Christmas and other holidays in the 1940’s seem not as “far distant” as other historical eras. I think this is because I’ve heard so many stories from my grandparents and great-aunt about their war time holiday celebrations.
When I originally planned the World War II era story for With Gladness, I intended to base it off a Christmas play we had done years before and the setting would’ve been Battle of the Bulge. However, there were flaws in that story plot, and I eventually decided to scrap the idea. Having experienced moments of waiting for news from family and acquaintances in the military, I decided the home front setting might be better and more familiar for writing. If the theory is true that writing is good if it makes the author cry, then “Stars In The Window” should be one of the best the collection.
Now, without further jabbering, here are a few historical background facts or highlights from the tale.
For America, war was declared in the World War II conflict just before Christmas in 1941. Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) was a national tragedy and sparked a wave of patriotism and industry to put the nation on a war platform. For the next few years, many military troops spent the holidays far from home in either the European or Pacific Theaters of the war.
If they weren’t in combat situations, U.S. troops enjoyed mail call with cards and packages from home during the Christmas season. Sometimes they would organize their own camp “decorations” and entertainments. Other times the U.S.O. shows brought popular entertainers to perform for the military members. (You can read about two of the popular songs of the era: White Christmas and I’ll Be Home For Christmas)
The U.S. homefront changed during the war. Obviously, many men weren’t home or in the local community. Additionally, there was rationing, work goals, and other homefront initiatives. Although the war was pulling the country out of the Great Depression, holiday celebrations still needed a lot of creativity and determination.
War Bonds & Rations
In the WWII era story, the family didn’t buy a traditional Christmas tree; instead, they used the money to purchase war bonds. The U.S. government sold these war bonds to finance (you guessed it!) the war. They were supposed to be paid back with some small interest in the future. There were many signs and posters from the era encouraging folks to support the war effort financially and the bonds were sold in different denominations to allow people of all incomes to contribute. Even children saved and purchased the bonds. Almost every older person I’ve interviewed about their WWII homefront experiences mentions war bonds.
Another common theme in WWII homefront reminiscences is rationing. Food, gasoline, tires, and other items were rationed. People were encouraged to “waste not, want not” and to limit their use of many items, allowing extra materials to be used for war production.
In the story, Mother mentions that she’s saved her ration coupons to get extra sugar for the Christmas cookies. The family saves gasoline (and tires) by walking to the Christmas party or riding bicycles to town.
Stars in the Windows
At book signings, I’ve had folks ask – “So what were the stars in the window?” It’s a good question. During World War II (and some families continue the tradition in the modern era), households would place a blue star on a white background in their window. Each star represented a family member serving in the armed forces. It was a way to show patriotism and remember loved ones.
Featured In The Story
Here’s an excerpt from “Stars In The Window” from With Gladness:
Downstairs, Sally couldn’t help smiling as she saw their Christmas tree in the front room. Pops had gone down to the creek, dug up a small tree, wrapped the roots in a sack and set it up in the corner. They’d decided not to buy a traditional tree and had invested that money toward war bonds instead. Last evening, they had decorated the bare branches with strung popcorn, ornaments, and sprinkled tinsel.
“Ready to go?” Pops called. “Make sure you bundle up well. And are ya’ll wearing walking shoes? It’s a full-moon tonight and just a hop, skip, and a jump over to the Parker’s, so we’ll walk and save the gasoline and tires.”
Sally slipped on her coat and wound the scarf around her head. As she headed for the door, she paused near the front window where two blue stars had been hung, representing her absent brothers. Sally’s gloved fingers brushed over the thick paper and quickly traced the stars. “I wish you were here,” she whispered, before heading into the crisp cold world.
Your Historian & Authoress,