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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ringing in the New Year!

Hello All, 
June 6th, 2014, 70th Anniversary

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and were able to enjoy the company of loved ones and relaxation!

As we bring 2014 to a close here at the Memorial, I would like to reflect on some of the wonderful milestones we’ve experienced throughout the year. This year has been one of the busiest we’ve had since the Dedication in 2001. With the 70th Anniversary of D-Day being our primary focus, it has been quite a thrilling ride. We had over 8,000 visitors on June 6th, one of our biggest days on record!! Not only did we have gorgeous weather, we also had so many wonderful people joining us on a day we shall never forget. This year, the Memorial was also named the most popular travel attraction in Virginia and ranked 17th overall in the nation, according to Trip Advisor’s list of “Travelers’ Choice Top 25 Landmarks- United States”! The Memorial was also ranked as one of the top 100 favorite architectural structures in Virginia.
National D-Day Memorial
The Memorial has made many advances internally, as well! Most recently, we have completed the transition from the old office to the new and we could not be happier! The Foundation has grown so much that we needed more room for our collections and staff. Now, visitors will be able to visit our administrative staff and our wonderful collection of artifacts all in one building! I have said it before, but we truly appreciate all the support the Foundation receives from those who are connected with the Memorial. Without you all, the success of this year would not have been made possible. Also, the Blue Star Brick Garden is now completely full due to all those who have honored their loved ones with a commemorative brick. Now we have broken ground on the Annie J. Bronson Veterans Memorial Walk and all future brick purchases will be placed there for all visitors to admire.

I know all of us at the Memorial are looking forward to what lies ahead in the New Year! And we hope the support and love continues just the same! In fact, one event coming up soon is the GI Jive Dance! Spend Valentine's Day with your sweetheart at the Trivium Estate enjoying fine food, fun music, and fancy footwork. It is the perfect gift for your special Valentine's. Visit the Memorial website for more information!

NEW YEAR Traditions and Trivia:

There are so many ideas and traditions associated with the New Year but a common theme throughout the world is the idea that a new year will bring luck and renewal.

The first New Year’s celebration was thought to have taken place 4,000 years ago by the ancient Babylonian people. The festivities would begin on the first day of spring and go on for eleven days. The sun and moon cycles were usually the determining factor for when the first day of spring would be, thus deciding the first day of the year. It was not until Julius Caesar’s reign that January 1st marked the beginning of the New Year. For centuries, New Year’s had a heavy religious tradition, but since the twentieth century, the celebration has changed into a holiday connected with nationality, relationships, and renewal.

The ancient Greeks were the first to use a baby to signify the New Year, around 600 B.C.

Many cultures view food as a good luck symbol. Black eyed peas, ham, and cabbage are lucky food items to eat on the New Year.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and it is tradition to eat apples and honey throughout the day.

The Chinese New Year is on the second full moon after the first day of winter.

USO New Years Formal
Many people choose New Year’s resolutions revolving around something they want to change within themselves. Usually weight loss is the number one resolution, then having a better diet, stop smoking, get organized, save money; basically be a better person.

Of course, New York City is one of the top destinations in the United States for people to ring in the New Year. But did you know Sydney, Australia has the biggest celebration in the world?  80,000 fireworks are set off from the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

The first New Year’s ball drop in New York City was held in 1907 as a result of a fireworks ban. The ball weighed 700- pounds and had 25-watt bulbs adorning it. Today, the ball weighs 11,875 pounds and is covered with 2,668 Waterford crystals.
New Year's ad, 1946.
The New York Times Square ball has been dropped every year since 1907, except in 1942 and 1943 because of wartime restrictions.

It is a tradition for Italians to wear red underwear on New Year’s Day to bring good luck.

Traditionally, people like to ring the New Year with family and friends because it is good luck to be with loved ones, and your foes may bring you bad luck.

“Auld Lang Syne” means “times gone by.”

“Auld Lang Syne” is sung every year in English-speaking countries at midnight. Early versions of the song inspired Robert Bums to create the current tune. However, it was not until after his death that the song was finally published, in 1796.

I hope you all have a Happy and SAFE New Year's!

Take Care,

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Time is Here

Christmas card, 1944.

The day has finally come, the day we cherish so dear, the day we come together and celebrate the many reasons for the season, Christmas. It is a beautiful day for celebrating the traditions we hold close to our hearts. Christmas has taken on many forms since it was first celebrated two millennia ago; in fact, there are at least five distinct changes over these many, many years.

