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Christmas through the ages

A Christmas display from the 1930s is pictured at the Joachim Regional Museum in Dickinson. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)1 / 3
A typical 1950s Christmas tree is surrounded by other items from the time period at the Joachim Regional Museum in Dickinson. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)2 / 3
A metal Christmas tree is pictured at the Joachim Regional Museum in Dickinson. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)3 / 3

Visitors of the Joachim Regional Museum have a chance to travel back through time this year and they don't need the Ghost of Christmas Past to do it.

The museum debuted its special Vintage Christmas display last week and includes items around 100 years old.

The displays include a representation of a typical Christmas in the 1950s, a time when metals and plastics were starting to be used to decorate trees. Alison Hinman, collection manager for the Joachim Regional Museum, said the trees then were not as well "groomed" as today's Christmas trees, noting that many trees in the 1950s had rather large gaps or holes between branches.

"I went out of my way to make sure we had a good, tacky tree," Hinman said. "It was so typical to have the paper chains and popcorn runs and of course the old-fashioned lights."

Hinman said while they do not have the actual old-fashioned lights, which were typically glass bulbs and would cause the whole string to die if just one bulb went out, they do have lights that look similar. The museum has some decorations that date back to the time period, including small plastic teardrop decorations.

Along with the Christmas tree itself, there are other items such as Christmas records, a record player and various children's toys like pedal cars—including a 1957 jet pedal car.

"We also have a lot of toy sets and I always like them because they've been used so they don't have all the forks and spoons and knives and there's a few dents here and there. Also some of the furniture doesn't match, but they're all loved," Hinman said. "We're trying to give people the feeling of what it was like to have a vintage Christmas around 1950."

The museum also has a metal Christmas tree, which was popular during the 1950s and 1960s. Hinman said the trees were usually paired with a color wheel that would shoot light at the tree so people wouldn't have to put lights on the tree itself. The color wheel is similar to today's popular Christmas light projectors that people can place outside of their homes and choose a variety of colors and shapes to shine on their homes.

"It's kind of funny that we've gone back to the more natural trees, but in this era (the metal) trees were it, everybody was talking about them," she said.

While Christmas was still celebrated in the 1940s, presents were more simple and many surplus items were being sent to troops overseas through Red Cross packages. After the Great Depression, money was tighter so poorer families would give their children shoes that needed to last the entire year.

"It was a time when people were sending mail, getting mail, listening to the radio," Hinman said. "It was the time when Bing Crosby's White Christmas started. So, we kept it pretty simple."

In the 1930s trees were much simpler and often would fit on a tabletop, Hinman said. The trees were likely decorated with active candles. The radio was a "major source" of entertainment on Christmas Eve during this era as well.

"They only lit them for a very short amount of time, but can you imagine anything worse than an active candle on a Christmas tree?" she said.

The museum also has a rocking chair with a music box attached and a bureau that are each around 100 years old from the early 1900s.

"At this time we see traditions, certainly, associated with Christmas, but it's not focused on the gift giving as much as the religious aspect," Hinman said.

The Christmas display will be up through the end of December. The museum is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m.to 5 p.m. There is a price for admission.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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