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What did a holiday meal look like 100 years ago?

Christmas Dinner
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty
More plum pudding?
  • Johnny Simon
By Johnny Simon

Deputy Photo Editor

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

One of the best gifts we can give ourselves and those we love is a great meal. Whether it’s the feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, a more traditional turkey or roast on Christmas Day, or just opting for Chinese takeout, there are many ways to ring in the season that define our annual traditions.

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But what did people eat in America 100 years ago during the holiday season? Menus catalogued by the New York Public Library from Christmas dinners served in the early part of the 20th century offer an interesting look at our ancestors’ dining habits. The menus come from a survey of restaurants, hotels, and even an Army fort’s Christmas dinner service.

Old-school crudités (especially celery) are common on most menus shown, as are oysters (preparation unknown). The tried and true roasts of turkey, beef or fowl are well represented, though the clear turtle consommé may be harder to find these days.

Take a look; maybe some of the vintage delicacies deserve at place at your table this year.

Fort Huachuca, Arizona, 1920

This meal featured turkey and barbeque pork, and wrapped up with a round of cigars.

Courtesy of New York Public Library

Hotel Casey, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1912

The Hotel Casey was one of the largest hotels in Pennsylvania at the time it was built, at 11 stories tall. It was demolished in 2001.

Courtesy of New York Public Library

Central Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina, 1900

Red snapper a l’Indienne, Filet of beef a la Yorktowne: two preparations we’re not terribly sure what they are.

Courtesy of New York Public Library

San Juan Hotel, Orlando, Florida, 1900

Fittingly, this Florida Christmas dinner features the traditional egg nog served frozen.

Courtesy of New York Public Library

Tulane Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee, 1900

At the top of the menu is green sea-turtle soup. That dish would be impossible to find now, as the animal was placed on the endangered species list decades ago.

Courtesy of New York Public Library

Hotel Colonial, San Francisco, 1899

One of the listed soups, the consommé napier, is served with a thinly sliced marrow bone.

Courtesy of New York Public Library

Hotel Windemere, Chicago, 1898

Cardinal Punch, the boozy drink served mid-meal at this dinner, dates back to the mid 19th century and features a strong concoction of red wine, rum, brandy, champagne, spices and citrus.

Courtesy of New York Public Library

Hotel Metropole, Fargo, North Dakota, 1898

This dinner, held just a month after North Dakota officially joined the union, features a saddle of antelope, fitting for a meal served “home on the range.

Courtesy of New York Public Library

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