One hundred years ago the world was at war, and citizens of Quincy were making adjustments to their holiday plans. The young men were in hastily constructed army training camps preparing to be sent overseas to join the war effort.
The newspapers featured a steady stream of patriotic ideas, calls to return to the real spirit of Christmas and to support the war effort, the Red Cross and the Council of National Defense. The Women’s Council of the Council of National Defense (C.N.D.) printed and sold Christmas Cards with the following message:
The Christmas gift I had in view
To send, dear friend, this year to you
Will instead be sent to our boys far away
To brighten their hearts on this Christmas day.
A membership drive designed to put a Red Cross Candle in every home in Adams County was held December 17-24. “Our own boys are going over any day now. Before long they will be on the battlefields of France and it is fitting that every nerve should be strained in order to give them all the comforts and safeguards that the Red Cross provides.”
Christmas shopping was done on a different schedule and with different factors from today. By December 6, 1917, merchants were “…making ready for the big Christmas rush which will be at hand in a very few days.” Far from becoming crazed bargain hunters as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey was consumed, shoppers needed to be urged to ‘Shop Early!’ The first week in December arrived before the Daily Whig could report that “merchants show windows assume the Christmas tone in decorations and …in several places old Kris Kringle has made his appearance.”
The weather was a key factor for Quincy area merchants. Roads one hundred years ago were not as reliable as they are today. It was recommended by the Daily Herald that “…people from the county heed the slogan and really do their Christmas shopping early. At this season the weather and consequently the roads may break up at any time and the opportunity to do this Christmas shopping comfortably and conveniently would be passed because of discomfort in reaching the city.”
Individual Christmas Fund accounts that had received weekly contributions throughout the year would be released about December 15th, and then the rush would be on in the stores. It was estimated that banks would be mailing checks to local individuals totaling more than $200,000. This made a short window in which to purchase and send off gifts to men overseas. On December 18th, the Daily Whig reported that the Post office rush had not started, although the city had hired two boys to help with the mail services.
By the 6th of December, 600,000 packages had been sent from the US to the armed forces. Although the size limit had been placed at twenty pounds, no package was refused, even those weighing near one hundred pounds. The Santa Claus Committee of the Quincy Red Cross Chapter compiled a list of all Adams County men and prepared gifts for each of them. The committee wanted the public to know that “If any soldier or sailor from Adams county does not get a gift from this committee it will not be the fault of the committee, for every effort was made to get the names of all the men in service,” according to the Daily Journal of December 11th. Two huge boxes were sent to the men at Camp Logan in Houston, Texas, and one for Camp Dodge in Iowa.
A county citizen offered to supply the municipal tree this year, and deliver it to the park, if the city would set it up and decorate it. He recommended that, “The nicest way to handle it is to cover it with colored electric bulbs and spray water over it to make icicles. I have seen such trees at other places.”
Two days before Christmas, the Daily Whig reported that sales had surpassed all expectations of Quincy merchants. Store owners credit the “soldier trade” as mothers and wives purchase useful gifts such as socks, underwear, sweaters and blankets. It was agreed that this Christmas sales would top every other year to date.
Christmas 1917 fell on a Meatless Tuesday. And although there was no shortage of vegetables or nuts in the city, it was deemed necessary to “Deny ourselves Meat for comfort of the Boys in the War Camps.” Many recipes were published which avoided wheat, fats, and red meat, commodities the government was reserving for the “Sammies,” Uncle Sam’s boys in uniform.
“Mock Roast Turkey” was a concoction made of 3 cups of toasted bread crumbs, held together with a cream sauce, cooled and then solidified with three cups each of cold boiled rice and finely ground walnut meats and three hard-cooked eggs, plus three raw eggs. Instructions said, “Shape this like the body of a turkey. Take two tablespoonfuls to form the thigh. With a skewer fasten this to the body. One tablespoonful will make the wing. When shaped, brush with raw egg and sprinkle with browned bread crumbs. Place in buttered pan and roast.” The directions end with the caution to remove it carefully to a platter when it’s done, so as not to break the turkey.
All this sacrifice on the home front was almost thwarted by the Germans. It was reported on December 22 that a combination of poor planning and a submarine attack forced one supply ship to turn back and two others to be too late to arrive in time for Christmas. It was feared that the boys would eat “monkey turkey,” i.e. canned corned beef for their dinner. But on the day before Christmas, General Pershing’s office cabled that “The submarines are foiled and every American soldier in France will receive not only his Christmas gift, but an elaborate Christmas dinner besides.”
“600,000 Christmas Gifts to Soldiers,” Quincy Daily Herald, 6 December, 1917
“A Municipal Christmas Tree,” Quincy Daily Herald, 14 December, 1917
“Christmas Cards of Council of Defense,” Quincy Daily Herald, 1 December 1917
“Christmas Checks Mailed,” Quincy Daily Journal, 12, December 1917
“Christmas Ship Foils Submarine,” Quincy Daily Herald, 24 December, 1917
“Hints for Meatless Christmas,” Quincy Daily Whig, 23 December, 1917
“Merchants Make Ready for Heavy Christmas Trade,” Quincy Daily Whig, 6 December, 1917
“No Turkey for Troops overseas On Christmas,” Quincy Daily Journal, 22 December 1917
“Old Fashioned Dinner Fits in US Food Scheme,” Quincy Daily Whig, 19 December, 1917
“Old Slogan has some Unusual Importance,” Quincy Daily Herald 6 December, 1917
“Post Office Rush Has Not Started,” Quincy Daily Whig, 18, December, 1917
“Red Cross Candle in Every Home”, Quincy Daily Herald, 5 December 1917
“Sending Christmas Boxes to Camps,” Quincy Daily Journal, 11 December 1917
“Sumptuous Yuletide Menu Unthinkable this Year,” 23 December, 1917
“The New Christmas,” Quincy Daily Whig, 1 December 1917
“War Influences big volume of Christmas Trade,” Quincy Daily Whig, 23 December, 1917