Archive for Holidays

Shiny & Brite

DSC06162One of my most favorite traditions of Christmas is decorating two trees in my home with vintage Shiny Brite ornaments.  I jam-pack the trees full and the light they give off shines throughout the room and into the darkness outside the windows. I love the story behind the American company and how the war lent to its success.  Shiny Brite AdShiny Brite Factory III
Shiny Brite Factory

In 1937, Max Eckardt established Shiny Brite ornaments, working with the Corning Glass company to mass-produce machine-blown glass Christmas ornaments. Eckardt had been importing hand-blown glass balls from Germany since 1907, but had the foresight to anticipate a disruption in his supply from the upcoming war. Corning adapted their process for making light bulbs to making clear glass ornaments, which were then shipped to Eckardt’s factories to be decorated by hand. The fact that Shiny Brite ornaments were an American-made product was stressed as a selling point during World War II when Americans turned away from German-made products.

Dating of the ornaments is often facilitated by studying the hook. The first Shiny Brite ornaments had the traditional metal cap and loop, with the hook attached to the loop, from which the ornament was hung from the tree. DSC06153

The first wartime ornaments were made from glass, but were not silvered on the inside. That made them appear very dull, so very quickly they were decorated with a sprig of tinsel on the inside to make them sparkle. As the war effort intensified, even this practice was abandoned because every piece of metal was needed and frivolous use of metal was not patriotic. The metal caps were replaced with a cardboard tab, from which the owner would use yarn or string to hang the ornament.

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Eventually, the clear glass ball had only small stripes of paint for its decoration. Red was the favorite color during the 1940s, with silver and blue tying for second, and green coming in third.  DSC06159

They were packaged in solid brown cardboard boxes, and later enhanced with a cellophane window and featured the words “American Made”.Shiny Brite Box

Following the war, Shiny Brite introduced a line of ornaments with a newly designed metal hook that provided the user with two lengths of hanger. The long hook traveled through the center of the ornament and exited the bottom, whereit attached to the foot of the ornament. This provided the “short” hanger. Unlatched from the bottom, the entire length of the hook was available, allowing the ornament to dangle at a greater distance from the tree limb to which it was attached. This arrangement was designed to allow the ornament to fill sparse areas of a natural tree.

The increasing popularity of the aluminum artificial Christmas tree, first manufactured in 1958, made this hanger device far less attractive to the consumer, as an artificial tree had no gaps to be filled. The added expense of the lengthy hanging wire coupled with the diminishing need caused this feature to be discontinued in 1960.

During its peak, Shiny Brite had four factories in New Jersey. The company’s main office and showroom were located at 45 East 17th Street in New York City. They stopped selling in the 1960’s, and weren’t made at all by the 1970’s.Shiny Brite Name

Shiny Brite’s most popular ornaments have been reissued under the same trademark by Christopher Radko since 2001, but to me there is no comparison for the original. I don’t always have the details of Christmas stories and memories when I come across a surviving box of Shiny Brites at estate sales, but I like to imagine the trees in the homes where they hung at the time from their cardboard tops.

In a time of war, there was hope and a quiet time to hang ornaments on a tree and reflect on the meaning of the season.

(History Sources: Wikipedia, www.goldenglow.org.)

Christmas Through the War

vintage-christmas-treeSeveral years ago I stumbled upon a book by Jim Benes, titled Chicago Christmas – One Hundred Years of Christmas Memories. It’s a fantastic book recounting the Christmas events and headlines in Chicago from 1900-1999. The book gives us a look into Christmas during World War II.

 

1941: Christmas fell 18 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. People were still in shock of the attack and only beginning to realize what itmeant for the U.S. to be engaged in war with Japan and Germany. Off the west coast, Japanese submarines were shelling and torpedoing American freighters, within sight of the coast. People were in a panic to move inland and mass transit towards the safety of the Midwest was in high demand.

 

People were learning how to ‘black out’ their homes and businesses to prevent air raids. If lights on the ground could not be seen from the air, bombers may not see towns and cities as a target. Interestingly, a Police Captain from Chicago came up with the solution of how to safely keep traffic lights burning, but block them from the air. He suggested installing caps above the lights on the lights. The caps remain today, and I’ve often wondered why!

