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Christmas in World War II – The Military – Plus Giveaway!

Christmas Army cardPlease see below for a giveaway of Where Treetops Glisten, a WWII Christmas novella collection by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin, plus a vintage apron inspired by the stories!

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. This week’s post looks at Christmas for American servicemen and women, and next week’s will look at Christmas on the Home Front.

Christmas mailingChristmas during World War II found Americans on many fronts. In 1941, only a few weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, American soldiers were putting up a fighting retreat in the Philippines. 1942 found soldiers fighting on Guadalcanal and New Guinea, and in Tunisia. In 1943, US forces fought on Bougainville, New Britain, New Guinea, and in Italy. Christmas of 1944 found the Allies reeling from the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and also in France, and also engaged in northern Italy, and back in the Philippines. Throughout the war, sailors faced attacks at sea. In addition, many servicemen and women were stationed far from home even if not on the front lines.

Gifts

Nothing warmed the heart more than gifts from home. The Army and Navy post offices did their best to distribute presents quickly, but the sheer volume of mail and the great distances created difficulties. Families were advised to mail Christmas packages from September 15 to October 15, and the Navy restricted packages to under five pounds. Still, many servicemen, especially sailors at sea, received packages several months later. While many gifts were cherished and useful (such as candy, cookies, and warm socks), some were perplexing, such as neckties and cologne.

US troops eating Christmas dinner on a haystack, Italy, 25 December 1943 (US National Archives)

US troops eating Christmas dinner on a haystack, Italy, 25 December 1943 (US National Archives)

Food

The armed services went out of their way to provide special holiday meals whenever possible. Those serving on ships or on fixed bases, either at home or abroad, had elaborate meals of turkey and ham with all the fixings. Even on the front lines, kitchens tried to provide turkey dinners. However, in 1942 on Guadalcanal, the troops were happy simply to receive an orange and a warm beer.

Troops of US 3rd Division in Italy, December 1943

Troops of US 3rd Division in Italy, December 1943

Decorations

Traditional decorations were scarce, but improvisation and creativity reigned. On the hospital wards overseas, nurses snipped tin from used plasma cans to make stars to string from the tent ceilings or to decorate little trees. Ration tins and foil wrappings were used for other makeshift decorations.

Sgt. Hiram Prouty of US 175th Infantry Regiment  dressed as Santa Claus, arriving on a M3 medium tank, Perham Down, England, 5 December 1942  (US Army Signal Corps)

Sgt. Hiram Prouty of US 175th Infantry Regiment dressed as Santa Claus, arriving on a M3 medium tank, Perham Down, England, 5 December 1942
(US Army Signal Corps)

Celebrations

Many bases arranged Santa visits, concerts, and parties for the men. In addition, Americans often put together parties for local children. For example, the airmen of the 94th Bombardment Group stationed in Bury St. Edmunds threw a big party for British orphans.

Most of all, the perilous times reminded the serviceman and woman of the reason for Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, who saves us from our sins and will one day usher in a new heaven and a new earth without hate and death. Christmas services were held on all fronts, and the carols about “peace on earth, goodwill to men” were sung with special fervor.

Christmas at Camp Lee, Virginia, December 1941

Christmas at Camp Lee, Virginia, December 1941

Being separated from family and friends during the holidays made war that much more difficult for those in the military, but creativity and generosity made Christmas meaningful and memorable.

WTG apron book

To enter the giveaway for Where Treetops Glisten and the vintage apron, please leave a comment below about your favorite Christmas decoration. You’ll have two chances to enter the drawing, by leaving a comment on each blog post (Tuesday and Wednesday). Giveaway closes Sunday December 21, 2014 at 9 pm PST. The winner will be announced here on this blog Monday December 22.

33 Responses to “Christmas in World War II – The Military – Plus Giveaway!”

  1. Kelly

    My favorite Christmas song is Joy to the World!!

  2. Shirley Chapel

    These pictures of our service men during the WW11 tell as thousand words. I especially like the one where the troops stand around a tall thin tree looking at it. They have their arms around each other as they gaze at the tree and I imagine they may be singing Christmas carols.
    The tree reminds me of what we used to put up when I was a young girl. The way the tinsel trim hung on the tree , except we had lights on our tree. The big kind that they used to have back then. The service men didn’t seem to mind though , they were just so happy to have a tree.
    I would love to win a copy of Where Tree Tops Glisten and I love aprons too.
    Merry Christmas one and all
    Shirley

    • Sarah Sundin

      I love that picture too. And I well remember tinsel. My mother was a stickler for “only one strand at a time,” so my sister and I thought it was rather tedious – but it was so pretty!

