Christmas in World War II – The US Home Front

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 post looks at Christmas on the US Home Front. See also: Christmas for American servicemen and women.

Families on the US Home Front dealt with painful separations as sons and daughters, husbands and fathers were away from home in the service. The holiday season highlighted this pain. Those left at home wanted to make Christmas festive, especially for the children.


Gift giving presented unique challenges during World War II. While wartime income was high in the USA, few products were available on the shelves. Many consumer items weren’t manufactured due to shortages of raw materials and conversions of factories for military use. Clothing wasn’t rationed in the United States, but restrictions did apply and people were encouraged to make do with less. By 1944, a severe paper shortage even reduced the supply of books.

Hardest of all were the scarcities of toys for the children. Toys with metal or rubber parts weren’t available. Manufacturers switched to wood and cardboard and to the new plastics that were coming out. Popular wartime toys included dolls, wooden jeeps and airplanes, and “Bild-A-Sets,” which allowed children to construct cardboard play-sets, often with military themes.

The US government provided a solution to the gift dilemma and encouraged the purchase of war bonds for Christmas presents.


Christmas dinners weren’t quite as elaborate as before the war. Rationing of sugar and butter meant fewer sweets. Meat, including ham, was rationed. Although turkey wasn’t rationed, the armed services worked hard to provide turkey dinners to the servicemen overseas, which meant fewer turkeys on the Home Front.


The holiday tradition of traveling to visit family and friends had to be curtailed during the war. Gasoline was rationed, and civilians were discouraged from train travel to free the rail system for movement of troops and supplies.


Outdoor Christmas lights were one of the first wartime casualties. In Antioch, California, for example, outdoor Christmas lights were turned off on December 11, 1941, and the tradition of lighting the community Christmas tree was postponed for the duration. Blackout conditions on the West Coast, dim-outs on the East Coast, and later a nationwide dim-out to conserve fuel meant Christmas might be merry—but not quite as bright.

Christmas trees were harder to obtain due to labor shortages and shipping priorities, but were still available in many communities.

V-disc with Bing Crosby recordings of “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” 1945 (public domain via Wikipedia)

V-disc with Bing Crosby recordings of “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” 1945 (public domain via Wikipedia)


Christmas in World War II left a lasting musical legacy. Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” topped the charts in December 1942 and has since sold over 50 million copies, making it one of the biggest hits of all time. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was the hit for Christmas 1943, and Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was in the Top Ten in 1944. These songs share a soft melancholy, a nostalgia for home, a wistfulness for tradition, and an optimistic hope for the future that resonated in wartime and still resonates today.

Celebrating Christmas in World War II required ingenuity and flexibility, but Americans at home and abroad set aside their troubles to commemorate Christ’s birth.

53 Responses to “Christmas in World War II – The US Home Front”

  1. Mary Linden

    Dec. 1944 was my first Xmas. My twin sister and I were a surprise. By following these stories I think of what my parents were facing with 4 little ones and 2 uncles serving. Thanks for your wonderful writing.

  2. Shirley Chapel

    I have just loved these blogs about WW11 history. The pictures of the toys available at that time. Learning about rationing during the war. I do remember hearing my fokes talk about rationing during the war.
    My Father served in WW11 in the air force and mom worked at an ammunition plant. You spoke about factories being converted for war time needs. Times were hard back then.
    I can remember a few years after the war seeing my mom and dad and another cousin who had served in the war and his wife drinking hot cups of water. I wondered why they were doing that. Why not tea or coffee. I know that coffee was rationed during the war. Maybe it was their way of remembering the hard times.
    During the war I’m wondering if people drank hot water when coffee and tea wasn’t available.
    Would love to win this book because I love history and war time stories.
    Merry Christmas

    • Sarah Sundin

      Yes, coffee was rationed for about a year during the war, and was sometimes hard to obtain after rationing was lifted. Tea wasn’t rationed in the US – it was in Britain, and you can imagine how hard that was for them! – but shortages sometimes occurred. I haven’t heard of people drinking hot water, but it makes sense!

  3. Betti

    I just love Christmas music, so picking a favorite is very difficult! I just wish we could listen to it for a much longer time

    • Sarah Sundin

      When I was little, my sister and I used to sing Christmas songs late into the evening – I believe it was on New Year’s Eve – because we “couldn’t” sing them again for a year 🙂

  4. Sue

    I have always loved “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby in both “Holiday Inn” and “White Christmas”…and at the end of his yearly Christmas specials on TV that I enjoyed watching when I was growing up.
    My mother told us stories of the hardships and rationing she and her family experienced during WWII on the home front; I have her photo albums, and there are no overweight people in any of the pictures. My dad was in Europe during WWII, and shared many ways Spam could be used to make a meal!
    Thank you, Sarah, for your devotion to writing good stories about the greatest generation; Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    • Sarah Sundin

      Yes – very few people were overweight, but malnourishment wasn’t a problem either in the US. Rationing actually produced a very healthy diet.

  5. Meagan Williford

    I’ve always loved the song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” I think it’s beautiful and sad all at the same time. It shows that we carry our homes and the people we love in our hearts, even if we aren’t able to be with them when we wish we could- like on holidays.

  6. catherine

    Three Uncles in the war and away from home during the holidays. Their favorite song was “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” We sung it every Christmas and the older folks always cried. I was little so didn’t know why they were crying. Unfortunately, now I get it. Our family has four serving now and we want them all home safe and sound for Christmas. Only one is back.

    • Sarah Sundin

      The song is definitely more meaningful knowing it was written in WWII! And it’ll always be meaningful for military families.

