Christmas During the Great Depression


My parents were married in October of 1931 and while I don't know how they spent that first Christmas, I'm pretty sure that by the time Christmas of 1932 rolled around they were living in the farmhouse, owned by my grandfather, where I grew up. The Townsends (Dad's sister, her husband and their little girl) also lived there. At that time, Mom and Dad were probably rejoicing in the news that their first child (me) was expected the following summer. Of course by then they had most likely both lost their jobs at the Freedom Oil Works in Freedom, Pennsylvania due to the Great Depression, and any rejoicing may have been tempered somewhat by feelings of apprehension about what the future would bring.

My family wasn't the only one facing hard times that December of 1932 – many, many others were in the same boat. Although Dad undoubtedly couldn't afford the 50-cent yearly subscription price of Successful Farming magazine, I have a copy of that month's issue that gives us a glimpse of what conditions were like for America's farm families that Christmas.

The editor wrote: "For many thousands of people this is going to be a different Christmas. It is fellowship, love, understanding, sympathy that is most needed this year. All the tinsels and lights, all the extravagant show, cannot take the place of the real spirit of Christmas. This should be predominately a children's Christmas. And that need not be done extravagantly (as) the greatest happiness comes from the simple things of life."

Under "Tips You Can Use Today," was the information from the Iowa Engineering Experiment Station that 39 bushels of ear corn had the same heating value as one ton of Iowa coal. As coal was selling for $12 per ton, and corn for about 13 cents per bushel, it made sense for farmers to burn their corn instead of buying fuel.

There was an article describing how to make inexpensive stuffed toys, such as the "Little Clown", the "Gingham Dog," and "Hattie, the red-checked elephant." Another recommended making spicy fruit cakes or plum puddings and packing them " colorful foil or glossy cellophane with perhaps a modernistic box or two, tied with the gayest of ribbons." Another inexpensive gift could be "A washcloth that is lovely and soft for use on a baby or an invalid (and that) may be made of several thicknesses of gauze stitched together on the machine. Colored thread may be used to add a decorative touch."

An inexpensive gift suggestion came from the "Our Girls" column aimed at young ladies. "Purchase a bar of white soap of good quality (and) place it in a warming closet until it becomes easy to cut. With a sharp knife cut it into small soap bars, possibly 2 inches long, 1 1/4 inches wide, and about 1/2 inch thick. The beauty of these bars comes with the wrapping. Cut your decorative paper to size, fold it around the soap and glue the flaps in place."


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