The holiday season is all about tidings of joy: a crackle in the fireplace, the twinkle of lights, perhaps one too many glasses of eggnog. And no matter the gravity of the stories in the news, LIFE captured that joy year in and year out. Most frequently, that process involved photographing some combination of children and Santa Claus, whether they tugged on his cotton-white beard or gaped in disbelief at some long-coveted doll. Here, as this year’s Christmas rolls around, are LIFE’s most joyful images of Christmases past.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.