What did children in early 20th century rural North Carolina want for Christmas? Oranges.
Based on our highly unscientific survey of letters to Santa published in local newspapers from the 1920s through the 1940s, oranges appeared more often than anything else, usually paired with nuts and candy. In an age before widespread refrigeration and quick cross-country transport, oranges were still fairly exotic, and, apparently, in high demand among children. As far as requests for toys, they were split pretty predictably by gender. Lots of girls asked for dolls, especially dolls that had eyes that could open and close and could say “Mama,” while boys asked for toy guns and bikes or wagons.
These letters were a regular feature throughout the month of December in many of the small-town weekly papers that we’ve digitized. Many are short and to the point, lots are amusing, and a few reveal heartbreaking details about the difficult lives led by some of the kids. We’ve posted a handful of examples below and will share others throughout the month on our Twitter feed (@ncdhc).