I’ll be home for Christmas ’45: Remembrances of a Post-war Holiday

Given that the holidays are drawing near, I thought I would try and find a more festive topic than bank robbing for my last post of 2016. At first I tried to see if there were any non-denominational winter celebrations in Libertyville history, and while Wine about Winter does sound fun (February 18th for anyone who is interested), it is not exactly historical. However, after talking it over with my colleges, I hit upon the perfect idea for this post: Christmas in Libertyville 1945! Even better, I was able to find some citizens of the town who remember just what that first Christmas after World War II was like. So grab a cup of hot cocoa, get comfortable in your seat next to the computer/iPad/your phone, and hear a tale of that Christmas of yore!

To truly understand what that first Christmas after the war was like, it helps to have an idea of just how much of an impact the war had had on the American home front.

For most Americans, the Second World War had begun on December 7th, 1941 when a Japanese task force attacked Pearl Harbor. Within 24 hours of the attack, the United States, which even as late as the day of the attack had a number of groups actively lobbying to keep America out of the “European war”, became an active combatant in the conflict. The next four years some 16,112,566  men and women would serve in some way in the armed forces. As Ms. Alkire of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society recalls, Christmas festivities during the war were “toned down” since people “don’t quite celebrate the same when you’re at war”.

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War ration book – Courtesy of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society

The reasons for the more subdued atmosphere were numerous. One major reason, at least for children, was that they were “worried about family in the war”. To combat this, the adults made sure to “keep [the children] distracted” by going on field trips to pick out Christmas trees for the school, singing carols, or as was the case at Central School, creating a mitten tree, where students would hang mittens (many of which they had knitted themselves) that would be sent by the Red Cross to children in Europe. Another way that the war impacted the holidays was the rationing of almost every material good, from chocolate, meat, metal, and according to Ms. Alkire, even grease. This meant that the presents under the tree on Christmas morning were fewer and often made of wood, Lincoln Logs became popular at this time, and that bicycles were a rarity, unless they were handed down by an especially generous sibling, due to the demand for metal for the war effort.

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Miss Vera Hope and her students picking out a tree for their school – Independent Register 1945

By December of 1945 however, the war, which had dragged on for four long years, was finally over. With peace at hand and a renewed sense of optimism, rationing in the United States, which would be fully lifted the following year, was already beginning to ease and with years of savings piled up, the citizens of Libertyville were itching to go out and buy all those thing they had been denied during the war. Advertisements for everything from oranges, toys, and nylon stockings filled the newspapers and storefront windows, as the people of Libertyville stood in, according to one reporter, surprisingly well behaved lines for their holiday shopping.

At the same time, those traditional holiday pastimes which had persisted even during the worst years of the war were celebrated with all the more enthusiasm. The first and most beloved was, of course, the tree-lighting ceremony in Cook Park, which that year was overseen by representatives from the Lions Club. Other activities ranged from the Libertyville Women’s Club giving presentations on Christmas folklore, including an excellent presentation by Mrs. Schmidt about “Christmas around the world in Story and Song”, to a local youth group caroling and delivering gift baskets to shut-ins. Additionally, a number of local churches put on their annual nativity pageants, including one at the United Methodist Church of Libertyville with the Methodist Youth Fellowship providing the music. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, which had debuted in 1941, was still a firm favorite, especially since many relatives who had served in the armed forces really were coming home.

However, even as the people of Libertyville celebrated, many families still had husbands, brothers, sons and daughters stationed in such far-off places as Great Britain, occupied Germany, liberated France, or more exotic locations like Hawaii, where native Libertyvillian Lt. Cmdr. William Howell, who was lucky enough to be home for the holidays, was stationed.  For those whose family members serving overseas who were not fortunate enough to be, as the song goes “be home for Christmas”, this holiday season they were in luck. In an effort to bring families together for the holidays, on December 13th, Edward Simpson, the Manager for the Illinois Bell Telephone Company, announced plans to enable soldier’s families to place long-distance calls to their loved ones serving overseas in occupied Germany.

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Good new for those serving overseas – Independent Register December 13, 1945

Some 70 years later, memories of that first Christmas after the war remain. Despite the fact that so many families were still waiting for their loved ones return from the military, in spite of the frugality of the celebrations, the fact that the war was over was enough to make that Christmas one especially worth celebrating. So with that I’ll end this post, wishing you happy holidays (or not, as the case may be) and a happy new year!


 

Alkire, Marylyn. “Interview with Marylyn Alkire.” Telephone interview by author. December 28, 2016.

Christmas Display at Church. December 1945. Libertyville Independent Register Nov 21, 1945 Thru Mar 25, 1948, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville.

Cole, Wayne. America First – The Battle Against Intervention 1940-1941. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1953.

Duddles. Prepare For Arrival of Santa Claus. December 6, 1945. Libertyville Independent Register Nov 21, 1945 Thru Mar 25, 1948, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville.

Duddles. Women Rush to Buy Nylons. December 19, 1945. Libertyville Independent Register Nov 21, 1945 Thru Mar 25, 1948, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville.
Gertrude’s Beauty Salon, Western Tire and Auto, Liberty Radio and Electric, Libertyville Home Laundry, Boehm Ins. Agency, Quality Bake Shop. Advertisement. Independent Register (Libertyville), December 20, 1945.

“Heard and Seen…in Libertyville.” Independent-Register (Libertyville), December 20, 1945. Microform.

“Libertyville Woman’s Club Told Interesting Christmas Folklore.” Independent-Register (Libertyville), December 20, 1945. Microform.

Photo of the war ration book courtesy of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society

Picking the Christmas Tree. December 1945. Libertyville Independent Register Nov 21, 1945 Thru Mar 25, 1948, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville.

United States of America. Department of Veterans Affairs. Office of Public Affairs. America’s Wars. May 2016. Accessed December 28, 2016. https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf.

Vickroy, Donna. “Remembering the Christmas of 1945.” Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2015. Accessed November 08, 2016. http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/news/ct-sta-christmas-1945-st-1224-20151221-story.html.

“Xmas Calls May Be Made from Germany.” Independent-Register (Libertyville), December 13, 1945. Microform.

 

 

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