Great Christmas decorations don’t have to be new or inventive. People have had centuries to come up with great ways to celebrate the season, and they’ve left us with tons of festive ideas to pick through.
So, this Christmas, give yourself a break. Don’t stress yourself out trying to dream up never-before-seen Christmas ideas. Instead, revisit some old favorites— and make them feel new again. By putting a fresh spin on vintage Christmas decorating ideas, you can craft a decor scheme that feels classic but fun and you can save the stress for less avoidable holiday horrors, like last-minute gift shopping or impromptu visits from family.
To help you piece together the perfect holiday decor scheme, we’ve rounded up some vintage Christmas decor ideas worth considering. Some nod to the near past, celebrating the festive traditions you grew up with, and others look even further back, drawing on the best Christmas decor ideas from previous decades.
So pick and choose a handful of favorites— and get ready to ring in the holidays the old-fashioned way.
Trim Your Tree With Tinsel
This holiday season, don’t just deck out your tree with ornaments and garlands. Add another layer of decor by trimming your tree with tinsel, too. This throwback to the 1950s will make your tree look next-level festive. And since the metallic foil will reflect all your Christmas lights, your tree will look brighter and shinier than ever.
Whip Out Your Finest China
Historically, a celebration wasn’t really a special occasion unless you brought out the fine china. So honor the tradition by whipping out the prettiest dishes you own. Piece together a collection of vintage flatware, plates, and glasses— or simply make use of the fanciest pieces you have.
Mix and Match Vintage Ornaments
One fun way to nod to the past without copying an old tradition? Stock up on vintage ornaments, and hang them all over your tree. The ornaments don’t have to match— in fact, it’s probably more fun if they don’t. So piece together a motley crew of antique baubles and consider adding a new treasure to your collection every year.
Stock Up on Poinsettias
The poinsettia is a tried-and-true Christmas classic. The flower was a holiday must-have in the early aughts— and it’s never too late to bring back a fan favorite. So celebrate Christmas the way your parents used to: stock up on pretty red flowers, and put them all over your home.
Piece Together a Christmas Vignette
One classic way to celebrate the season? Piece together a Christmas vignette. Stock up on retro figurines and create your own Christmas village, or invest in a vintage nativity set and leave the scene up all season long.
DIY a Dried Fruit Garland
Dried fruit garlands were all the rage in the early 1900s. And they’re remarkably easy to make. Just slice up some citrus, dehydrate your fruit slices, and slip the dried slices onto a piece of string. The DIY garlands will look great hung from your windows or draped over your banister— and they’ll look even better wrapped around your tree.
Fill Your Home With Old Christmas Cards
Instead of lining your mantel with this year’s Christmas cards, stock up on vintage Christmas cards— and sprinkle them throughout your home. If you happen to know where the cards came from, great. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. Each Christmas card will have its own story to tell, filling your home with personality and charm.
Build a Train Set Around Your Tree
In the mid-1900s, your Christmas tree wasn’t complete until you’d built a model train set around its base. Really— the playful accent was a must in department store displays and home holiday decor schemes. So this year, pair your favorite tree skirt with a vintage train set— and leave the train chugging around your tree until December ends.
Hang Some Paper Snowflakes
When decking out your home, don’t neglect the paper snowflake. The classic childhood craft is still as delightful as you remember it. So grab some paper, fold it up, and cut fun shapes out of it. Your handmade masterpieces will look great hanging from your ceilings, your light fixtures, and anywhere else that could use some Christmas cheer.
Fill Your Space With Candles
Back in the day, people used to line their Christmas trees with candles. This tradition was pretty spectacular— but it requires tons of precautions to recreate. Get the look by putting candles everywhere else, instead. Keep classic taper candles on your dining room table, sneak vintage votives all over your home, and mix candles in with your favorite Christmas garlands.
Make Your Stockings Look Homemade
Store-bought stockings are a pretty recent invention. So skip the trip to the big-box store, and use what you already have. Hang some old socks on your mantel, make your own stockings using arts and crafts supplies, or split the difference by dressing up the stockings you already have with kitschy DIY details.
Treat Yourself to a Pretty Tree Skirt
When people lined their Christmas trees with candles, tree skirts were a must. How else were they going to keep all that melted wax off the floor? These days, tree skirts aren’t as necessary as they used to be— but they still look as good as ever. So get in on the tradition by investing in a classic tree skirt you’ll be excited to whip out every year.
Decorate With Antique Toys
Toys may seem like a strange thing to decorate with but, since they’re such a classic Christmas gift, they’re fun to use in your holiday decor scheme. Stop by local garage sales and flea markets, and scrounge up the coolest-looking toys you can find. Keep an antique rocking horse by your Christmas tree, line your stairs with holiday bears, or slowly piece together your own “island of misfit toys.”
Make Your Own Wax Wine Charms
Wine charms come in handy during any holiday party since it's no fun forgetting whose drink is whose. And, since they’re so small, they’re the perfect place to make a statement. So start amassing a mismatched collection of vintage wine charms. Or throw it even further back by making your own wax seals and using them as wine charms.
Invest in a Really Great Advent Calendar
Celebrating Christmas with an advent calendar is a centuries-old tradition— and it’s still a fun way to commemorate the season today. So keep your eyes peeled for a retro advent calendar you’ll be excited to open each morning— or make one of your own, and sneak your favorite treats inside.
Make a Gingerbread House From Scratch
You probably can’t score a gingerbread house kit from the ’80s or ’90s but you can still make your gingerbread house the old-fashioned way: from scratch. Whip up some stiff gingerbread planks, and stick them together using homemade icing. Just be sure to leave the delicious decor on display, so everyone can appreciate your handiwork.
Top Your Tree With a Hand-Me-Down
Tree toppers put the finishing touches on any Christmas tree. And while there are tons of store-bought options to choose from, there are just as many fun vintage finds to consider. Find a retro treasure that’ll make your whole tree look more charming— or ask your family if they have a hand-me-down you could use for the task.
Leave Out a Bowl of Christmas Cookies
The ultimate nostalgic accent piece? A bowl of Christmas cookies. Bake them fresh, or buy them at the store, and leave them out just like you did as a child. The playful accent will add a pop of personality to your holiday decor scheme, putting a smile on the face of any houseguest who sees it.
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The Legend of the Christmas Stocking. Smithsonian Magazine, 2012.
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The Rediscovered Art of Wax Seals. Fred Lake.
The History of Gingerbread. PBS, 2013.