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5 fond memories of midcentury Christmas design and decor

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The holidays were made for nostalgia, right?

‘60s catalog for christmas trees
Close-up of page from the 1962 Spiegel Christmas Catalog, with a “Flocked all-white aluminum tree” on the left and a “Sparkling spruce style aluminum tree” on the right
All images courtesy The Countryman Press

Ahh, the midcentury era, a time of bold exploration and radically new ways of doing just about everything. Indeed, fueled by modern materials and techniques, the experimental mentality of the time created daring architecture, timeless furniture, not to mention some of the grooviest Christmas decor to bedeck American homes.

In the new book simply titled Midcentury Christmas, design writer and curator Sarah Archer has compiled a deliciously nostalgia-inducing retrospective of the fads and fancies surrounding the holidays in postwar United States, from metallic Christmas trees and crafts to greeting cards that are just plain fun.

Below, we picked out five things from the book that we definitely don’t mind bringing back.

Aluminum trees

Aluminum was a hot new material in the postwar years, offering a sturdy, affordable construction alternative (See: a Portland post-and-beam dream with thousands of pounds of aluminum details.) Unsurprisingly, the versatile metal also found its way into holiday festivities through aluminum Christmas trees, which dazzled even without string lights. To be fair, electric lights also weren’t exactly safe to use on aluminum trees, so folks would place rotating color wheels at the base of the tree to project some extra color.

But how minimalist and effortlessly shimmering they are! Though aluminum trees were only really trendy from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, they can still be attained if you know where to look. Who knew there’s a whole website dedicated to culling aluminum Christmas tree listings on eBay?

An aluminum Christmas tree and gifts, 1964.
Popperfoto/Getty Images

...and aluminum crafts

The aluminum fever was strong, y’all. Or at least aluminum producers like Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) and Reynolds were trying to make it so. Seen below are some 1967 ads from Alcoa promoting aluminum foil as a decorating material. That shiny snowman “container/gift wrap/centerpiece” is too cute.

Instructions for crafting an aluminum snowman and table decorations, Alcoa Aluminum Newsletter, December 1947.
Aluminum Company of America Records, 1857-1992 (bulk 1900-65), MSS 282, Detre Library & Archives, Sen. John Heinz History Center

Googie ornaments

Characterized by dramatic cantilevers, hard angles, and all sorts of pointy details, Southern California’s iconic Google architecture embodies the futuristic zeal of the Space Age. That same sense of speed and dynamism also inspired some pretty jazzy midcentury Christmas ornaments, like the Corning ones seen below. The abstract modern tree featured in a 1961 issue of House Beautiful also shows off some rad starburst details, another Googie signature.

Three glass Christmas ornaments manufactured by Corning Glass Works, ca. 1940s-60s.
Collection of The Corning Museum of Glass, New York. Gift of Pat Brarens.
House Beautiful, December 1961.
Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.

Holiday cards from Charles and Ray Eames

Design power couple Charles and Ray Eames is responsible for some of the world’s most beloved midcentury creations: the Eames Lounge Chair, the Powers of Ten video, the landmarked Eames House in Los Angeles, to name a few. And as it turns out, the Eames also made exceptional greeting cards. Two examples highlighted in the book and reproduced below seem to show the couple waving from inside an ornament and flying among birds (“Thanks to the magic of photo-retouching,” Archer explains over email), complete with whimsical notes and doodles on the back. We’d definitely love to get one of those in the mail.

Also delightful is the collection of Christmas cards sent to the Eameses from other design powerhouses, such as industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss and modernist architect Craig Ellwood. This collection, which Archer says is her favorite find while researching the book, is now preserved in the Library of Congress.

Christmas card (photograph) from Charles and Ray Eames showing them waving from inside an ornament or snow globe, December 1946.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. Image © 2016 Eames Office, LLC (eamesoffice.com).
Christmas card (photograph) from Charles and Ray Eames showing them flying among birds and ornaments, December 1947.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. Image © 2016 Eames Office, LLC (eamesoffice.com).

Fun Alexander Girard prints

What’s not to love about Alexander Girard’s bright, playful designs, such as the festive creations below? Some of the midcentury designer’s home decor and textiles is still available through places like Vitra and Herman Miller, as they should be.

Alexander Girard, manger print, 1960s.
Image © 2016 Girard Studio, LLC. All rights reserved.
Alexander Girard, International Love Heart, 1966.
Image © 2016 Girard Studio, LLC. All rights reserved.

Have a fond “Midcentury Christmas” memory yourself? The comment section is wide open.