Although World War II did
not take a holiday, Americans at home and abroad did their best to celebrate
Christmas. Wartime separations and deprivations made festivities poignant and
bittersweet. Last week’s post looked at Christmas for American servicemen and women, and this week’s looks at Christmas on the
Families on the Home Front dealt with painful separations as
sons and daughters, husbands and fathers were away from home in the service. The
holiday season highlighted this pain. Those left at home wanted to make
Christmas festive, especially for the children.
Gift giving presented unique challenges during
World War II. While wartime income was high, few products were available on the
shelves. Many consumer items weren’t manufactured due to shortages of raw
materials and conversions of factories for military use. Clothing wasn’t
rationed in the United States, but restrictions did apply and people were
encouraged to make do with less. By 1944, a severe paper shortage even reduced
the supply of books.
Hardest of all were the scarcities of toys for the
children. Toys with metal or rubber parts weren’t available. Manufacturers
switched to wood and cardboard and to the new plastics that were coming out.
Popular wartime toys included dolls, wooden jeeps and airplanes, and
“Bild-A-Sets,” which allowed children to construct cardboard play-sets, often
with military themes.
The US government provided
a solution to the gift dilemma and encouraged the purchase of war bonds for
Christmas dinners weren’t quite as elaborate as
before the war. Rationing of sugar and butter meant fewer sweets. Meat,
including ham, was rationed. Although turkey wasn’t rationed, the armed services
worked hard to provide turkey dinners to the servicemen overseas, which meant
fewer turkeys on the Home Front.
The holiday tradition of traveling to visit family and
friends had to be curtailed during the war. Gasoline was rationed, and civilians
were discouraged from train travel to free the rail system for movement of
troops and supplies.
Outdoor Christmas lights were one of the first wartime
casualties. In Antioch, California, for example, outdoor Christmas lights were
turned off on December 11, 1941, and the tradition of lighting the community
Christmas tree was postponed for the duration. Blackout conditions on the
coasts, and later a nationwide dim-out to conserve fuel meant Christmas might be
merry—but not quite as bright.
Christmas in World War II left a lasting
musical legacy. Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” topped the charts
in December 1942, and has since sold over 50 million copies, making it one of
the biggest hits of all time. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was the hit for
Christmas 1943, and Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was
in the Top Ten in 1944. These songs share a soft melancholy, a nostalgia for
home, a wistfulness for tradition, and an optimistic hope for the future that
resonated in wartime and still resonates today.
Some more fun facts about Christmas on the Home Front, including Christmas trees and ornaments can be found on the National WWII Museum Blog.
Celebrating Christmas in
World War II required ingenuity and flexibility, but Americans at home and
abroad set aside their troubles to commemorate Christ’s birth.
Labels: Christmas, World War II