 

1942: Outdoor Christmas light displays were allowed, but they were subject to emergency blackout orders. The War Production Board asked that such lighting be eliminated entirely across the country.

 

It was a record cold Christmas. Heating oil was being rationed and fear of shortages was causing panic. Federal Price Administrator Leon Henderson allowed thirteen states to move up the start of the next rationing period by two weeks, easing some worry.

 

Newspapers all over the country ran columns and columns of the names of hometown heroes earning promotions or being injured. There was heavy fighting in Russia and American fliers were “expressing amazement at the amount of punishment their sturdy B-17s could take and keep flying”.

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Benes shared the story of one family in Blue Island, IL. A mother of eight was in the hospital and in dire straits to the point she had told her children Santa had been killed in the war. The local Kiwanis Club decided to play Santa in order to change the message.

 

The top song of the season was White Christmas by Bing Crosby, newly recorded. Another favorite song was Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition and There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere.

 

1943: Chicago’s temperature reached forty-six degrees on Christmas. It was a holiday off for many plant workers. It was a special day to not work…New Year’s Day a week later was a normal working day for the war effort.

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On board Great Lakes Station in Chicago, sixty-six thousand sailors and WAVES were stationed and enjoyed a Christmas dinner: 10,000 mince pies, 35,000 pounds of sweet potatoes, and 61,000 pounds of turkey. Of course, this meant a shortage of such on the civilian tables.

 

If you could find a turkey to buy, it would cost 50¢ a pound (equivalent of $6.68 in 2015).

 

 

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1944: A cold and snowy Christmas left slippery sidewalks and roadways. The Battle of the Bulge waged in Europe, Hitler’s last-ditch offensive. Sadly, news surfaced on Christmas Day that orchestra leader Major Glenn Miller had been missing since December 15th when his plane disappeared between England and Paris.

 

Turkey, still scarce, cost 49¢ a pound (equivalent of $6.72 in 2015), cranberry sauce was 20¢ for a sixteen-ounce can plus forty blue ration points (equivalent of $2.70 in 2015).

 

Under the tree little boys may have found metal trucks, electric football or baseball games. Little girls may have found baby dolls with their own suitcases, bottles, and changes of clothes. The dolls drank and wet (cost $1.98 then, $26.70 today’s equivalent).

 

1945: “This is the Christmas that a war-weary world has prayedfor through long and awful years,” declared President Harry Truman as he lit the national tree on Christmas Eve. “In love, which is the very essence of the message of the Price of Peace, the world would find a solution for all its ills. I do not believe there is one problem in this country – in the world – today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount,” he told a nationwide radio audience.

 

Many homes were reunited for Christmas. …but only if they could get a train home! In Los Angeles 1,900 soldiers were being held aboard their ship because staging camps were filled. Another 75,000 soldiers were nearing the coast. Forty-five thousand men were awaiting trains in San Francisco, 27,000 in Los Angeles, 17,000 in Se34890335eb8a43c4a229e7e637d0c479attle, 4,500 in Portland. An additional 110,700 were expected to arrive on the West Coast within the following week. 94% of eastbound passengers from the west coast to Chicago were military personnel. Schedules went to the wind and special train routes were called in, but there was no way to accommodate all of the soldiers returning home. Police officers were called in to stop riots, Governor Dwight Green called up five hundred Illinois reservists and more than one hundred jeeps and trucks to help shuttle servicemen out of the area.

 

Among the rail passengers who passed through Chicago in the days before Christmas was Col. Jimmy Stewart. He was on his way to Pennsylvania to spend the holiday with his mother. Stewart told reporters that after he received his air force discharge in February, he planned to start work on a new picture: It’s a Wonderful Life.

 

(Photos of the Sears Wish Book, years 1942-1943. Found on www.wishbookweb.net)

Find Jim Benes’ book here.

 

 

Thankful

wwii-rockwell-freedom-want-posterNorman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want painting is an iconic Thanksgiving scene of generations gathered around the dining table with a golden brown turkey as the focal point. The painting served an important purpose to keep Americans focused on the rewards of sacrifice that couldn’t be far off.

