The war years made celebrating the tradition of Christmas very difficult. But people found ways to make the most of it. There was a spirit of camaraderie and a willingness to “mend and make do”.
Being apart from loved ones at Christmas was a strain on families. Husbands and fathers were away at war; wives and mothers were either serving in the military or working in munitions factories for the war effort; children were often evacuated to the countryside, far from home.
But people put their best foot forward. They kept calm and carried on.
Listen to Bing Crosby sing “I’ll be Home for Christmas” as you read along—a song that was originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmastime.
The National Savings Committee in wartime Britain issued posters to encourage saving, discourage frivolous spending and promote investment in the war effort.
Similar posters were issued in the United States.
Fewer men at home meant fewer men available to dress up and play Santa Claus. Mothers dressed up as Santa for Christmas parties, and women served as substitute Santas at department stores.
Christmas trees were in short supply in Britain and America because the men who would normally cut them down were away at war. Rail and road transportation was largely used for the war effort, leaving little room for luxuries like Christmas trees.
Britain had a program through the YMCA called “Gifts to Home League” whereby those serving abroad could purchase gifts and have them delivered. The following three images show how the YMCA’s program brought Christmas cheer to the Devereaux family in Middlesex, England in 1944.
During respites from fighting, there were a few chances to sample the local beverage. Here, British troops celebrate Christmas cheer with the help of Italy’s fine wine offerings.
Singing songs and carols were rituals of Christmas at war—a way to keep memories of Christmases at home alive.
Home-made presents were popular. Dads made ships and dolls’ houses, whilst moms made sweets (candies) and knitted with spare bits of wool. Children’s gifts were often donated from other countries and charities.
To help conserve paper, wrapping of Christmas presents was prohibited, making it difficult to keep Christmas presents a surprise. But whatever children received for Christmas during World War II, it was a treat and a sight for their sore little eyes.
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