Remembering the Christmas of 1918

While some veterans had been able to return home, most were still overseas

Another Christmas will soon be upon us.

Since Christmas is generally a time to celebrate “peace on earth, goodwill to all men”, it is interesting to reflect back 100 years to the Christmas of 1918 which was celebrated in the immediate aftermath of the First World War.

The War had been a searing experience.

Millions had lost their lives in the great conflict. Locally, 118 young men died during the War. A great many more suffered terrible injuries to their bodies and/or their minds.

Hence, the community greeted the end of the War on Nov. 11th, 1918 with as much of a sense of relief as one of rejoicing. The profound mourning over the terrible toll of the War continued, even though the fighting had come to an end.

While some veterans had been able to return home, most were still overseas.

With so many in active service, it took a long time and a lot of paperwork to arrange transport back to Canada and discharge from the military. It was not until the first few months of 1919 that the majority of veterans were finally able to make it home and to be reunited with their loved ones.

A large number were still in military hospitals overseas, waiting for their wounds to heal sufficiently that they could survive the long journey back to Canada.

Even more were hospitalized with a new scourge that broke out just as the War was drawing to a close – the deadly Spanish ʼflu epidemic.

Some of those who made it home brought the disease back with them. Consequently, by mid-October 1918, the ʼflu was rampant in Central Alberta.

Tragically, the large celebrations of the end of the War on Nov. 11th had spread the ʼflu even more.

With so many sick and dying in the community and the widespread quarantines, there was an eerie quiet in the community.

All schools, some churches and most public gathering places were closed.

One of the last things on people’s minds was the planning of Christmas socials and the start to Christmas shopping.

With the ʼflu epidemic finally abating and the lifting of almost all of the quarantines by the second week of December, people began to become active again.

On Dec. 8th, special Thanksgiving church services were held to mark the return of peace.

Merchants offered attractive sales to encourage people to buy at least a few Christmas presents. Dolls were sold for 35¢ to $1 with bisque head dolls going for 65¢ to $2.

Toy train sets were offered for $1.50.

Skates were sold for as little as $1.40 per pair with hockey sticks on sale for as low as 25¢ each. Men’s shirts were $1.50 and ties 35¢.

Women’s camisoles and silk stockings were offered at $2. For the romantic, Snell’s Jewelry offered diamond rings for as little as $14.

Overall sales remained slow.

Some merchants began to advertise that if people could not manage gifts for Christmas, they could consider New Year’s gifts as there was still a lot of stock on hand.

Many churches and groups postponed their annual children’s Christmas parties (often referred to as ‘Christmas Trees’) and other social gatherings until the New Year when it was hoped that things would be more settled.

Fortunately, while there were many significant challenges during the month, the weather remained relatively warm and dry.

There was some snow on Dec. 4th and 22nd. Temperatures were often at, or only slightly below, freezing.

Meanwhile, social welfare groups encouraged people to contribute for Christmas hampers for the families of veterans and for those who had been hard hit by the ʼflu.

Churches organized their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services in the traditional fashion.

Nevertheless, many like Knox Presbyterian commented that these services would reflect the new spirit that had been made possible by the return of peace for this Christmas season.

Despite all of the adversities that had beset the community, people still wished each other a ‘Merry Christmas’ with heartfelt wishes for a better New Year in 1919.

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