Photo courtesy of The Solitary Raven

Have Yourself a Very Vintage Christmas With These Tips From Wheeling’s Past

I am someone who loves, loves, a themed party. The holidays provide a perfect excuse to get your friends together and subject them to an ugly-sweater-required bash, complete with on-theme snacks. Instead of turning to Pinterest this year, we’re turning to party planners of Wheeling’s past to help plan a hoppin’ holiday party. 

Festive Decor

First off, I found some “Santa-Approved Party Ideas” from The Intelligencer in 1967. It promised a “look again attraction” with a jolly green Santa tree. Start with a cone shape (made of what? I don’t know!) and cover it in rows of treated paper that has been “crinkled, curled and shaped to resemble leaves.” Attach a pair of painted blue eyes, a ball nose, and a leaf mustache to give St. Nick “his best ho-ho-ho expression.1

I particularly like this idea because it reminds me of Wheeling’s own Talking Christmas Tree! 

The Intelligencers Christmas Corner series from 1962-164 is another treasure trove of all kids of holiday party ideas and tips! One tip involves taking discarded stockings, sewing them together lengthwise, making stips, and braiding them together. Then take small evergreen pieces and wire them into individual clusters and place them in the nylon rope. I can’t decide if this is a little gross or just a great use of the ‘reuse’ part of reduce, reuse, recycle.

The  Christmas Corner also recommends that you take the Christmas cards you receive and “attach them to chandeliers with bright ribbons. Attach them in interesting patterns on your drapes or curtains.” So now that your house is thoroughly covered in Christmas cards, how else can you make it look cheery for the holidays? “Don’t overlook humble kitchen coffee lids, sprayed with glittering paint, they can be used as Christmas medallions on walls or tables. With the use of florist wax, they can also be adapted to serve as candle and flower holders.” In the style of giving things different uses, “Does your child play a French horn or trumpet? Borrow the instrument, polish it to a shine and put it in the center of a huge evergreen wreath for that ‘hark the heralds’ look.” Does your child need the instrument over the holiday season? Too bad, I guess! 2

If those don’t quite strike your fancy, I found a tip from 1958 for making your Christmas tree look lovely. “Bear in mind that tree trimming follows the fundamental rules of women’s fashions -accentuate the opposite. If your tree is tall and slender, decorating lines should tend toward the horizontal. If it is short and full, trim your tree along lines which tend to be vertical.” I don’t quite know why we had to bring women’s fashion into this, but, hey, if it makes the tree look good!3

Going back to 1940, I found “Ideas Sentimental and Sophisticated Suggested for Christmas Decorating,” which provides several ideas to make your Christmas tree shine. A good base is “a tree sprayed with white paint as though powdery with new snow” (aka – flocking). You could trim the tree with huge blue felt bows, taffy apples and red lights. Or you could tip your branches in gold paint, using lace paper doilies as ruffs for green glass bulbs, accentuating this with green lights. You could also decorate your tree with the ever-traditional popcorn necklaces, adding white tissue paper snowballs, white paper snowflakes, silver glass balls, and all-white lights for a beautiful look.4 

With the right décor, your tree could look as grand as this one from the Stone & Thomas Department Store! (Photo courtesy of Ohio County Public Library)

Tasty Treats

Perhaps you want to kill two birds with one stone, decorations you can eat! An edible wreath, perhaps?

For this unique treat, you’ll need: 2-3 cups light corn syrup, 2-3 cups sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 package of Jiffy ready-to-pop corn, 4 drops of green food coloring, 2 drops of peppermint flavoring. 

To make it, mix corn syrup, sugar and salt in a medium-size saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until sugar has completely dissolved, about 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, pop the corn according to package directions. Pour the popped corn into a large kettle. Stir food coloring and flavoring into cooked syrup. Pour cooked syrup over popped corn and mix well to coat all corn. Return to heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and make it into a wreath shape. Grease a 6 ½ cup ring mold. Spoon the popcorn-syrup mixture into the mold and press down with the back of the tablespoon. Let the mold stand for 20 minutes to cool thoroughly. Loosen edges with a knife and remove from pan. Decorate with candied cherries and angelica around them, to resemble leaves.5

Maybe, instead of a wreath, you’d like an edible Christmas tree.

Ingredients: 1 cup shortening, 1 ½ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar, 2 eggs well-beaten, 2 cups canned applesauce, 1 cup candied mixed foot, 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts, 2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon ground mace, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 5 cups unsifted all-purpose flour, 1 cup confectioners sugar, 2 tablespoons apple juice, 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind.

Cream shortening until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in brown sugar and eggs. Beat in applesauce, candied fruit, nuts, baking powder and spices. Gradually stir in flour and beat until well blended. Lightly grease cookie sheets. As a guide, mark circles in the grease starting with a circle 8” in diameter and decreasing in size to end with a circle 2” in diameter. Drop cookie dough by small spoonfuls on circles making a one-inch wide ring. Be sure to form complete circles. Make 1 solid cookie for the top. Bake rings in a preheated moderate oven 375 degrees, 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the ring or until rings are lightly browned. Cool rings on cookie sheet. To make frosting, mix confectioners sugar with apple juice and rind. Drip frosting over the tops of the rings. Carefully remove rings. Stack the rings on a platter starting with the largest and ending with the smallest. Decorate the cake with Christmas decorations, holly springs and candles.6 

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While those both sound pretty good, I just knew there had to be a strange recipe out there. I found it, from 1963. Would you eat a sugar plum pizza? 

