Atlanta Christmas, 1913

Christmas is all about the kids. Even far back in Atlanta’s late Victorian days, the holiday had already become a season to showcase the youthful joys of children beguiled by images of Santa Claus and fairy-tale visions of trees, tinsel, rich meals and the overwhelming sense of anticipation as Christmas morning approached.


For city youngsters and those visiting town from more rural locales, communication with Saint Nick was a top priority. Street Santas helped by walking up and down the main shopping streets of White-hall and Peachtree so children might see several versions on any visit. Naturally, many of the retail stores featured their own Santas in large departments devoted to toys, toys and more toys.


To help out parents, local newspapers printed seemingly endless letters to Santa – some of which had come from neighboring states. Somewhat surprisingly, the lists of desired gifts were fairly similar. Nearly all requested candy, nuts and fruit along with the boys’ eager demands for fireworks, footballs, mechanical trains or cap pistols. Girls usually opted for dolls, doll furniture, jewelry and clothing, which sometimes included the popular cowboy and Native American outfits for both sexes.


The absolute Christmas must-haves from 100 years ago were the inexpensive and hugely popular Kewpie dolls. Based on Rose O’Neill’s Kewpie cartoons, the comical little dolls were first made in 1912 and could be bought in a range of sizes, 4.5 inches to 7.25 inches, for only 19 to 60 cents. There was even as-sociated merchandise such as Kewpie Kandies made from “barley sugar, fruit flavors and honey.” They came in twisted sticks or in doll shapes and were only 25 cents per pound. Of course, there were other new toys in this dawn of the automobile age such as pedal vehicles shaped like the adult automobiles tak-ing over the streets and even little race tracks with individual racecars.
For both boys and girls, stuffed animals were popular. Teddy bears, reportedly named for former president Theodore Roosevelt, appealed to all children. Beginning at only 75 cents in 1913, children could also get any of “those wonderful Steiff animals” created by Margarete Steiff and imported from Europe. Along with bears, there were Steiff lions, rabbits, monkeys, ducks, cows, lambs, sheep, ze-bras or other African wildlife.


The emphasis on children, their toys and Santa Claus had grown so much that the Atlanta School Board bowed to popular demand and allotted two more days off. Previously, the schools closed on Dec. 23 but now they would close on Dec. 21. The only bad part was that the two days would be made up in June. There was payback even in 1913 for holiday generosity.


–Dick Funderburke

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