Thanksgiving meals during WWII had traditional elements similar to modern day dinners. The November 1943 Health For Victory Meal Planning Guide outlined a special meal for the day:

Roast Chicken with Gravy, Southern Corn Bread Dressing, Mashed Potatoes, Wartime Cranberry Sauce, Green Beans in Creamy Sauce, Enriched White Bread, Butter or Fortified Margarine, Eggless Pumpkin Pie, and Cream Cheese Topping.

Turkey has never appeared in any of the WWII magazines or cooking pamphlets I’ve collected. The way we think of a full bird turkey now – an occasional meal for special holidays – was how families viewed chicken back in the 1940’s. All of the folks I interviewed for this project mentioned that chicken was a special meal, served less than six times a year. And for the family that could not find a chicken for the table, they turned to the field for a goose, duck, pheasant…and possibly a wild turkey.

From the menu in the wartime planner, I focused in on two recipes: Wartime Cranberry Sauce and Eggless Pumpkin Pie.

Wartime Cranberry Sauce:

1 c. light corn syrup

1 c. sugar

1 3/4 c. water

4 c. cranberries

Boil corn syrup, sugar and water together 5 minutes. Wash cranberries and drain. Add cranberries to the syrup and boil – without stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool in the saucepan. Makes 1 quart of sauce.

Eggless Pumpkin Pie:

2 c. pumpkin

1 c. brown sugar

1 c. milk

2 tbsp. cornstarch

2 tbsp. all-purpose enriched flour

1 tsp. lemon extract

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Mix all ingredients together and pour into 9-inch pie shell. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 30 minutes longer.

Cream Cheese Topping:

1 pkg. cream cheese (2 oz.)

1/4 c. sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

2 tbsp. top milk

Cream cheese, ether in an electric mixer or in a bowl with a fork. Add all ingredients and beat well. Very good on gingerbread, apple or pumpkin pie.

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Merry 1943 Christmas to All!

By all accounts, Christmas celebrations during WWII were very different from the Christmas celebrations of today. Every family was affected, either personally or through close ties, to someone lost in the fighting. There were empty dinner table chairs of loved ones fighting overseas. An feeling of humility and gratitude for God filled the season. Gifts were practical and homemade in most cases. So many factories and material resources were turned over to the war effort that it made buying children’s toys difficult and somewhat lavish.

Dinner tables were also frugal to our holiday meal standards. Though my “Health for Victory Meal Planning Guide” of December 1943 suggests Roast Turkey or Chicken and Dressing with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Creamed Onions, Cranberry Sauce, Grapefruit Salad on Greens, and Refrigerator Rolls, it was not likely that a turkey could be found. First and foremost, the soldiers fighting the war were receiving their meat rations. 1.6 tons of turkey went overseas for Thanksgiving and Christmas demand wasn’t far behind in estimates. More likely, on the home front families were enjoying goose or duck. Wild game did not cost any ration points. Aside from the scarcity, turkey cost $.49 a pound at the A&P. That would be $6.69 a pound in our dollars today.

Moving on to the Cranberry Sauce. My husband loves the gel sort of cranberry sauce; probably only because of that funny “thump” sound it makes when you pull it out of the can correctly. I prefer Cranberry Relish made of cranberries, apples, oranges with the peel left on and sugar. No big deal…we’ll have both, right? Well, the big deal is that a can of Cranberry Sauce would cost us 40 blue ration points! 40 points!! Even if I could see the reason in buying it, I don’t even have 40 ration points left for the month.

It was back to America’s Test Kitchen for a Cranberry Sauce recipe. It’s sitting in the refrigerator jelling some more right now. It looks right. We will certainly find out tomorrow if it wins the husband seal of approval.

All in all, there are many things I took time to think about and appreciate more this year

"Auntie" & Frank in front of their Christmas tree.

“Auntie” & Frank in front of their Christmas tree.

under the restrictions of this WWII food project. My mom’s sugar cookies (she didn’t have rationing in place) tasted incredible this year. I’m embarrassed to admit how many I devoured in a two day span. I decorated my tree with Shiny Brite ornaments listening to Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, and it was wonderful. I made many gifts by repurposing wool sweaters and fabric. And the food for tomorrow’s meal took a lot of careful and thoughtful planning, with lots of mindful meditation to my Grandmothers’ time.

In my Grandmother’s diary from Christmas Eve 1944 she wrote that she was going to sign off and make some Seafoam Candy. I think I’ll do just that.