Book A Cemetery Tour

Holiday Heirlooms are part of the rich history of the Mahoning Valley. Just as important are the traditions behind them. Customs like the giving of greetings and gifts and decorating with trees and festive ornaments continue to shape the seasonal celebrations.

Here, you’ll see examples of 19th century homemade ornaments and the earliest store-bought decorations. There are blown glass bulbs and shapes, cardboard Victorian ornaments and Putz villages, early plastic décor, and bright Mid-Century Modern designs. Photographic images show how Mahoning Valley families and communities have celebrated the holidays over the decades.

Holiday spirit abounds with these colorful greetings, festive decorations, and meaningful gifts designed to liven the gray of winter.

This first ONLINE exhibit for MVHS resulted in our wish to share this wonderful collection of artifacts during an unexpected closure of Tyler History Center. Unfortunately, our opening of the in-person exhibit in the Youngstown Foundation Community History Gallery had to be cancelled. We wish to thank the exhibit’s sponsors, Denise DeBartolo York and Huntington Bank, for their understanding and unwavering support.

Click on each image to enlarge and read artifact details

Sounds of the Season

Holiday Greetings

Postcards were first designed for commercial use in 1843, the first card featuring a Christmas greeting with lithographed and hand-painted scenes. It wasn’t until 1899, however, that such cards became widely used after both the British and United States postal services accepted postcards for reduced-rate delivery. The use of decorative postcards as seasonal greetings became a new tradition.

Countless designs were produced by many different manufacturers during the first decades of the 20th Century. Many cards were imported from Germany, already well-known for its production of Christmas ornaments since the mid-19th Century. Imagery in Christmas postcards included both the traditional and the unique. Flowers, birds, winter scenes, children, religious figures, and Santa Claus were common.

Victorian Keepsakes

The Christmas tree tradition was brought to America with German immigrants of the 18th Century. Still, Christmas trees were not a popular staple of American celebrations until the mid-19th Century. Imported German glass and paper ornaments became fashionable in the 1880s. Embossed cardboard ornaments, called Dresdens after the city in Germany where they were made between 1880 and 1910, were popular in America during this time period.

Ornaments and Lighting

Store-bought decorations became widely available in the 1880s and 1890s. Manufactured paper and glass ornaments allowed for the highly-decorated trees of the Victorian Era. In the 20th Century, the increased variety and availability of store-bought ornaments continued to influence tree décor. Blown and molded glass ornaments were created in an array of shapes and sizes, from simple balls to more intricate figurines. Mid-20th Century designs used plastics and new technologies for durable and whimsical decorations.

Electric Christmas tree lights gained popularity in the early 20th Century as more and more houses were wired for electricity. Many small American companies started producing and marketing lighting sets to meet the growing consumer demand. Lighting sets and lamps were also imported from Italy, France, Germany, and Japan, among others.

Decking the Halls

For many, holiday decorating isn’t just about the tree. From stockings hung by the chimney with care, to figurines and vignettes set on tables and window ledges, to villages carefully placed under the tree, decking the halls is serious business.

Downtown Shopping

Strouss’ and McKelvey’s department stores anchored downtown Youngstown through the late 19th and 20th Centuries. These stores and other downtown retailers provided all the necessary gifts and trims for the holiday season, and their yuletide storefront displays were an elaborate draw for downtown shoppers.

A Season of Giving

The tradition of exchanging Christmas gifts has been practiced for centuries, possibly beginning with St. Nicholas of Myra. St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, is said to have passed out toys on his feast day, December 6, and throughout the month of December. Gradually, this gift giving became centered on Christmas day, and St. Nicholas became the legendary Santa Claus.

Making Merry

These photographs show families enjoying the holiday season at home around the tree and out among other revelers. Decorated downtowns and rooftop displays show how the Mahoning Valley has made merry through the years.