Imagine Christmas time in 1945,Six years of war brought many changes to familiar festive rituals. Christmas celebrations often had to be scaled down or adjusted as restrictions and shortages took hold.
For many families, the most difficult part of a wartime Christmas would be spending the festive season apart from loved ones. Many men were in the armed forces or were prisoners of war. Women might also be away in the services or carrying out war work. Many children spent Christmas away from home as evacuees. By the end of the war, many families might have suffered the death of a family member either in action or from enemy bombing raids.
Luxuries of the Christmas season were especially hard to come by – even basic foods were scarce. People had to find substitutes for key festive ingredients. Gifts were often homemade and practical, children’s toys often made from recycled materials. Cards were smaller and printed on flimsy paper.
In 1941, to conserve paper, 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’ – this lack of wrapping paper made it difficult to keep Christmas presents a surprise.
As in peacetime, a prominent feature of Christmas during the war was the singing of songs and carols, pantomimes and plays. The BBC also put on a special Christmas Day radio programme. From 1939 onwards this included a Christmas speech by the King, so popular with listeners that it became an annual ritual.