The Christmas Eve edition of the Milford Cabinet from 1942 includes a rather arresting caricature of a disturbed-looking Joseph Goebbels staring in astonishment at the January 1st date on his calendar. The stamps and war bonds advertisement below reads: “On January 1, the Nazis and the Japs are going to find out just how we Americans really feel about the war.” Then with a plea to “do our part to help our boys,” the ad concludes: “Yes sir, Mr. Nazi and Mr. Jap, you can count on the American people to pay back that stab in the back at Pearl Harbor – with interest.”
Indeed, one finds a curious mix of patriotic fervor and Yuletide cheer in the Milford Cabinet during Christmas in the war years. Milford residents on the Homefront certainly celebrated Christmas in 1942, 1943 and 1944, but such revelry was in a context of what they saw as a struggle for survival.
Throughout those holiday seasons, news about servicemen abroad and war rationing coupons at home competed for front page real estate with typical small-town holiday news – Christmas parties, nativity plays and Santa visits. The December 23, 1943 paper told of Santa Claus “making his customary visit from the North Pole to the Milford Oval” to give out 500 boxes of candy. American Legion gifts baskets filled with chicken, fruits and vegetables were also passed out to dozens of families along with toys from Santa’s sleigh – even as war limitations allowed lights on just a single tree.
With shortages on rubber, fuel, butter and even Christmas trees, rationing was front and center. Fred E. Powers Men’s Store ran an apology in the 1943 paper when Christmas gifts ran low: “We are very sorry we had to disappoint you, but we have done the best we could under existing conditions.” In 1944, Emerson & Son said they were “proud of the assortment we have been able to accumulate under very trying circumstances” before cautioning, “If interested, better speak quickly – There won’t be enough to go around.” With rationing on paper rumored, the Milford Cabinet played Scrooge during Christmas 1942 and announced a 50-cent subscription price increase.
During the war years, Santa often took a backseat to more pious displays of Christmas cheer. In 1942, ’43 and ’44, the Cabinet ran above-the-fold Christian verses on the front page. In 1942, the stanza “There’ll Always be Christmas” contended that Christmas would remain “as long as people strive in all their righteous fury to keep Christ alive.” While the “Star of Hope” in 1943 proclaimed “God’s own immensity” and 1944’s “Spirit of Christmas” verse proclaimed that “Christ gave us more than a passing thing.” While those proclamations may not appear especially inclusive today, it was the faith of a community that held cohesive beliefs.
As always, Christmastime gave local merchants new angles to push their products. Florist Rodney C. Woodman of Nashua Street contended that “a beautiful potted plant makes an ideal Christmas gift” while on the same page, in December 1943, Bosworth’s Newsstand countered that “a magazine or newspaper subscription” made the perfect present. The Souhegan National Bank on Elm Street seemed to scold some readers with their reminder that “Christmas Club checks have already been mailed. We hope your name was on our list” (The Christmas Savings Club was a bank promotion that encouraged the use of savings accounts for “when Christmas rolls around”)
Still, not all the advertisements were pushing Yuletide cheer. The proprietors of the Latchis Theatre seemed a little unhinged in promoting the Andrews Sisters’ latest, Give Out Sisters: “It rocks! It rides! It’s a super-duper killeroo! Hep-honeys, hot tunes! Fresh fun that’s alive and jive jumpin’ with joy!” The Tremont Theatre in Nashua was perhaps a bit more on script in 1944 with Jane Frazee in Rosie the Riveter and the Disney feature Victory Thru Air Power.
By December 20, 1945, a few months after V-J Day, the front page of the Milford Cabinet told of a different town and a different world. The above-the-fold stanza this time was “Peace at Christmas!” while the regular front-page feature “Items about the Men in Service” announced that like so many Milford combatants, Sebastiano Crisafull of 27 Cottage Street and Gilbert Young of Border Street, were coming home from Saipan. And if the Cabinet was playing Scrooge again with a front-page announcement that there would be “no more mailing of free copies of the Milford Cabinet to Milford men in the armed forces,” nobody seemed to mind.