Holiday Traditions

McMullen Log Cabin

Traditions of the 1850s

  • There were only about 50 families living on the Pinellas Peninsula in the 1850’s.
  • Pinellas was the frontier during this time and residents would have lived miles apart.
  • Families and neighbors visited during the holidays, and Jim and Elizabeth McMullen often welcomed guests.
  • Festivities often included musicians and dancing.
  • Wild turkey, deer, seafood, and an occasional barbequed wild hog accompanied by sweet potatoes and cornbread would be served for Christmas dinner.
  • There were no stores on the peninsula, so settlers used what was available to them.
  • Gifts given were simple and mostly homemade.


Union Academy and Moore House

Traditions of the 1870s and 1880s

  • After the Civil War, more settlers arrived to live on the Pinellas Peninsula.
  • Communities started to spring up and even a few stores could be found.
  • Parents joined forces to build schools.
  • Community celebrations were often held at schools. Families gathered there to decorate trees and share meals during a daylong celebration.
  • Natural items like pinecones, oranges, Spanish moss, and cotton, to represent snow, were used to decorate.
  • Santa Claus arrived with small presents for the children.
  • In the 1880s women’s magazines were influential in shaping holiday decorations. Color prints from them were clipped and used for ornaments. Most families used simple homemade ornaments.
  • Trees became more popular.
  • Wild game was not as plentiful in the area by the 1880s, so chicken would have been on many holiday tables.
  • Many of the settlers had tropical fruit trees. One of Mrs. Moore’s granddaughters recalled having guava pie and cassava pudding at her grandmother’s holiday celebration.
  • Gifts were simple and handmade. Children were given dolls, books, and small walking toys.


Williams Park Bandstand

City traditions of the early 1900s

  • With the arrival of the train in the late 1880s, Pinellas was no longer isolated, and St. Petersburg was no longer a sleepy farming community.
  • Hotels and boarding houses covered the waterfront to accommodate the tourists visiting from the north during the winter months.
  • Locals and tourists formed social clubs.
  • The holiday season included ladies’ luncheons, covered dish dinners, and dances.
  • Stores in downtown St. Petersburg offered a variety of Christmas gifts. Ads in the St. Petersburg Times offered everything from diamonds and silk dresses to more sensible gifts such as mittens and sweaters.
  • Everything from bicycles to dolls and dollhouses were for sale in the shops along Central Avenue.
  • In 1914 the Central Avenue merchants decorated the entire street. Window displays were elaborate, with one merchant placing an electric race car track in his front window.
  • Electric lights were set up to illuminate the windows at night. Shopkeepers advertised they would be staying open late on Christmas Eve for those last-minute shoppers.
  • Restaurants in downtown St. Petersburg offered multi-course holiday dinners for 75 cents to $1.75.


Plant Sumner and 7 Gables

Home traditions of the early 1900s

  • Meals were elaborate with multiple courses. Area stores carried turkeys, and bakeries advertised English plum puddings. Wealthy and middle-class families had beautifully set tables for the holidays.
  • Decorating a tree was an early German tradition, but it was Queen Victoria who made the Christmas tree popular in England and the United States.
  • Early artificial trees made of goose or turkey feathers were available.
  • Families decorated their houses. Though homemade ornaments were still used, stores carried more ornate decorations for those who could afford them.
  • Trees were lit with candles, usually only on Christmas Eve. A pail of water was kept nearby to prevent fires!
  • The tradition of placing small villages under the tree started in Germany and spread to the United States.
  • Gifts became more ornate and small gifts sometimes were tied to trees.
  • Stockings often were hung by the chimney with care. In Florida an orange in your stocking would not have been so much of a treat, Children in the area would have been excited to find an apple in their stocking!
  • Christmas cards were becoming popular.
  • Garlands and wreaths decorated both the inside and outside of homes.
  • In Florida one of the most popular Christmas decorations was the poinsettia plant!