The first step is the dough: Shift 2 ¼ cups flour, ¼ cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt into a large bowl, cut in ¼ cup golden shorting with pastry blender or 2 knives until crumbly; sprinkle 6 tablespoons water over, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing lightly with fork just until flour mixture holds together. Roll out thinly on lightly floured pastry cloth or board to a 14-inch round, roll pastry loosely around rolling pin; unroll over a 13-inch pizza pan. Pat into place; trim edges to a ½-inch overhang; turn under, even with rim; flute edge prick pastry all over with a fork. Bake in hot oven, 425 degrees until lightly brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool.

Then, get to building your pizza. You’ll need 2 packages instant vanilla – or lemon – flavor pudding mix, 2 cups dairy sour cream, 2 cups milk, 1 can mandarin oranges, 3 slices canned pineapple, 8 whole strawberries, 6 pitted stewed large plums, 6 walnut halves, ¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 2 tablespoon lemon juice.

Start by making the pudding mix, following label instructions (if each package calls for 2 cups milk, use 1 cup milk and 1 cup sour cream; if it calls for 1 ¾ cups milk and 3/4 cups milk and 1 cup sour cream); spoon pudding in even layer in cooled dessert pizza shell. Drain mandarin oranges well, saving syrup. Cut 2 pineapple rings in sixths (save third ring for center twist), cut all but two strawberries in half, and arrange fruits and walnuts on the filling. Measure syrup from mandarin oranges, adding water, if needed, to make ½ cup, stir into sugar and cornstarch mixed in small saucepan, add lemon juice; cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture boils, 3 minutes, and is thick and clear, spoon over fruits to glaze; chill. Cut between orange designs into 12 wedges and serve.7

Memorable Gifts

It’s not Christmas without some gift-giving! Want some great gift ideas to share? In 1959 The National Cotton Council reported that some of the most popular gifts are bath towels and sheets (…that are made of cotton, very interesting reporting). Anyway, here are some novel ways to wrap your National Cotton Council-approved cotton gifts!

You could make a candy cane wrap for sheets. You’ll need the sheet, a mailing tube that’s three inches in diameter and 24 inches long, a wide red rickrack (aka: zig-zag trim), cotton batting, clothes hanger, scotch tape, red cotton chintz and christmas bells.  According to the instructions, you’ll “fold the sheet several times, then roll and fasten with rubber bands. Wrap the rolled sheet in tissue paper and place it inside a mailing tube with one end extending far enough to make the crook of the cane. Place a piece of clothes hanger inside the end of the sheet to hold the crook firm. Wrap crook with cotton batting to this part of the cane will be the same size as the mailing tube. Cut a piece of batting full length of cane and wide enough to wrap around it. Batting will cling together as it is wrapped around the cane. Wrap rickrack diagonally around batting, fastening at ends and in two or three places with tape. Add big bow of cotton chintz and Christmas bells.”8

If you want to give the bath towels, try this Santa Clause-themed wrapping. For this one you’ll need: a wastebasket, red wrapping paper, cotton batting, red plastic tape, rubber cement, and buttons. “Fold or roll bath towels, hand towels, or washcloths and place in wastebasket. Cover the basket with red paper, using scotch tape to hold paper in place. Cut strip of batting and glue to basket. Glue buttons on for eyes. Cut squares of red paper, shape them, and fold them into the top of the wastebasket for Santa’s hat. Glue a piece of cotton batting to the top of the hat.

Here’s what your Santa-wrapped towels could look like!

That is a lot of different ideas from the Christmas party hosts of Wheeling’s past. Some are pretty cute, some are downright strange (I can’t stop thinking about stealing your child’s instrument for decoration). All, though, help set the right ambiance for a wonderful Christmas party. So, call up your friends and family, set out the sugarplum pizza and have some happy holidays.

• Makayla Carney, a Wheeling native, is the 2023-2024 AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage, where she will get to write all about the history and culture of her hometown. She has a B.F.A. in Film and Television from DePaul University in Chicago. She adores all kinds of art, a lavender latte, and the occasional performance on the Towngate Theatre stage.


1 Churchill, Reba, and Bonnie Churchill. “Santa-Approved Party Ideas.” The Intelligencer, 9 Dec. 1967, page 7.

2 “The Christmas Corner: Reflections at Christmas.” The Intelligencer, 1963, page 19.

3 “Christmas Lighting: Handy Hints on Decorating Your Home for a Brighter, Safer Christmas.” Wheeling Intelligencer, 1958, page 15.

4 MacRae Boykin, Elizabeth. “Ideas Sentimental and Sophisticated Suggested For Christmas Decorating.” Wheeling News Register, 15 Dec. 1940, page 60.

5 “How About This, Santa? Good-to-Eat Yule Decorations.” The Intelligencer, 17 Dec. 1964, page 44.

6 “The Christmas Corner: A Christmas Tree You Can Eat.” The Intelligencer, 24 Nov. 1964, page 15.

7 “Just in Time for the Holidays: Wheeling Electric Christmas Goodies.” The Intelligencer, 20 Dec. 1963, page 25.

8 “Clever But Inexpensive Christmas Wraps for Cotton Gifts.” Wheeling News Register, 8 Dec. 1959, page 15.