Merry Christmas!

Lighting the Los Angeles Christmas tree, 1940.

Lighting the Los Angeles Christmas tree, 1940.

Merry Christmas from!

We look back to 1940, as America celebrated its last prewar Christmas. The December 23 issue of Life Magazine proclaimed that “forgetting war and stringing holly, U.S. spends to make Christmas jolly.” The magazine reported that despite the clouds of war, American preparations for Christmas “reflected no hint of anything but peace, prosperity and goodwill.”

1940 electrified Santa on the world's second largest sign.

1940 electrified Santa on the world’s second largest sign.

But the magazine also noticed a mood that contrasted significantly with Christmases of other years. Gone were the Yules filled with the fragrance of evergreens, candles, carols, still snows, and silent skies. Instead, it was filled with streamlined, mass-produced mechanical Santas of identical image grinning and nodding in department store windows. Decorators did tricks with electricity and plastics. Comic strip characters and bathing beauties intruded on a show previously dominated by the Magi and the Virgin Mary.

It said that the new mood wasn’t hard to explain, as the nation had lived with the threat of war for fifteen months. “Only in excitement, in spending, could America forget Coventry, Birmingham, and Alolf Hitler.” And there was a lot of money to spend. With war industries gearing up, Americans were flush with cash.

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