  3. kristen johnson

    We have this snowman and woman that my great grandmother crocheted and then put over Styrofoam balls. They are so cute and when we got those out when I was a kid, it was Christmas time!
    Thanks

  4. Britney Adams

    Thank you so much for sharing these glimpses of Christmas during World War II. I look forward to sharing this post with my children. My favorite decorations are those that my children have made. I love seeing these special gifts year after year!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    • Sarah Sundin

      The kids’ decorations are the best! Now my kids are teens/young adults, so they HATE their old ornaments…which makes it even MORE fun to put them up. He he he.

  5. catherine

    The info on how our soldiers spent Christmas is great. My favorite decorations are always things the boys made for me. They were so happy presenting their gift it just makes me remember how my heart burst with each presentation.

  6. Rebecca C.

    That’s such a hard question! I really like these bells my mum got me for Christmas one year. They’re pretty and make me think of her.

  7. Stella

    While my husband was over seas during operation Iraq Freedom, Afghanistan, Dessert Strom, and where ever else the Air Force would send him, what seemed like ever Christmas holiday. I Would send a box with a small Christmas tree, a stocking full of gifts, baked homemade goodies, and hand written letters cards pictures from my Kindergarten class kids, to the troups my husband was with. The troops would write letters back to my class thanking them for the cards pictures and letters that was sent to brighten their Christmas. To this Christmas I wil put out somewhere among my Christmas decorations one of the little trees reminding me of those who are over seas away from family and friends on Christmas

  8. Rebekah

    My favorite decorations? Lights, gingerbread mwn and candy canes!!

  9. Doris Ready

    Thank you so much for posting about Christmas during World War 11.

    My favorite decorations are the ones my children made when they were small.

    Merry Christmas

  10. Sharon A

    My favorite decorations are those we have collected from trips we have made. I find a place to write the year we traveled somewhere on the ornament. After 20 years, we’ve collected quite a few; from Alaska to Georgia as well as Germany and Paris. As I hang each one they bring back special memories.

  11. Cynthia

    My favorite ornament is a foil milk bottle cap ornament made during
    WWII that belonged to my great aunt and uncle.

  12. Pam K.

    There are many Christmas decorations that are meaningful to me but the ones that are the most special are the ones from my children. I especially like the ones they made in school when they were young.

    • Sarah Sundin

      Don’t we all? And the extra joy of torturing the kids with the same ornaments when they’re teens 🙂

  13. Deanne Patterson

    Each year I look forward to decorating our Christmas tree. The day after Thanksgiving we get a fresh Christmas tree and decorate it. We make a Christmas tree decorating party out of it. We listen to Christmas carols and string freshly made popcorn on it. My husband and I have 12 children. Every year that I had a baby my mother in law would give us a wooden sleigh ornament. Each one has the childs name hand painted on it that was born that year. That company went out of business and she would then give me golden sleigh ornaments that were engraved with the chils name. Every year the children look forward to helping decorate the tree with their ornament. It makes for a great time of fellowship as we decorate the tree and reminisce.

    • Sarah Sundin

      What a great tradition! My in-laws always sent each child a new ornament each year too, and the kids really treasure those! But we “only” have three kids 🙂

  14. Tracy Lagrove

    my favorite decoration is a pair of tiny mittens my son decorated with beads at preschool when we lived in the arctic. They’re always the first decoration on the tree and sit right near the top!

  15. robinwillson

    My favorite decoration would have been those made from the plasma cans. But for this year my favorite decoration is “fake” red berry garlands – one decorates a grapevine wreath. They travel well in our RV while we’re on the road for our first Christmas away from home. On our way to Robertsdale AL and the gulf coast.

  16. Kathie Tietze

    I always loved decorating Christmas trees with antique ornaments and small toys, tiny bears, real candy canes, lights & icicles, of course; anything to make it look nostalgic. Everyone always said it was a “Kathie” tree which was a cool compliment to me because I did it to make it special for them.

  17. Judy Willoughby

    I love the old fashioned ornaments that were handmade. I also like anything that is an antique ornament whether it’s made of glass, ceramic or plaster. I collect ornaments and like to give them as gifts.

  18. Melissa Marsh

    Oooh. My favorite Christmas tree decoration? That’s hard. I have so many – those I made as a kid, ones I received from my grandparents and my parents, and now, those made by my daughter. But I think one of my favorite ones it’s a Christmas bell – and it’s very crudely-made. I cut out a piece of cardboard in the shape of a bell, covered it in tin foil, and then punched a hole in it to put a pipe cleaner. I probably made it when I was very young, but I still have it, and I still hang it up every year!