Puritan official notice banning Christmas celebrations

Winter feasts originated in pagan societies in which the ancient peoples needed to spur life and hope in the deep, dark winter months of Europe. Their yuletide feasts sparked the renewal of spring and the hope for a year of plenty. Then, the biggest change of all came with the birth of Christ and the new Christian faith. While the date of Jesus’ birth is unknown; logically, we can all assume it would have most likely been in the spring, but the Papacy declared the 25th of December as the official day; most likely continuing the feasts and festivals of pagan customs.  Boisterous celebrations continued to be held for centuries. But, not so ironically, the Puritans in Boston felt joyous celebrations diminished the meaning of Christmas and actually banned all merry celebrations of any kind, which put a damper on the rest of the country. (Maybe, that’s part of the reason England all but kicked them out of the country? Just a thought.) That only lasted a short time, thank goodness, and by the 19th century, Christmas went through another major reinvention.

Eastman Johnson's Christmas Time: the Blodgett Family, 1864.

Americans changed the Christmas holiday into a family occasion of nostalgia and joy. With so many cultures melding into one, it is no wonder America would be the place to change the holiday forever. During this time, the classic novel A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, became one of the most popular holiday novels to date. The message of charity and good will towards men could not have come at a better time for the Americans and English. For the next one hundred years, following the novel, Americans looked to the new cultures melding into one for Christmas traditions and formed the perfect family holiday.  The most recent changes in traditions we celebrate today are actually a result of World War II. We all know it was the greatest generation, but many may not realize how they have literally helped shape the America we see today. These traditions are just another reason to appreciate and thank the men and women of the 1940s. We are forever in their debt.

Family singing carols in front of the tree, 1945.
If you have read the Christmas Tree blog from a few weeks ago, you will recall that even our modern Christmas tree traditions were changed by World War II. Since the war effort needed as much wood production as possible, our beloved, fresh Christmas trees were exchanged for artificial trees in order to ration. Now, it is just as common for a household to hang on to an artificial tree for years instead of purchasing a fresh tree year after year. Also, our ornament product changed to what we know and love today. Before the war, some of the most valuable decorations came from Germany and Japan. Gorgeous, glass ornaments adorned the freshest trees, but with the declaration of war against both countries, Americans wanted to turn elsewhere for their decorations. Corning Glass Company, in New York, came to the rescue with their own production of glass ornaments. Homemade gifts also became extremely popular. School children were encouraged to make handmade ornaments in the classroom and at home. Templates and designs were manufactured once popularity grew. Today, some of our favorite ornaments are the ones made during our childhood or made by our own children.

Soldier sharing his Christmas package with the children in a European town.
Having our Christmas shopping done early also became the norm in the 1940s. The need to ship packages overseas with enough time to reach the soldiers by Christmas became the priority for many families. We do not generally think about such things, but families had to send Christmas packages in October if they wanted their loved one to receive it by Christmas in the Pacific. Today, we cannot imagine not shopping early because there never seems to be enough time right before the holidays!

Also, did you know that many of our favorite holiday tunes were written during the war? I don’t know about you, but my holiday season does not start until the songs “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” have been played in the house. “Let It Snow,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and of course, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” are a few of the other songs written during the 1940s. All the songs relate back to the war and the feelings of pain and longing everyone felt for their loved ones. These holiday classics have held true for the past 70 plus years and they have been relevant through every conflict America has been part of since World War II. They will never leave our hearts.
Coca-Cola Christmas add, December, 1943.

As if there aren’t already so many wonderful changes, even the look of Santa Claus changed during the war! Some may recall, before the war, Santa had a very traditional European look about him. Obviously, that had to change for the war effort, so Santa received an American makeover that has stuck through time.
Even our traditional holiday menu changed because of the war. Rationing and availability created a revised menu for many Americans and soldiers abroad. Of course, people still had their turkey and trimmings as best they could manage, but food items that were not on the rationed lists became prevalent in everyday homes, like oysters and lobster. When the soldiers came home, their families kept the new additions and now they are part of our traditions today.

Interesting Yuletide Facts:

During the Middle Ages, Christmas merriment was quite rowdy and could be compared to the Mardi Gras parties of today.

Medieval painting depicting Christmas celebration
Christmas was outlawed in Boston, Massachusetts from 1659-1681. The fine was five shillings.

It was not until June 26, 1870 that Christmas became a federally recognized holiday in the United States.

