Second World War: Christmas Dinner, Tinsel, and Paper Chains

Christmas dinner during the Second World War involved a lot of scrounging and ingenuity, including homemade tinsel and paper chains.

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I wasn't quite 3 years old when the Second World War began, so my wartime memories are those of a child. What I remember most about those years is Christmas. Trying to make a celebration must have been hard for our parents, but I don't recall the hardships, only the warmth and fun of family and community gatherings and celebrations. 

I do remember my mother wishing for simple things, such as tree decorations in the stores, wrapping paper and ribbon, tinsel, even tape, but since I couldn't remember or imagine such items, I didn't feel deprived in the least. Our tree was decorated with pop-corn and cranberry strings and colorful paper chains. The metal strips from coffee cans were pulled out into a shiny spiral and hung by the key. One year, even construction paper for chains couldn't be found, so my sister and I colored and cut strips of toilet paper.

The high point of the day was the family Christmas dinner, held each year at the home of one relative or another. My mother would be cooking early Christmas morning, because dinner, of course, was pot-luck. It was pot-luck that involved a whole lot of planning and many telephone calls because of shortages and food rationing. Meat was no problem, as lots of the families were farming. Everyone raised big gardens then, so home-canned vegetables were plentiful and delicious, and every family dinner featured at least a half-dozen varieties of pickles.

I wish I could remember how on earth those women contrived to make cakes and pies; somehow they did, and I think a lot of the telephone calls I remember dealt with who had enough of which scarce ingredient to provide a special treat.

The last event of the day and of the season was the gift exchange, held in time for the farmers to get home and complete farm chores at least partly in the daylight. Everyone attending had a gift from the person who had drawn his or her name. A quart jar of home-canned fruit with real sugar or some homemade jelly were welcome gifts. A carton of cigarettes for a smoker, obtained with a non-smoker's ration points, was one present sometimes given, as was a pound of coffee.

I wouldn't willingly return to those years, which were so difficult and fearful for the adults who lived through them, but I will always marvel at the hard work, resourcefulness and sacrifice of those who made my childhood a smiling, sunlit time.

Carol Wells
Havensville, Kansas


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.