Christmas, WWII: The year 1941 was a time of great change for Americans. Despite the tumultuous time, Christmas still remained an important holiday to many Americans. It was a time of traditions and wartime sacrifices. So, what was Christmas like for Americans in the 1940s?
In this blog post, we will explore what gifts people gave, what traditions were practiced, and how the war affected the holiday season.
We’ll talk about how the attack on Pearl Harbor changed the face of Christmas for Americans. With men being sent off to fight in World War II, women had to step up and take on more responsibilities than ever before, including stepping into the workforce. Soldiers abroad spent the holiday season away from their families, listening to songs like I’ll Be Home for Christmas and wishing they could be with their loved ones. With so much sadness and uncertainty, women had to find a way to keep the family together and find hope in the holiday season.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941, America was shaken to its core when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This sudden attack brought America into World War II, and changed the course of history forever.
Pearl Harbor had been the headquarters for the US Pacific Fleet and home to thousands of US military personnel. The attack destroyed or damaged more than 200 US Navy vessels, killed over 2,400 Americans, and wounded more than 1,000. Following the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan and we were finally forced off the sidelines as a country.
“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”President Franklin D. Roosevelt
This tragic event pushed the American people into war and resulted in a unified rallying of support for the war effort, but it meant a heartbreaking Christmas as many families saw their children rush to enlist.
Women Step Up
When the United States entered World War II in ’41, the war effort changed the lives of American women forever. With men going off to fight overseas, women had to step up and take on many of the traditional male roles. They began working in factories, taking on jobs that had previously been reserved for men. They became welders, riveters, mechanics, and even worked in shipyards.
They put money they didn’t really have into war bonds, they turned in their metal scraps for war use and gave up silk stockings for parachutes. They did without a lot to do their part!
This newfound freedom and independence gave women a sense of confidence and purpose, yet they still longed for the return of sons, brothers, and husbands. During World War II, many women became the head of their families. While they often already managed their household, they now faced doing so while juggling a job, saving and rationing, and trying to keep the family together. American women on the home front during the Christmases of WWII rallied together and made the best of their circumstances despite hardship and loneliness.
Wartime Christmas Gifts
Some of the most popular wartime Christmas gifts included clothing, books, board games, musical instruments, and tools. Clothing was an especially desirable gift because it was a necessity during this time of rationing. War bonds for those who could afford them!
Books were also popular because they were an easy way to provide entertainment without taking up too much space or resources. Board games and musical instruments were especially great for family gatherings as they encouraged people to come together and enjoy each other’s company. Tools made excellent gifts as they could be used for many purposes and often lasted longer than other gifts.
Despite the hardship that came with being in a wartime situation, Americans still found ways to spread cheer through gifts during Christmas in 1941. Women made crafts for their friends and family when money was tight and resources were scarce.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas
In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, America saw an unprecedented number of men enlisting to join the armed forces and fight for their country. With that same enthusiasm, they also left their families behind to face a distant and uncertain future. As Christmas approached, many of them found themselves separated from their loved ones during the holiday season.
The 1943 Bing Crosby hit single, “I’ll be Home for Christmas” was released during this time of separation, and it spoke to the hearts of many people struggling with the idea of a wartime Christmas. The song resonated with both servicemen and their families, as it portrayed a kind of hope and longing for a reunion during the holiday season.
For those serving in the war, Christmas was not necessarily filled with joy and celebration. While some units did manage to create memorable experiences with gifts and rations, for many it was a time of stress and struggle. Soldiers often spent the day in trenches or on marches, enduring grueling conditions, cold weather, and combat duty. Despite the hardship, many servicemen still managed to find the courage to write letters home and wish their families a merry Christmas.
A Christmas Wish
If I can leave you with anything this holiday season, it’s a wish for peace and plenty. That we never again have a war to end all wars, that the kind of evil the Allied Powers fought back in those uncertain times never rears it’s head again. A wish that we never forget their sacrifice, or the hardships of all people, everywhere, who need comfort and safety.
I wish for your health and send love and blessings for a bright future. Merry Christmas, and Good Yule! And joyful holidays, whatever you celebrate!