Willoughby: A snapshot of Christmas in 1942 | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: A snapshot of Christmas in 1942

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Volunteers in Blue Island, New York, working on Christmas Seal sales
Library of Congress photo

Life in America during the war years contrasts with other years. A look at 1942 in Aspen demonstrates the adjustments made and the focus, especially, on service members at war overseas.

The Aspen Times made and sold Christmas cards. You could buy 50 for $1.25 (around $19 in today’s dollars). It advertised them as “cards you will be proud to mail to any of your friends and to the boys in service who will be hungry for Christmas cheer.”

You would not see something like this today, but, in 1942, a series of ads, with slightly different wording, said “give a carton of cigarettes or a pound of smoking tobacco — particularly those smokers in the service.” It claimed that surveys at post exchanges showed Camel cigarettes and Prince Albert pipe tobacco were favorites.

A general pitch was made concerning the post office. It noted in 1941 that 21,900 railroad mail cars of Christmas mail, had it all be on one train, would have been 270 miles long. Then, it alerted readers that 2,500 trucks are, in non-war years, borrowed from the Army for the oversized mail demands at Christmas. As you would expect, it noted the war would create more Christmas mail headed overseas. It pleaded to “cooperate with over-worked postal employees and MAIL EARLY.”

Aspen Drug was pushing “soldier gift kits in zipper leather bags-boxed candies in gift wrapping.”

Pitkin County Bank combined a push for business with the war effort, buying war bonds. Their emotional enticement: “When you buy a War Bond — you are making those boys on the battlefields a Christmas present of more tank and guns and plane equipment — a gift that will make winning the war quicker and safer for them.”

The sale of Christmas Seals took on a slightly different urgency in 1942: “War is a more powerful ally of tuberculosis than is in an economic depression — while we can do little to combat these war-crisis hazards, we must be on the alert to find the early cases of tuberculosis and bring them to treatment, so that they may be returned as promptly as possible to their work.” The pitch had figures showing the number of tuberculosis cases was increasing more due to the war than during the Depression. They listed long hours of work, new unaccustomed tasks, lack of rest, poor nutrition, and overcrowded living conditions — all exacerbated by the war as the cause.

The Bell System telephone company advertised a request that would have reduced its income but was important: “War never takes a holiday! War won’t wait — so please, don’t make telephone calls to distant cities this Christmas. Lines already are carrying a heavy volume of war calls — don’t delay them.”

The War Production Board issued demands on towns and cities, and they willingly complied for the war effort. Mountain Utilities posted their request but with an interesting final statement. The request by the War Production Board was to not have outside Christmas displays. “There is no objection to special Christmas decorations in the home — in fact, from standpoint of morale, it is a good idea to celebrate Christmas with an attractive tree lighted with colored lights for the enjoyment of children — power is needed for war industries.” Mountain Utilities then pointed out that the request would not apply to Aspen since the system did not have war industries on its circuit.

This holiday season, with a war raging in Ukraine, it is worth thinking about the sacrifices the war generation made in their daily lives during World War II. Happy holidays to you — pray or hope for peace.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.


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