It seems to me that Christmas of 1942 was memorable for those of us still around who can remember that time. The reason that particular Christmas some three quarters of a century ago stands out is that it the first truly wartime Christmas of The War. (We old timers still refer to World War II as “The War” – and that descriptor is perfectly clear for us.) Sure, we entered WWII by Congress declaring war on Germany and Japan December 8, 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor, but that declaration didn’t affect Christmas much except to cast a dark cloud over the holiday.
By the way, that was the last time this country officially declared war. None of the numerous and extensive military combat operations since then has been authorized by a formal declaration of war by Congress.
Anyway, Christmas 1941 was a time when our nation, slowly recovering from the Great Depression, was suddenly faced with the confusion and uncertainty of changing from a peacetime to a wartime footing. We had a rather small military force that had to be greatly expanded and an economy that was not geared to wartime needs, but Christmas had not yet felt the consequences of the war.
By Christmas 1942 that had all changed. The entire country was involved in the war effort. Production of civilian automobiles had been suspended “for the duration” as had manufacturing of home appliances such as washing machines. Rationing was imposed which meant you couldn’t just walk into a shop and buy as much sugar or butter or meat as you wanted, nor could you fill up your car with gasoline whenever you liked. All these things were rationed which meant you were allowed to buy only a small amount — even if you could afford more.
War ration books and tokens were issued to each family, dictating how much gasoline, tires, sugar, meat, silk, shoes, nylons and other items any one person could buy. To administer these restrictions some 8000 rationing boards were created, and as I recall, school children were engaged to go door-to-door to ensure each household enrolled in the ration book program. To reduce the risk of inflation, in May of 1942, the US Office of Price Administration (OPA) froze prices on essentially all everyday goods, starting with sugar and coffee.
Two of the more critical non-food items were metal, particularly steel, and rubber. The Japanese had seized plantations in the Dutch East Indies that produced 90 percent of America’s raw rubber and so everyone was requested to help by contributing scrap rubber such as old tires, old rubber raincoats, garden hoses, rubber shoes, and bathing caps to be recycled. Automobile junkyards were scoured for both old tires and the metal in junked cars. Automobile owners were required to certify they owned not more than five tires to get their gasoline ration. Interestingly enough, we had plenty of gasoline; gas rationing was save the tires.
Yep, by Christmas 1942 every part of our lives was involved in some way with the war and that meant a major change in the way the holiday was celebrated. Many common items, particularly foodstuffs, were in short supply. Butter, for instance, was pretty much non-existent so we used oleomargarine. It came as a white lump that looked like lard, but the package contained a small packet of coloring which we thoroughly mixed with the margarine so it looked like butter.
Ham was unavailable and most of the output of the poultry processing plants went to supply the military, but Dad found us a live turkey that year. He took care of the killing and “dressing”, but I recall helping with the messy job of plucking the feathers after the dead bird had been immersed in a tub of hot water.
Candy was hard to find as were nuts and fresh fruit, but Dad somewhere found an orange for each of our Christmas stockings. The tree was decorated with whatever decorations we had left from 1941 supplemented by strings of popcorn that we made ourselves – and fed to the birds when the tree came down.
We didn’t complain much about the shortages, rationing, and such. We just “made do” with whatever we had because everyone – men and women, young and old – realized our country was in a struggle for its very existence and if that involved sacrifice, so be it.
We were committed to do whatever was necessary to stop those who were attempting to do away with our democracy and freedom. You know, it’s too bad we don’t have the same kind of commitment today in opposing those who want to destroy our country as we did Christmas seventy-five years ago. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.