Christmas a century ago, as we’ll see, featured many of the same holiday comic strip themes as today, but, as Gustavo Bronstrup’s Christmas cartoon suggests, there was a different tone in a nation barely six weeks out of the Great War.
As E. A. Bushnell reminded readers, the end of the war was not the end of separation for military families.
(My grandfather spent Christmas, 1918, in Europe, but not quite in this pose, since he described his time as “playing red dog on the beach” and, at some point, he went into Paris and bought my grandmother a diamond engagement ring. Still, I’m sure he’d have rather been home for the holidays.)
Bushnell also penned this impressive, if considerably more fanciful, Christmas wish.
President Wilson sent his greetings from the peace talks, two weeks before he would unveil his Fourteen Points.
However, the Allies were not in a Fourteen Points sort of mood, and, as Magnus Kettner depicts it, were expecting Germany to pay the cost of its recent adventure.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Rhine, as Clare Briggs suggests, the Germans were placing the blame on Kaiser Wilhelm, which isn’t surprising in the wake of defeat.
Fans of the “What if?” school of historical speculation might want to play with the notion of “What if the world had listened to Wilson?” which would not only have meant foregoing the harsh, humiliating demands for reparations but might have meant a less fraught resolution of the Ottoman Empire’s Middle Eastern withdrawal than eventually came about.
As it is, the combination of letting Germany up off the floor on a cry of “Uncle” instead of unconditional surrender, together with the results of those demands for reparations, may explain why, the next time around, the Allies were less open to Japan’s vague offers of armistice, as well as helping to understand General Marshall’s program to rebuild, rather than punish, the defeated people.
Americans were, let’s be clear, not without mercy at the war’s end. This illustration graced many newspapers on Christmas morning, a call to contribute to famine relief and likely the origin of the time-worn mother’s demand for clean plates, “because people are starving in Europe.”
And they truly were; this essay (which I hope is legible on your screen) was a heartfelt first-person account of what was happening overseas.
Merry Christmas indeed. Kind of him to recommend we read it only after we’ve filled our bellies.
Still, the show must go on, and Briggs, in a “Good Old Days” themed cartoon, hearkened back to the days when churches had Christmas trees full of presents for children, some of whom (he contended) were recent and temporary converts.
While the Gumps enjoyed a holiday visit from their rich uncle.
And Mutt and Jeff ignored the holiday in favor of celebrating the victory, though, in fairness to Fisher, the strip is undated and Mutt & Jeffs often appeared on nearby dates rather than as specified.
Ditto with Everett True, a popular comic that often appeared somewhat randomly within the week designated, so that, going through the files for a particular date, you’ll find different strips in different papers.
But here are some that clung to the holiday. Polly and Her Pals, is, of course, a classic, but Doings of the Duffs and Petey Dink had good distribution, too. (Looks like Petey is broken in half for possible use stacked rather than wide.)
I’d never seen “Over Here” before and couldn’t find information about it, which makes me wonder if it was a home-front strip named as a play on George M. Cohan’s “Over There.” Also makes me wonder at G.S. Young doing a Christmas strip based on the readers knowing a large cast of characters. A bit of hubris, or perhaps I’m wrong about its obscurity.
Still, the emphasis a century ago was on Peace on Earth at a time it was particularly valued.
The Muncie Morning Star turned its entire front page over to the concept, and a quick historical note here: Reading the newspapers in the wake of the Great War indicates that nurses were far from neglected or forgotten, and that the GI’s who formed the American Legion after the war were adamant that they wanted a memorial to the women who had cared for them and their wounded comrades.
What’s worse, I suppose, is that it was only one of the hopes they brought home that didn’t come to pass.
But we can’t go out on a note like that, can we?
Add this tune to your Yuletide playlist, in honor of the boys who, a century ago, were only home for Christmas in their dreams: