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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wartime Christmas Ornaments: A Bright Idea

Christmas is in full swing in our household.  I have officially decorated my home for Christmas, most of the gifts have been purchased and wrapped, and the baking frenzy has begun.  So, in keeping with the holiday spirit, I’ve been reading about Christmas during wartime.  I was particularly interested in learning how Christmas d├ęcor changed due to shortages and rationing. 

The saga of Christmas ornaments was especially intriguing. 

I learned that many glass ornaments hanging on American Christmas trees before the outbreak of WWII were handmade by glass blowers in Germany.  (I’m sure you can see where this might be headed…)  After we entered the war in December 1941, the import of German ornaments came to a halt.  Also, many Americans dumped their German-made ornaments as an act of patriotism.  However, thanks to some ingenious American retailers (mainly Woolworth’s and Corning), who introduced the glass Christmas ball, Americans’ Christmas trees were not left bare during the war years.  In addition to the new-fangled ornaments, many Americans made their own ornaments as well.  This was quite the challenge in the midst of homefront shortages, rationing, and patriotic recycling, and, as you might imagine, resources were even scarcer in war-torn Europe. 

I came across an endearing article discussing European holiday shortages in a story about kind-hearted GI’s stationed in England in December 1945.  At that time, post-war England (and post-war everywhere for that matter) was still in the midst of great deprivation.  This particular group of servicemen was determined to throw a decent Christmas party for the children in the town where they were stationed.  However, they had trouble finding ornaments, so the men found old light bulbs, painted them, and hung them on their makeshift Christmas tree for decoration.(Posten, 2009)     

I decided to make my own light-bulb ornaments since I happened to have not one, but two burned out bulbs in my house.  The process was simple as it only required the light bulbs, paint, and a few scraps of yarn to hang the ornament. 

Here they are!

The green one didn't turn quite 
like I had envisioned, 
but you get the idea.
The red one turned out much better.  
I added some glitter for a little extra glitz. 

Here they are together.  How festive!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

- Megan

P.S. You can read more about the GI Christmas party in Ashton-in-Makerfield, England by clicking on the link below.

Posten, B. (2009). Yankee ingenuity throws a party in wartime England. Reading Eagle, Reading: PA. Accessed from

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spry Gingerbread

Since this is my first post in December, I thought it would be appropriate to feature a Christmas-themed ration recipe.  I returned to the Spry cookbook and found a suitable recipe for gingerbread.  In keeping with the spirit of rationing, the recipe called for only a half cup of sugar and relied on molasses as the primary sweetening agent.  (Molasses, along with corn syrup and honey, were often used as substitutes for preciously rationed sugar.)

A ration book with stamps
This reminds me, I haven't given y'all a proper lesson on World War II rationing!  In a nutshell, rationing was a system implemented by the government.  It existed to give all Americans equal access to goods that were in short supply due to the war by limiting the number of certain items people could buy.  Items like food, gasoline, shoes, and clothing were rationed in the U.S. during the war since these things were now needed to feed, dress, and equip our servicemen and women.  Meat, sugar, butter, and canned goods were some of the most heavily rationed food goods, and substitutes for them suddenly became much more popular - think molasses, honey, SPAM, oleo margarine...  Cooks also began adapting their recipes to accommodate rationing limitations - hence, the gingerbread recipe found here.

Back to the recipe. Honestly, as I followed the recipe, I had no idea what to expect of either the taste or form of this supposed future gingerbread.  (I typically think of gingerbread as a cookie shaped like a cute little person, not something you get out of a baking dish.)  If you look at the pictures below, the gingerbread came out with a shape and texture similar to a brownie.  But don't be deceived.  Sadly, no chocolate was harmed in this experiment.  

Although the process was surprising, the results were delicious!
The finished, plated project - lightly dusted with powdered sugar.
My husband, the reluctant guinea pig, takes a tentative first bite...
It's a success!


Recipe taken from: What Shall I Cook Today: 124 thrifty, healthful tested recipes.  Lever Brothers Company, Cambridge: Mass. p. 46.