Christmas on the Home Front

In this week’s blog post I will be looking at what Christmas was like in Britain or the ‘Home front’ during the Second World War. From September 1939 to the May of 1945 the world was engulfed in a second global conflict that started with the expansion of Nazi Germany in Europe. The British public would therefore have to face five Christmases before the war had ended. Whilst soldiers were being deployed in Europe, one of the greatest threats that Britain faced was from the skies. The Blitz changed Christmas as it brought the conflict to the doorstep of the people of Britain and affected all ways of life. However, whilst many other festivals and events were cancelled such as Guy Fawkes Night and the Summer Holidays, Christmas remained present for everyone to celebrate.

During the War there were many changes that people would have to adapt to celebrate Christmas. Firstly there was food rationing that came into effect from late 1939/early 1940 that took away the food traditionally associated with Christmas. In 1940 bacon and butter began to be rationed, though it wouldn’t be until the Christmas of 1941/42 that turkey and many luxuries such as chocolate were in short supply or there was none available. During 1943 ‘The Ministry of Food estimated that only one family in ten would get turkey or goose for their Christmas dinner that year. A lot of Christmas food was ‘mock’ (ie fake). Christmas recipes included mock ‘goose’, ‘turkey’ (made from lamb), ‘cream’ and ‘marzipan’.’ [1] Christmas gifts were also in short supply during the war years and many presents were handmade as gifts from shops were too expensive. Knitted slippers and other handmade objects were the exchanged as well as seeds and other practical presents. Comparing this with today’s food supplies and the amounts of gifts in which we buy, it clearly shows that many of the ideas created during the war such a making do with what we had, has been forgotten through the decades.

Families also faced a difficult Christmas once the war had started since in most cases they would be separated from one another.  Men would be fighting in Europe or wherever they would be needed and would be away from their families for many months. Women might also be with the army or continuing with the war work. Children would be absent since they would have been evacuated away from the cities and into the countryside, away from their families and into the care of foster families.  Despite this families would still try to send gifts to one another whether overseas or across the country.

Whilst the people of Britain were changed by the harshness of war, Christmas was still a time of celebration and the festivities continued in most conditions. In contrast with modern ideas of Christmas, the people of war-time Britain would have had a much more difficult time celebrating Christmas than people do today. We therefore need to take care not to complain about the problems that we faced concerning what to give friends and family, when 60-70 years they had to worry whether they or their families would still be alive the next day. To end on a more positive note, the British people during the war years made do with what they had available and proved that even in war-time, Christmas could be celebrated in some way or another. It is also worth mentioning that the Christmas Speech, which is presented by the monarch, was established at the beginning of the war and goes on today.

Finally Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwtwo/christmas_underfire_01.shtml

Sources:

http://www.iwm.org.uk

http://www.bbc.co.uk

 

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