Captain John Smith consumed the first American made cup of eggnog in 1607, Jamestown.

Joel R. Poinsett brought the bright red and green plant, named after himself, to America from Mexico, in 1828.

The legend of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was created in 1939 as a ploy to attract customers into the Montgomery Ward department store. It worked.

In 1941, a 5 foot Christmas tree was only .75 cents.

During World War II, the shortage of men resulted in a shortage of dressed up Santa’s. Women donned the costumes in their absence so thousands of children could still experience the magic of Christmas.

The term Xmas has actually been used for over a thousand years. The "X" is the Greek symbol for "Chi", which is the first letter for the Greek spelling of Christos, or Christ.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Take care,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Love Letters: Missing Home

Holiday V-Mail, December, 1944.

Hello all, 

Christmas is just two days away! Are you as excited as I am? Maybe you are, or maybe no, not this year?  I know the holidays can be a joyous time for some and dreadful for others, depending on what life has dealt you at the time. Many individuals are lucky enough to spend the holidays with their loved ones, while others are missing those nearest to their hearts for whatever reason. I do not know if you feel the same, but I feel very fortunate to live in the age of technology where even distance can be conquered if we have the means, and will, to do so. We can be thousands of miles away from our family and still be able to see their faces through the internet. Of course, even that could never replace physically being in their presence, but it beats the alternative. During World War II, the only way families could stay in contact with loved ones overseas was through letters. It must have been torture not knowing where they were exactly, not knowing if they were safe or if they would be okay by the time the letter was received.

I would like to share a few holiday letters written by a Bedford Boy to his lovely wife, Sergeant John B. Schenk to Ivylyn Jordan Schenk.

“12-9-42, My Darling Lynn, Oh yes you guessed it. I am just a little homesick. Just think what fun I am missing by being over here. When you get this letter it probably will be Xmas so here is hoping you have a most pleasant one. Two of the boys were just in my room and brought a fruit cake with them. We were discussing what we were going to do when we get home and we all said the first thing would be to go on a honeymoon. Of course I had to tell them about ours and they agreed it was much better than traveling…”

“December 16, 1942, 7:30P.M., My Darling Lynn, Here it is nine days till Xmas and I haven’t got a bit of Xmas spirit… I am invited to have Xmas dinner with the same people I had dinner with last nite. We did have a real nice time. Each person had a foot of silver on each side of his plate. When I finished the meal I had used every piece so I think I did a good job of it...”

John Schenk and his wife, Ivylyn.
“December 24, 1942, England, My Darling Lynn, Here tis Xmas Eve and I am 4000 miles away from you but my heart and soul are with you. My love for you is increasing each day. Every night and many times during the day I am praying for your happiness. Also I pray for a quick end to this foolish war and by the looks of things my prayers are being answered. When I say foolish I mean foolish. Tell me what can one gain by war. Of course it is different with us. Our freedom was endangered and we are fighting to keep it. I guess I am first a lover of peace is the reason I think all disagreements could be settled without the loss of lives. It takes civilized people to see it that way I guess. I was in town this A.M. and the British just like the Americans believe in Xmas. Everyone greets you with a smile and wishes you a merry Xmas. People like that couldn’t believe in war. On every smiling face you could see that God was there. These people believe in him just as we do. Even the war worn German prisoner has a smile for us. It may be that he is getting more to eat than usual but I think down deep in his heart he is much like you and I. He is forced into battle by Hitler’s threats. For him it is either fight or starve. Anyway darling we, the allies are going to win this war. It is you we are fighting for not ourselves. Our lives are not worth the value of a Confederate bill and you know from history that isn’t worth much.”
“… Judging from this letter you would think I was home sick but really I am not. Well not very much any way. I would give an arm just to see you and hold you close and tell you how much I love you. Darling you are all I have so take good care of yourself. God will bring me back to soon. Good nite and a Merry Christmas. All My Love, John.”

John was killed in action on June 6, 1944. As you may have guessed, these letters were the last holiday exchange these two would ever have together. In fact, the only Christmas we know they spent together was in 1941, before they were married.

Letters such as John’s show us how similar human beings really are, even when we come from such different times and places. I think anyone missing a loved one over the holidays can feel a connection with John and Ivylyn through their letters. John’s sentiments make me thankful for what I have and hold dear. I hope they do the same for you.
Christmas Card delivered to GIs, WWII.
Take care,