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December 20, 2018

Christmas a Century Ago

Christmas a Century Ago

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

When the Christmas holiday rolled around in 1918, it was an odd sort of time, and this was pointed out in an editorial in the Ledger on Christmas Eve.  The First World War had just ended on November 11 and, by the end of December, Germany had descended into chaos.  Much of the European population were still suffering the effects of the war – there were calls in the newspaper for charity for Belgian orphans.

While there was a great deal of happiness about the soldiers coming home, some families were still receiving messages about casualties.  On Christmas Day, the family of Roy Giplin received notice that he had been wounded. He had been in the battle of St. Mihiel in September and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which had run until the end of the war. He was finally discharged April 5, 1919. Added to the military concerns was the Influenza epidemic. Paula Dunn wrote up a synopsis of epidemic’s impact on Hamilton County in her column in the Times.

Despite all of this, people didn’t give up on the holiday.  There were some meetings of social groups, usually to prepare gifts for soldiers still overseas.  One of these groups was called “War Mothers” and consisted of women who had sons serving in the military.  There were parties at the many fraternal lodges, churches, and social clubs.   A club for young women called “Everybody’s Lonesome” put on a production of Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” which was well received.

The newspapers were full of advertising for Christmas gifts.  Interestingly, several ads suggested making this holiday a “practical” Christmas with items that were not fancy.  This may have been a holdover from wartime rationing and, like after World War II, the country may have needed to have time to retool from military manufacturing back to consumer goods.  A lot of these ads were for clothing.  News dealer John Wise put a Christmas tree in his newsstand and gave gloves to all the newsboys.

Much like today, there was a advertising push for media equipment, only instead of large-screen TVs, people were encouraged to buy phonographs.  There were lists of the records you could buy – one song to a side – which included big hits like “On The Banks of the Wabash” by Indiana’s own Paul Dresser. Columbia had a brand of phonograph known as the Grafonola.  Noblesville native George Brehm was contracted to do some of the artwork for the company which may have appeared in local advertising.

So while there were some differences in celebrating Christmas one hundred years ago, there is also much that we would recognize.  No matter the time or the place, people are simply looking to have a happy holiday.