Despite the United States’ recent entry into the war, Americans embraced the generosity of the Christmas spirit with toy drives, parties and lavish dinners for the less fortunate.
On Dec. 23, the New York City police and fire departments held a toy drive at Madison Square Garden for underprivileged children, with around 327,000 toys being collected, fixed slightly if needed and distributed to the eager kids, providing them with possibly their only Christmas gift of the year. For those unable to make it to Madison Square Garden, local police stations and recreation centers gave out toys, proving that the Christmas spirit lives on even in times of trouble. President of the City Council, Newbold Morris, attended the toy drive at Madison Square Garden to wish happy holidays to the parents and children.
The next day, Christmas Eve, the New York City Defense Recreation Committee hosted an open house for servicemen, which lasted from 4 p.m to midnight. Soldiers and sailors visiting New York or stationed there during the holidays got a chance to join in on the celebrations. The committee gave out free theater tickets, along with a free dinner. Reports show that 100,000 meals were available for the servicemen.
A Christmas celebration at the Institute for Crippled and Disabled supplied 250 disabled men and women with boxes of candy. Also, under the direction of Lieutenant Bertrand P. Wray (a retired police officer), the police department handed out toys to 5,000 underprivileged children at the Riverside Plaza Hotel. Prison inmates also received a surprise when all 5,300 of them (in the Department of Corrections’ ten institutions) were presented with a full-course Christmas dinner on Dec. 25.
Signs of a festive mood could be found around the country. Boston houses were lit up with Christmas cheer – candles in the windows and sparkling lights along the houses’ exteriors. Midwest towns celebrated with programs and events at local churches, while Texas streets were lined with colored lights.
The White House, too, joined in on the celebrations. Prime Minister Winston Churchill attended Christmas dinner with President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. With President Roosevelt’s sons James, Elliot, Franklin Jr. and John fighting in the war, and his daughter Anna in Seattle with husband John Boettiger, there seemed to be plenty of room at the dinner table. Presidential confidant Harry Hopkins and his 8-year-old daughter Diana Hopkins enjoyed a roast turkey with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill.
Despite the spread of Christmas cheer, there is no denying the big difference between this Christmas and the one before – the U.S. is officially at war. While the Second World War started in 1939, the U.S. had managed to stay out of it until Japan’s surprise attack on the navy base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. The day after the attack, Congress declared war on Japan, thrusting the country into the middle of a war that it had tried to stay out of for years. Now husbands, fathers, son and brothers are out risking their lives while the ones left behind had to try to celebrate the holidays without them.
“There is no peace on earth,” said a U.S. citizen who wanted to remain anonymous.
To make matters worse, unlike the First World War, there was no ceasefire on Christmas day. On Dec. 25, 1914, the battles came to a halt to peacefully celebrate Christmas, despite being in the midst of war. The men from the opposing sides shook hands and even went as far as exchanging gifts, singing songs and playing games. While the ceasefire was a shock to all, it encompassed the Christmas spirit, something this war seems to ignore. It is ignorant to assume that there would be another cease fire during the Second World War – war is, after all, a ruthless time where people are forced to kill for what they believe is the greater good. However, fighting during such a monumental holiday seems not only brutal, but just plain sad. Instead of spending time with family, these men are putting themselves in danger to protect their country.
How many more Christmases will be like this one? There is no answer, yet this question is on everyone’s mind. It is the season of giving, and yet friends and family are being shipped overseas with no guarantee of a safe return. One cannot be blamed for not embracing Christmas to its full extent. People were unaware that last Christmas may have been the last Christmas they saw their loved ones alive. Now, however, that is all some people think about. This may be the only Christmas during the war, or it may be the first of many. Everyone must have hope. If the American people have no faith, the war is already lost.
327,000 TOYS GIVEN TO NEEDY CHILDREN. (1941, December 24). New York Times, p. 15.
Christmas: 1941. (1941, December 29). TIME, 38(26), 27.
CITY GOES ALL OUT TO SHARE YULE JOY. (1941, December 26). New York Times, p. 17.
Favorite Stars On Screen At New Orleans Playhouses. (1942, January 3). The Pittsburgh Courier, p. 23.
Prominent Women Aid Holiday Gift-Giving. (1941, December 27). The Chicago Defender, p. 16.
THIS WARTIME CHRISTMAS. (1941, December 25). New York Times, p. 24.
White House Guest To Dine on Turkey And All the Fixings. (1941, December 25). The Washington Post, p. 5.