Christmas in the Great Depression

tacl_cards6On the Writer’s Almanac today, Garrison Keillor noted that on this day in 1939, John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath, a novel that created sweeping public outcry (both good and bad) and won Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize.  The Grapes of Wrath was the best-selling book in 1939 and is listed 10th in Modern Library’s 100 Best English Language Novels of the 20th Century.  In addition, today is also called “Black Sunday” because one of the worse dust storms of the Depression began on this day in 1935.

I realized then that Jeremy and I have never really explored Christmas during this difficult time in American history. In fact, I imagine that the poverty of time brought out the true meaning of Christmas.    After a little snooping about, I discovered there is a wealth of information about Christmas, even if the people of the time were poor. The Depression Era Christmas card (1932) in this photo features a chicken with only one feather in his tail (it was a dyed feather attached to the card).  It’s typical of the representations of Christmas at the time.

In December 2012, blogger Sam Moore posted his research into Depression Era Christmas celebrations on the website, Farm Collector, combining his parents’ personal experiences with information from farm magazines of the time period. One featured gifts a person could sew or make from scraps of fabric or soap. One magazine suggested that a single bar of white soap could be softened and cut into smaller slivers and wrapped individually. (It reminds me of hotel-sized bars of soap.)  A washcloth could be made from pieces of gauze sewed together.

Baylor University’s website features two brief audio stories about Christmas during the Great Depression.  One retired professor described his Christmas, ” ‘Why don’t we kidnap Santa Claus? He’s got all these gifts, and he bypasses us. . . So we went to bed on Christmas Eve early. . .So anyway, we climbed out the window—out in the country—with a rope that we were going to tie up Santa Claus. (laughter).”

Last fall, Katherine Lasky published Dear America: Christmas After All.  It is historical fiction about a 9-year-old who experiences Christmas during the Great Depression.  The reviews are all very positive, and the book might make a nice gift for a young reader (7 – 12), perhaps American Girl doll age.  I’ve included a link to the Scholastic website.  Even though it is a work of fiction, many of the events and places are authentic and are based on her relatives’ experiences.

I think I’ve just scratched the surface of this topic.  I’ll be back with more about Christmas in the Great Depression.

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