[December 25, 2020] My uncle “DJ” was a cook in the 2nd Infantry Division during World War II.1 He told me many stories of the battles; most intriguing to me was his time during the Battle of the Bulge. However, it was DJ’s wife, my aunt Mary, which I could best associate with as she told us about Christmas on the home front in central Arkansas.
Aunt Mary would sit us kids down in the living room, near the fireplace, and tell us how she and her sisters would try to make things as normal as possible for Christmas. They would write their husbands and assemble gift packages filled with candies and cookies, family photographs, and other treats to bring a Christmas spirit to their men.
Trees used to decorate were in short supply during the war due to a lack of manpower to cut and transport them to market. Our family made ornaments from tinfoil, pinecones, string, and scraps of tin and other metal they could find. During the war, Aunt Mary told me this was the first time the family had electric colored lights on their Christmas tree.
Aunt Mary was a young woman at the time, barely 18 years old, as her husband was off to war. The priority in her extended family was for the children. Toys were scarce. Those with metal or rubber parts were not available. Some manufacturers switched to wood and cardboard and the new plastics.2 “Bild-A-Sets” were gaining in popularity as it allowed the children to construct their own playsets.
She remembers the Christmas Day meals most vividly, not because the food was better or more plentiful; the opposite was true. Aunt Mary remembered them because the family drew together due to the wartime environment. People pulled together and helped each other. There was little travel, but that mattered little to her family since they all lived within a couple of miles of one another.
Judy Garland’s recording of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” hit the top of the charts in December 1944. “Songs with a theme of Christmas helped build morale at our home,” she told us. It was a time of introspection.3 Would your husband, father, or brother who had gone off to war ever return? The question haunted her and her sisters until uncle DJ returned soon after being wounded by a German sniper in the Battle of the Bulge.
During the most destructive war ever experienced before or since, the celebration of Christmas made for some memories that Aunt Mary and her family never forgot. That is why, each Christmas, she would share those memories with us.
Merry Christmas to all.
- Everyone Fills Sandbags | (theleadermaker.com)
- Debbie Schlussel gives us a series of articles on Jewish soldiers and their celebrations during WW2. “Chanukah World War II: Moving Stories of Jewish Soldiers’ Celebrations” – http://www.debbieschlussel.com/45435/chanukah-world-war-ii-some-moving-stories-of-jewish-soldiers-celebrations/