12 Rad Ways We Celebrated Christmas in the 80s

If you remember these 80s Christmas classics, prepare to get a little teary-eyed.

Published December 4, 2023


If you were alive in the 1980s, you know the holidays were rad. And if you weren't, well, we're sorry you missed it. Even without all the LED lights and glowing tablet screens of today, an 80s Christmas had enough magic to light up the eyes of any Gen Xer recalling it decades later. From what we wore Christmas morning to the gifts we wanted from Santa, here's what we loved about our holidays.

Three Words: Sears Wish Book


Back in the 80s, we didn't have online shopping, of course. Instead, we had catalogs. And the king of catalogs (at least for kids) was the Sears Wish Book. The arrival of the Sears Wish Book was the real start of the 80s Christmas season. We would flop down on the living room floor with our siblings and some pens and circle everything we wanted in the giant toy section.

Even if we didn't get many (or any) of the gifts in the Wish Book, the experience of pouring over the catalog with family and just wishing together was really a little gift in itself.

Writing a Letter to Santa (or Giving Him a Call)


Kids in the 80s had low-tech communication with Santa, but that doesn't mean we couldn't reach him when we needed to. Before we could make online wish lists, we made real ones on notebook paper and included them with a letter to Santa. And we could call him, too (theoretically, with our parents' permission).

There were commercials on TV with a number you could call to talk to Santa. He would tell you stories and listen to what you wanted for Christmas — all for a couple of dollars a minute.

Waiting for Christmas Specials on TV


Back in the 80s, we couldn't stream our shows on demand. If we wanted to watch something, we had to tune in at the exact time it was playing, and that meant the TV schedule for Christmas specials was a big deal. This was the only time we got to watch our holiday favorites.

From A Charlie Brown Christmas to A Claymation Christmas Celebration, the Christmas specials were important. People talked about them at school. At home, we'd gather in front of the TV (too close) and down tons of Christmas cookies while we watched.

Over-the-Top Christmas Trees


If you've ever looked at the fashions of the 80s, you know just how flashy and crazy this decade was. Our Christmas trees reflected the same over-the-top aesthetic, but instead of big hair and neon, they sported tons of mylar garlands and tinsel streamers. There was no such thing as too much sparkle.

Quick Tip

You can still have an 80s Christmas tree, although it's hard to find tinsel streamers now (they're dangerous for pets). Just pile on the glittering garlands and add a ton of sparkling ornaments, and you're set.

Super-Hot Incandescent Christmas Lights


LEDs might be energy efficient, but they don't have the edge-of-your-seat danger factor of old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. If you put your hand around one of these bulbs, it could actually burn you. That added a different kind of excitement to Christmas.

Once, we were testing out the string of lights by plugging them in before my dad put them on the tree, and we got distracted by all the boxes of decorations. When we looked back at the lights a few minutes later, they had burned a bunch of holes in the dark brown shag carpet of our rented ranch house. See? Real excitement.

Only One Main Flavor of Candy Canes


These days, you can walk through any drug store or grocery store and see a ton of different flavors of candy canes. My kids always request the blue raspberry ones or really any fruity flavor. But we didn't have those kinds of options in the 80s. Our candy cane flavor choices were basically peppermint or peppermint. Don't feel sorry for us, though. We got plenty of sugar.

Little Debbie Tree Cakes


Speaking of sweet holiday treats, Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes hail from the 1980s. They first hit store shelves in 1985, and we immediately snapped them up. If you had one of these in your lunchbox, you were something special in the school cafeteria.

You can still buy them, so if you want a little taste of an 80s Christmas, just head to your grocery store.

Christmas Cards Without Photos


If your mailbox fills up with holiday photo cards from all your friends, you're not alone. It's fun to see how everyone's family is growing, and photo Christmas cards are an easy way to stay connected. They weren't really much of a thing in the 1980s, though.

Remember, this was the era before email and social media. To keep up with friends and family, we would send real Christmas cards that had handwritten messages inside them. Each Christmas, my mom would spend lots of time at the dining room table writing out the Christmas cards, and we'd get tons of them from friends, too.

80s Christmas Party Foods


An 80s Christmas party was a thing to behold. Between the festive fashions and the Christmas music on cassette, it was the ultimate holiday experience. And part of that experience was the food.

A typical 80s holiday party might have included a buffet with a cheese ball and crackers, veggies and ranch dip,  red and green Jello with marshmallows, and lots of other 80s delicacies like potato skins and mini quiche.

80s Christmas Clothes


For most of us, an 80s Christmas outfit wasn't all that different than the fun things we wore every day, but we definitely tried to use as much red and green as possible. If we were very lucky, we had a Christmas sweater or sweatshirt (think ugly Christmas sweater, even though no one called it that yet).

Quick Tip

If you're going to an 80s Christmas party and want to look amazing, pair your Christmas sweatshirt with stirrup pants and put your hair in a side ponytail. Don't forget large plastic earrings in the shape of Christmas trees. We guarantee you'll be the best-dressed person there.

Night Shirts and Nightgowns on Christmas Morning


As we emerged from our bedrooms Christmas morning to see what Santa had left for us, most of us weren't wearing the PJ pants or joggers you see today. The 80s was the era of Little House on the Prairie, so old-fashioned flannel nightgowns were definitely a thing.

We also wore night shirts or sleep shirts, which were usually a solid color like white with a graphic on the front with Snoopy, Garfield, Ziggy, and other classic cartoon characters.

Limited-Edition Holiday Toys of the 80s


If we were really lucky, Santa brought us just what we wanted on Christmas morning. Under the tree, we'd find everything from Cabbage Patch Kids to roller skates or a boombox. But we might also have received a limited-edition Christmas toy.

There were special toys you could only get at Christmas, and each year, they were different. The holiday Barbie is a great example, with her beautiful Christmas dresses and accessories that changed every year (we weren't supposed to take her out of the box and destroy her value as a collectible, but we usually did).

The 80s Santa Bear was another adorable example. Sold during the holidays at department stores like Dayton's, these giant white teddy bears were dressed in holiday accessories and always had the year on them. My grandpa used to buy us one every year, and it was so exciting to see what the new one would look like.

So Many Wonderful Things About an 80s Christmas


One of the best things about an 80s Christmas was the way we just threw ourselves into celebrating. From the clothes to the toys, it was a bit over the top, but what could be more Christmas than that? If you want to have a Christmas from the very best decade, just put your heart into the celebration.

12 Rad Ways We Celebrated Christmas in the 80s