Figure 1.--This boy outfitted in the 1890s shows his Christmas presents. Note his doll, a boy dall dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, even though he himself has not yet been breeched. I'm not sure if the boy is wearing a smock or dress.
Christmas is a Christian festival held annually to celebrate the birth
of Jesus. This was complicated somewhat because the birthdate of Jesus is
unknown, but of course the choice of the winter soltice can not be
accidental. The origin of Christmas celebrations is unknown. Scholars believe that it is
in part derived from the pre-Christian rites of Germanic and Celtic tribes
held in celebration of the winter soltice. Christmas was not celebrated
by early Christians. One source suggests that the Emperor Constantine ?? in the Fourth
Century chose December 25th to celebrate Jesus' birthday because it was
the holy day of Mithras--Christianity's chief rival at the time.
The Scandinavian Yule festival are one of the major influences on modern Chrisdtmases. Most of the supposedly secular customs of Christmas are actually Pagan in origin. Evergreen trees and holly which remained green throughout the long nights and cold were a promise that spring would once again return to the land. These symbols may also have been a connection to the nature spirits who have sway over the return of the warm days. The modern conception of Santa Claus as an elf, for whom offerings of milk and cookies are left, is possibly a modern continuation of leaving offerings for the Alvar and other nature spirits. The idea of children staying up all night in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Santa Claus may be a remnant of people staying
Figure 2.--These cards, probably produced about the 1870s show English children children plaing Christmas games. Christmas cards were another Victorian inovation and children in fancy party clothes were particularly popular.
Our modern celebrtion of Christmas was largely set in Victorian England. The two major influences were Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. Between them they help set the idea that Christmas was a day centered on the family. A holiday where families put on their best clothes and after Christmas church services congregated for sumptuous feasting. Other mainstays of Christmas developed during the Victorian era, such as Christmas cards and Christmas trees. The Germans traditionally had Christmas trees since pre-Christian days. Prince Albert introduced Christmas trees to him family and the practice soon spread throughout Britain and eventually America. Many other heaten customs were integrated in the celebration of Christmas, including the use of holly, mistle toe, Yule logs, and wassail bowls.
Figure 3.--Some of the earliest Christmas cards show happy children in their best party clothes. This turn of the century American card shows a boy in a blue sailor tunic.
Games were very popular for Victorian children. The cards on this page
show two popular ganes. The boys wear early 19th Century
skeleton suits, althought the cards are probably not contemporary.
The children are playing party games in skeleton suits with large
ruffled collars. The games are described. The first is "Forfeits," the
girl holds an object belonging to one of the children, the boy hiding his face so as
not to know which one, then names a forfeit that that child must do. The
second is a game called "Snapdragon", apparently raisins were covered with
Brandy or other spirits, set alight, then the children had to snatch
them from the flames. Not supprisingly, this one has since died out.
While Christmas is celebrated on December 25 throughout Christendom,
there are many customs and practices which are peculiar to different
countries. Some of these customs such a Christmas trees which originated
in Germany gradually became popular in many oither countries. Other
customs have remained primarily national celebrations. The clothing
worn by the children from different countries
has also varied, although many styles were quite similar throughout
Europe and Anmerica.
Figure 4.--Christmas cards in the early 20th Century through the 1920s still comminly featured children, although they were less commonly in skeleton suits or Fauntleroy suits. This English boy in a card probably made in the 1910s wears a wide white collar and bow tie.
Christmas of course is the number one holiday for almost all Christian
kids. Often children are dressed up in
their best party clothes for Christmas. The girls seem to enjoy this, but
the boys are less excited about it. Of corse, most children are willing
to put up with a great deal given the loot they collect on December 25. Of
course the holiday most associated with dressing up is easter.
Boys in the early 19th Century probably dressed up in their best skeleton
suits with ruffled open collars and long pants. Boys also wore tunics, the
younger ones with pantalettes and the older ones with trousers.
I am not sure how boys dressed for Christmas at mid-century. Many of
our Christmas traditiions, however,, date from the Victorian era. Thus
it was during this period that many of our modern Christmas traditions
were taking shape. It was thus this period that Christmas trees became
popular in America and Britain. Previously it had been more of a
I have little real information on Christmas at mid-century. The
clothes worn by boys at mid-century, however, were generally rather
plain. Boys commonly
wore small collars and bows. Short hair was common as were long pants.
The fancy styles worn at Christmas later in the century were not
common at mid century.
Figure 5.--This American boy about the turn of the Century poses in front of his Christmas tree in his knickers sailor suit. He holds the violin he has just received for Christmas. The rather scragly Christmas tree suggests a family of modest means, but the violin would have been a rather significant gift.
Many boys in the late 19th Century might attend Christmas events in
fancy dresses if they
were not yet breeched. Older boys might wear a kilt or Fauntleroy suit
with a frilly lace collar. Other boys might wear plainer suits, but by
the 1870s mostly with kneepants. Sailor suits by the 1890s were also
common Christmas attire. Kilts were also worn. Some boys from less
affluent families might
not have a fancy Fauntleroy suit, but boys from a wide range of economic
levels had sailor suits.
Boys still wore fancy velvet Fauntleroy suits at the turn of the
Century, but by
the 1910s, lace collars had been replaced with ruffled collars and the
blouses were much plainer than before. Sailor suits were still commonly
worn. Knickers had begun to replace kneepants.
Major changes occured in boys clothes and thus Christmas attire after
World War I (1914-18). It is interesting to speculate as to just why
styles changed so radically after the War, but major changes in fashion are not uncommon
after such major
war and social upheaval. Yje fashion of dressing young
boys in dresseses disappeared. The fancy Fauntleroy suits
disappeared. Sailor suits
were still worn by younger boys. Boys began to wear modern looking suits,
but with short oants in Europe and knickers in America.
Figure 6.--These three brothers are dressed for a formal traditional Christmas celebration in the 1970s. The boys wear velvert suits with Peter Pan collars, shortbpants, white kneesocks and strap shoes.
A younger boys' party suit by the 1930s was increasiny likely to be an
Eton suit rather than a fancy Fauuntleroy suit. Most winter Eton suits
were made in flannel, usually grey, navy blue, or black. Fancy Christmas
Eton suits, however, were made in black or deep blue velvet. Women's
magazines at mid-century, especially from the 1950s-70s commonly
showed Christmas scenes og boys in velvet Eton suits. I'm not
sure just how commonly they were worn, but they probably were
fairly common with affluent families. The suits always had rather
short suspender shorts and were mostly commonly worn with
Peter Pan collars, worn closed but without a tie. The velvet Eton
suits were often worn with
white kneesocks to give a forma, festive look.
Older American boys might wear blue balazers with grey long or,
in wealthier families, perhaps short pants. For winter wear kneesocks
were still worn. Short
pants even for dressy holiday wear by the 1960s were becoming
increasingly less common,
less common, except for the younger boys wearing Eton suits.
Figure 7.--These brothers in 1998 wear velvet Eton suits, but much longer short pants than were common only a decade eralier. They still wearvthe whitevkneesocks that were commonly worn with velvet suits.
Fancy Christmas wear for boys in the late 20th Century was less commonly short pants.
Some boys still worn velvet Eton suits with short pants, but the shorts were much
longer. Even more common was to wear velvet jackets with knickers.
Boys of school age wear long pants suits or the ever popular blue blazerv
and grey slacks.
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