“Christmas in Canada as Usual”: Celebrating on the Home Front

Earlier this week, we shared an episode from the Imperial War Museum’s Voices of the First World War series that looked at the various ways Christmas was experienced during conflict. While we are often reminded of how Christmas was celebrated on the Western Front, perhaps most famously through the Christmas truce of 1914, we are less familiar with the way Christmas was experienced on the home front from 1914 to 1918. Christmas on the home front may have been more comfortable in many ways, but civilians were still feeling the impact of the war and absent loved ones left little to celebrate during the holidays.
Image: “Canadians and the Duchess of Connaught’s gift (Maple Sugar)”, Library and Archives Canada, PA-022699.
National moral was considered a priority, especially by the government, and there was a conscious effort to celebrate as usual. This effort was particularly visible in newspapers that circulated across the country. In one advertisement printed in the Toronto Daily Star for a Victrola record player, consumers were reminded: “Far from the bullet-swept battlefields of Europe- from the scenes of ruin and desolation- far from those saddened streets where an avalanche of loneliness is falling upon thousands of homes- we will celebrate Christmas!” If that wasn’t sufficient enough, underneath the advertisement in large bold lettering read “Christmas in Canada as Usual”. [1] Civilians were also encouraged to send parcels to their loved ones overseas. Packed with goods from home, parcels were expected to raise the morale of Canadians facing horrendous conditions in the trenches. From chocolates and tobacco to games and reading material, Canadians were continuously reminded to prepare and send their “Christmas Parcel to the Boys.” [2]
While sending parcels certainly helped improve morale, there was nothing more gripping than receiving letters from loved ones still at the Front. Letters sent home provided the relief and comfort to make it through the holiday season. In one letter sent home from Arthur Macfie on January 28, 1917, he expressed his sorrow in being away from home: “I have just been reading all the Christmas news… I’m glad you were all at home, and well, not a bit down-hearted… there is no place in the world I would rather have been that day than with you…” [3] In other more uplifting letters, however, there were stories of large christmas dinners surrounded by men and “all the plum pudding [they] could eat.” [4] While Christmas was a difficult time to be separated from loved ones, perhaps there was comfort in knowing they were not alone. The war may have affected how people celebrated Christmas, but it did not prevent them from celebrating, a small victory in what must have been a very dark and confusing time.
This will be our last blog post until the New Year and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our readers for an absolutely wonderful year. Thank you for following, sharing, and supporting everything the Centre does. Happy Holidays to you and yours!
[1] Toronto Daily Star (3 December 1915). Retrieved from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
[2] Toronto Daily Star (16 November 1917). Retrieved from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
[3] Macfie, J. (1990). Arthur to Jessie Jan. 28, 1917. In Letters Home. Oliver Graphics Inc: Meaford, Ontario.
[4] Macfie, J. (1990). Roy to Gladys Dec. 26, 1914. In Letters Home. Oliver Graphics Inc: Meaford, Ontario.

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