Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Greatest Generation Christmas by Guest Gail Kittleson

Recalling the Christmas our family spent in Senegal, West Africa in the early ‘80’s and the way Army deployments kept my husband away for two Christmases reminds me of one of my heroines, who experienced Christmas in London in 1942-43.

Kate Isaacs, Addie’s best friend in my novel In Times Like These, spent this holiday season far away from home. Letters from Addie, who experienced a cold, lonely Iowa Christmas, too, buoyed Kate during her search for her husband, a Royal Air Force pilot.

But faith and friendship have the power to span seemingly insurmountable gaps. World War II began for most Americans just before Christmas of ’41, with the Pearl Harbor bombing. My mother-in-law, almost ninety-one, recalls the Sunday afternoon broadcast of the Japanese attack.

As a teen, she realized instantly that her brother, who’d already completed his basic training, would be called up. By 1942, many families had empty spots at their holiday table. And each Christmas, the number of deployed grew—as did the number missing in action or killed.

For Kate, bombed-out London did finally produce her husband, but soon after their brief rendezvous on Christmas, 1944, the Nazis shot his plane down for the last time. Crushed and grieving, Kate discovered that she now carried his child.

In an unselfish act of friendship, Addie digests this news and determines to help Kate somehow. Could she volunteer on a Red Cross ship crossing the mine-infested Atlantic to get to Kate?

Those who’ve read In Times Like These already know that answer, but there’s far more to Kate and Addie’s story! With Each New Dawn, releasing in February with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, tells that tale.

But for now, let’s consider Christmas in Great Britain during the war. Many children spent Christmas away from home as evacuees. By the end of the war, thousands of families had suffered a loved one’s death, either in action or in the bombing.

Many had lost their homes and lived in London’s tube stations or some other temporary housing. Christmas luxuries were nonexistent, with even basic foods scarce. But people found substitutes for normal ingredients. Homemade, practical gifts abounded, and children’s toys rose from recycled materials.

In 1941, the Ministry of Supply decreed that “... no retailer shall provide any paper for the packing or wrapping of goods excepting food stuffs or articles which the shopkeeper has agreed to deliver.”

Creating loving gifts and keeping them a surprise became an adventure in ingenuity. Packages for soldiers contained hand-knitted socks and sweaters. And back in London, faith made all the difference as citizens carried out Winston Churchill’s wishes in his 1941 Christmas address:

“This is a strange Christmas Eve. Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other. Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field. Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart. Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm. Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.”

It’s healthy to look back at Christmas in other times—we have so very much for which to be grateful.

Gail Kittleson taught college expository writing and ESL. Now she focuses on writing women’s fiction and facilitating writing workshops and women’s retreats. She and her husband enjoy family in northern Iowa, and the Arizona Ponderosa forest in winter.


  1. So true. Thanks for sharing this post. Have a Merry Christmas.

    1. It was a joy to share - thanks to you Crystal, for having me here. And thanks for stopping by, Debbie.

  2. Thank you for sharing this timely post. Knowing the Savior of the world brings the peace to hearts, no matter the circumstances of the world. In Times Like These and With Each New Dawn are going on my TBR list. Thank you for sharing the history of past Christmas during war times. God bless. Merry Christmas.

    1. I'm excited for you to get to know Addie and Kate, Marilyn. May your Christmas be peaceful and blessed.

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  4. Thank you for sharing. My Daddy was born in 1923 and was the youngest of 8 children in his farm family. His Christmases were very sparse. A new pair of socks would have an orange and banana and perhaps a few pieces of candy. My grandmother was a wonderful seamstress so there may have been a new shirt and of course there was lots of love! Daddy never complained but he always preferred Thanksgiving over Christmas. I think that memories of a farm table filled with good food were more enjoyable to remember.
    Thanks for sharing this post!

    1. You painted a picture of the positive side of those tough years. I stand in awe of people like our grandparents, who suffered through TWO world wars!

  5. Thanks, Gail. I appreciate your sentiment. I appreciate you!

  6. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing! Merry Christmas!