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1918, A Sad Christmas

by Sam Moore

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The Rural New Yorker, a weekly farm paper, had this to say about the first Christmas after the end of the most horrible war up until that time.

The first thing that struck me was the total lack of holiday greetings to the readers from either the publisher or any of the advertisers. Not a single one appeared in either the Dec. 21st or 28th Rural New Yorker in 1918.

In fact, the holiday was hardly even mentioned, except for a couple of sober editorial references to how the old-time joy of Christmas was tempered by war losses and the "mighty spirit of disgust and hatred which the world feels toward the Germans and their allies."

One bright spot is a letter from a reader, titled, "The Christmas Thoughts of a Plain Farm Woman." The letter is quite long, so parts are excerpted here to show how this particular New York farm family celebrated the holiday that year.

"Not since I was a little girl have I had the feeling about Christmas which is mine this year. Ever since that wonderful Victory Day in November when America went wild with thankfulness, I have kept thinking, 'How can I show how glad and happy all this makes me?' It is not my way to make a lot of noise – either for gladness or sorrow. Uproar may be stimulating – it or something certainly was on Nov. 11, our Victory Day; but my emotions are of the inarticulate kind, and when most happy and thankful, there seems to be the least to say.

"Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is almost here. I feel that I can't do enough to express the Christmas feeling – a feeling I had felt was lost and gone forever. Before the war, we thought of Christmas mainly as meaning a lot of work – an awful expense – and some of us, I fear, found it almost a bore. We country women, of course, kept our feelings a bit more fresh than our city cousins, money in the majority of our homes not being plentiful enough to produce the stale attitude of undesire. And with far less outside interests to engross us, we entered more into the real spirit of the day, and gave and received homemade gifts with pleasure and understanding.

"In every farmhouse in the land we must keep the spirit of Christmas – remembering the Christ Child, Santa Claus, Christmas tree, stockings, bells and toys. If we can't feel like giving Christmas its due this year, we surely never will again in our lives.

"My kiddies have had their stockings hung with care in front of the fireplace for the last two weeks, and every morning they rush downstairs in their nighties to inquire if Santa Claus has come. Billy has brought down quantities of sweet smelling greens from the woodlot, and in every spare moment the children and I are weaving them into wreaths and festoons. Outside on every window we have hemlock wreaths, each with its gay bow of red calico. On the front door is a larger wreath and pine festoon, and by each side we put miniature Christmas trees on which the children place bits of bread for the birds. The house from the road looks very festive indeed. The big tree Father will set up in the parlor two days before Christmas.

"Ann declares she has seen a hundred strange bundles appearing and disappearing in the most tantalizing manner. I have explained for the fortieth time that Santa Claus is a wee, tiny fairy who has the magic power of flying up and down chimneys, leaving life-size presents below for good boys and girls. Three or four times a day the children step into the mouth of the big fireplace and peer hopefully upward. They know they have good reason for believing that Old Nick will be able to take the trip in perfect safety this year, as there is no possible chance of a naughty U-boat or bad airship intercepting him.

"As at every Christmastide, there will be homes where the season is not recognized in these ways. To such homes, this year, let us carry some of our own cheer and the comforting message of thought and good fellowship. Let the children make simple gifts for everyone and teach them to give these anonymously, thinking only of the joy of giving and nothing of the art of receiving.

"Don't forget to sing the Christmas carols, and with the boys and girls repeat the good old pieces – 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' 'God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen,' and Martin Luther's 'Little Babe Jesus.' The opportunity is ours today to make this Christmas a living memory for our little people which will never fade. There is nothing too much to do to express our heartfelt thankfulness that the last great war is over and that the world, for the first time in five long years, can repeat together on Christmas Day in the morning, that sweetest of all benedictions, 'Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.'"

Here we are, eighty-three years and many wars later, in the midst of another unpopular conflict, and with hate and discontent on every side. I for one look back on those simpler times with nostalgia and wish, as the "Plain Farm Woman" of 1918, for "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men."

Don’t forget the members of the United States Armed Forces on this homiest of holidays as they serve their country far from their loved ones.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to them and to you all!

 A 1918 poster issued by the U.S. Food Administration, Educational Division, Advertising Section, titled: "Peace. Your Gift To The Nation. A Merry Christmas."