As I sit down to write this blog, Christmas is close at hand. Here in America, it is 8 days a way (I’m writing this the Monday before I publish on Wednesday). People all over the world are gearing up to celebrate the holiday with family and loved ones, and that got me to thinking, “what was Christmas like during the war?”. With so much rationing and shortage of everyday items, how did families celebrate? Especially with so many loved ones away fighting a war against fascism.
On the Home Front
Today, it is hard for most of us to understand what it was like living under rationing or shortages of anything. Our biggest worry now is if the new PlayStation or iPhone sell out before we get to the store and have to wait for the next shipment to arrive at the store. We don’t worry about how much butter, sugar, flour or lard/oil is available at the store and if we are able to buy it. Those are things that people faced every day during the war, but they made the best of it that they possibly could!
We’ve all pretty much heard of the rationing during the war. Rationing meant that each person was allotted a certain amount of a product and to obtain the product they had to be registered with the government and have rationing coupons for each member of the house. The coupons were used to buy everything from tires, gas, flour, butter, cooking oil, sugar, clothing, shoes and so much more. Everything was going to the war effort.
Families would save rationing coupons for the holiday in order to make a nice large holiday meal and to be able to bake the Christmas goodies that were traditional to that time of year. In England, the traditional Christmas Goose or turkey gave way to Empire Beef or mutton for Christmas dinner.
Food wasn’t the only thing to change. At Saks Fifth Avenue and other department stores across America, women stepped in to play Santa Claus because of the shortage of men at home. Christmas trees changed as well. With the same shortage of men to cut the trees down and a shortage of train transportation to get the trees to the cities to sell, American made Visca artificial trees became all the rage as Americans rushed to buy them.
King George VI and the Queen sent out Christmas cards to their intimate friends showing them at a bombed-out portion of Buckingham Palace. These types of cards became known as a “Blitzmas” cards and sold out all over England.
Presents changed as well. Kids toys were more often handmade, or girls got dolls with gas masks on them and boys got toy soldiers and tanks. Clothing was more often than not, handmade, sometimes it was recycled material; such as a scarf made from an old, holy blanket.
Homes throughout America, Canada, Australia and England (plus many others) shopped early and baked early to package and send presents and baked goods to their family away at war. They wanted to make sure that the packages arrived in time for Christmas. The Red Cross sent thousands of packages to POW’s on both sides of the war for Christmas.
The Troops Christmas
The troops on both sides of the war awaited packages to arrive from home. The taste of a Christmas cookie or cake, brought back a flood of happier memories and kept morale high for the troops. Unlike WWI where there was a Christmas Truce declared (the one and only time it has ever happened in history), WWII had no such thing. It was up to commanding officers to keep morale high and to help find ways for their troops to celebrate the season, such as buying them a beer or helping provide a special holiday meal.
Jewish and Christian troops in the U.S. military had Hanukkah and Christmas religious services (with or without a chaplain or rabbi) and special meals, depending on where they were. Some sailors in the U.S. Navy told of how they had turkey dinners, sang carols and had Christmas trees constructed from material on board ship.
I read the story of John Otto of the 82nd Airborne Division at the Battle of the Bulge. In his unit was a baker, so each member of the unit volunteered to obtain an ingredient for the baker. Every morning a medic would run and get goats milk, the Germans shot at him but never hit him. The baker knew where to get some flour. Another member knew where to find some apples and John volunteered to the get sugar. John decided the best way to get the sugar that was given in their rations was to steal it. He stole it from company headquarters before it could be given out and took it back to the baker.
Everyone complained about not getting their sugar in their rations, but that all changed to joy when John delivered the apple pies the baker had made. A taste of home and Christmas at one of the worst battles of the war.
Christmas (like life) always seems to find away. At Christmas we are reminded that peace to all men and goodwill are truly the most important parts of the season. It’s not about the gifts under the tree, or the hectic shopping in overcrowded malls, its what we give of ourselves- peace, love and goodwill, for those are truly the ideals of the season.
I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas where ever you are! Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale, Joyeux Noel and Frohe Weihnachten. Whatever holiday you are celebrating, I hope you have a wonderful time and enjoy being with your family and friends. I will see you in the New Year!