraid to get near you to tell you what I wanted you to bring me for Xmas, so I’ll send you this letter.

I have a soldier boy, a big mama doll, and a piano for her, but I want you to bring me a cute little baby doll for her, so she can rock it to sleep, and Santa, I do love black mammy dolls, so bring me one, and a little doll buggy and bed, and lots of other nice things that you can find at the Valley, where you stay. I will be at the Valley soon to see you, and may tell you of some other things I want. Now Santa I do hope you can squeeze down the chimney and please don’t break my dollies buggy.”

Your little Friend, Themla Nelson 
Vicksburg Mississippi (1916)

Canadian Archives MIKAN 3395221: A heavy howitzer on the Somme. November, 1916. Nov., 1916.

A heavy howitzer on the Somme. November, 1916.

“Dear Santa Clause, Just a few lines to let you know I am well, hope you are the same; how is Mrs. Santie Clause? I am going to tell you what I want for Christmas. My brother, who used to write my letters, is in France now fighting for his country.

My sister Jean would like a doll and a carriage. My brother Peter would like a set of trains. I would like a doll and carriage, and my friend would like a story book. Well, By By Santie, don’t forget the Belgiums, send them something nice. Good-by, Santie Clause. x x x x x x x x all for you.

ps. I will put a wash basin under the fireplace so you can wash yourself and dry yourself, after coming down the dirty chimney.”

Beatrice McLaurin
139 Crichton St. Ottawa Ontario
Ottawa, Ontario

Example of an "Indian Suit" from an ad in a 1916 Newspaper

“Dear Santa Claus: I am a little boy, eight years old and I am in the third grade. I want an air gun and if you can’t get it, bring me a pistol and football, an Indian suit and five sparklers and all kinds of fireworks and candy and fruit and nuts. I have a little sister three years old and she wants a big doll, some dishes, a doll bed, trunk and a little piano. Be sure to bring them and we’ll be good.”

Your Friend, Fern Cave
Corsicana Texas

A Canadian car passing the Frontier between Belgium and Germany, surrounded by German and Belgian children. Dec. 1918. December 1918

A Canadian car passing the Frontier between Belgium and Germany, surrounded by German and Belgian children. Dec. 1918.

“Dear Santa, I am going to tell you what I want for Xmas. Dear Santa,  would like a camera and a pair of kid gloves. I think that is all I would need till next year. Dear Santa, I would be very much pleased if I could get these two toys, as my Daddy is fighting in France, but we all must remember the poor Belgiums.”

I remain your friend, Lily Wilkinson
234a Elgin Street, Ottawa, Ontario

One Hundred Christmases Ago -Toboggan on slides with soldiers and civilians, in High Park [Toronto, Ont.], 19 February, 1916

“Dear Santa – This year, all I want is a seven-foot toboggan, seeing it is war-time. I hope the Germans don’t shoot you. If someone who is poor and wants a toboggan, you can give him mine, because I have a sleigh that will do until next year.”

Love from Goulding Haskett
86 Third Avenue, Ottawa Ontario

The letters illustrate both a time of conflict and peace. Children innocently asking for toys and candy, and others being entirely selfless – asking for items ONLY if they are possible to acquire, or for someone else rather than themselves.

From a genealogical perspective, these letters offer quite a bit of information. They list the child’s first and last name, sometimes a listing of siblings – and in many cases their home address. Children’s christmas letters submitted to local newspapers offer a treasure trove of information! Not to mention, many of these letters would be lovely presents for family members, or as artwork to display.

All in all, it’s interesting to see the world of 1916 through the eyes of children.

These letters display not only toy choices of the time period, but epitomize the Canadian struggles of being a child without a father or brother, trying to make the best of of their situation; all while sustaining their faithful Christmas spirit.

Maybe one day, someone will be looking at our letters… what kind of story will they tell?

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

xo – Alex Inspired

One Hundred Christmases Ago - Letters to Santa from 1916 | Alex Inspired

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