  7. Debora Wilder

    I loved reading this post. I’ve missed a lot of your posts and will have to take the time to go back and read them. Thank you so much for all the time you put into research for your books and then your faithfulness in sharing all that you learn with all of us.

    I have a number of Christmas songs that I absolutely love. White Christmas and Silver Bells are two of them that are right at the top of the list. I would absolutely love to be the lucky winner of this book and apron.

    • Sarah Sundin

      Thank you, Debora! I’m glad you enjoy the books.

      I love those songs too! Just this morning, while Christmas shopping, I found myself wishing it were just like “Silver Bells.” 🙂

  8. Jeslyn Jackson

    Love reading all of the memories shared here on this blog. My parents were teens during WWII and Dad was in the Army on a ship out of San Diego, headed to invade Japan, when Japan surrendered, so he spent his tour in Korea. He was proud to serve his country and those memories remained with him all of his life. In the mid-80’s he began to locate many of the men who had been with him in the 754th Tank Bn-1946 Korea and they began to meet in the middle section of our country annually for a reunion. At its height, they had 65 men and their wives attend. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2007 as have so many of the others. My favorite Christmas song is “White Christmas” because I love hearing Bing sing it in my favorite movie “Holiday Inn”.

    • Sarah Sundin

      I so appreciate your father’s service. The Korean War has been forgotten by so many, but it was a trying and dangerous time.

  9. Deanne Patterson

    Even though wwII is before my time I have always been fascinated by this time period. I am really enjoying the research that has been put into these posts. There are alot of things I already knew about this time period but I am learning alot more about the sacrifices and hardships that were endured. My favorite song is I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1957) – Frank Sinatra.

  10. anne

    What a wonderful post. A white Christmas is my favorite song.

  11. Lily Nuttall

    One of my favourite Christmas songs are “His Favourite Christmas Story” by Capital Lights. Is a beautiful song about love with a nice ending.
    My other favorite Christmas song has to be “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”. My sisters and I love dancing in the livingroom every Christmas, love embracing the festive spirit.

  12. Pam K.

    There are many Christmas hymns I enjoy but one I especially like is “What Child is This?”

  13. Sharon Miller

    Our favorite Christmas song is Mary Did You Know! Love the message that this little is God Incarnate and Mary is kissing the face of God with this infant. Remarkable thought!

  14. Rebekah

    My favorite Christmas song is White Christmas (but it has to be the Bing version!) It’s just beautiful and so much fun harmonizing to! My other favorite (I have a ton!) Is Mary did you know

  15. Jan

    Thanks for the interesting blog post and fun giveaway. I find WWII history very interesting and I’m glad more authors (both Christian and secular) are writing about that time period.
    My favorite Christmas song/carol is Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

  16. Tammy

    Hi Sarah, I would love to win the Christmas book and apron! 🙂 You mentioned White Christmas- love that one and I recently got to see a play version put on by a Christian theater group of teens- it was so professionally done with some great 40’s songs, hair, clothes and makeup! 🙂 As for my favorite Christmas songs, I love the old Christmas hymn, O Holy Night…it brings me to tears sometimes. For light-hearted feel good music, I love the whole soundtrack to a Charlie Brown Christmas.

    • Sarah Sundin

      O Holy Night and Charlie Brown – what more do we need 🙂 How ’bout if Linus sang “O Holy Night”…???

  17. Kelly

    My favorite Christmas song is Joy to the World! The WWII songs are some of my favorites as well. I love playing them on the piano!

  18. Penelope A Childers

    I’ll Be Home For Christmas. It fits the theme of WWII and other wars. These posts allow us to imagine what it would be like. You take us right there.

  19. kristen johnson

    Silver Bells and White Christmas- both a great song and a great movie!!
    Thanks so much for the post. Really enjoyed reading it.

  20. Rita A

    My favorite songs are Silver Bells and Hark The Herald Angels Sing

  21. Chris

    I’ll be home for Christmas is one of my favorites. My husband is away on a job and we are not sure if he is coming home for Christmas. I just heard (this a.m.) a story of how my friend (born in 1944 in England-Nottingham!) celebrated Christmas in post-war England. Special but sparse but they didn’t know . . . just celebrated Jesus!

  22. Stella

    I’ll be home for Christmas I can only imagine the troops lying in their bunks dreaming of being home for Christmas and loved one standing at the front window of their home, waiting and wishing for their loved serving in a war somewhere to be safe and home soon even if it isn’t on Christmas

  23. Sharon A

    White Christmas always makes me think of my home, growing up. Especially the Bing Crosby version!

    • Sarah Sundin

      Living my whole life in California, I’ve always had a green Christmas, but deep inside I long for white!

  24. Cynthia

    It’s hard to choose, but I think right now it is I’ll Be Home For Christmas .

  25. Rose Blackard

    My Dad served in ww11, so I really love reading your posts. My favorite Christmas song is Silent Night. Thank you!

  26. Judy Willoughby

    It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas by Johnny Mathis. I love this song. I also love anything by Nat King Cole, especially the Christmas Song.

  27. Emily Wilson

    “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is my favorite Christmas song. It takes a break from the chipper, jolly atmosphere of Christmastime to remind us of the simplicity and plainness of the origin of Christmas. That sounds so cheesy, I know, but I LOVE Christmas, and it’s easy for me to get caught in a whirlwind of lights, tinsle, and gifts. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” reminds me that it’s not about all of that stuff, though that stuff is part of the celebration. My mom always told my brothers and me and kids that Christmas presents were favors at Jesus’ birthday party; we get the gifts because it’s about him! We did nothing to earn them. My favorite Christmas song reminds me that God came for us in an unthinkably unremarkable way for an insanely remarkable purpose!