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A Look Back: Christmas 1917

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By Jolene Hawkins

As Christmas is upon us, I wonder what Christmases of the past looked forward to getting.

Two hundred years ago, in 1817, books were a great gift to give to young people, for amusement and entertainment.  Among some of the titles were Barton’s lectures on Female Education and Manners, Foster’s Essays on various subjects, Rassclas Chatechism of Nature, said to be an excellent little book. And Mrs. Chapane’s Letters on the Improvement of the Mind.

Prints, medallions, fine letter paper, visiting cards, ladies and gentlemen’s pocketbooks, wallets, penknives, cases of silver-eyed needles and we can not forget the opera glasses and snuff boxes were other popular gifts.

Of course, the familiar fruit cake, I am sure, was around then, as well as other food items.

In 1917, H D Smith Store in Springville still offered Crane Linen Lawn paper, saying it was the writing paper of the correct size, shape and shade. So letter writing was still a popular thing to do then.

The Red Cross was selling Christmas Seals with the money going toward tuberculosis and its effect during the World War 1 (going on at that time). The Red Cross did a lot during 1917; one such thing was knitting for the soldiers.  1,128 articles were sent from Springville to the Buffalo Chapter of the Red Cross, and the Springville Branch outfitted 50 soldiers.  The outfits were valued at $10 a man of $500 in all. In case you forgot the aims of the Red Cross, they were: first, to be ready to care for our soldiers and sailors on duty whenever and wherever that care may be needed; second, to shorten the war by strengthening the morale of the allied peoples and their amines and alleviating their sufferings; and third, to lay the foundations for the enduring peace by extending practical relief and sympathy.   

A box of magazines and books were gathered together and sent to Camp Dix.  We had a large number of people in Springville that helped support and knit for the Red Cross.  In Erie County, there were over 10,000, and it is interesting to see that the values and guidelines and still similar. There were over 78 branches of the Red Cross in Erie County in 1917, and in that year, 5,139 sweaters , 1,584 mufflers, 2,063 pairs of wristlets and 2,331 pairs of woolen socks were created and sent to the men and women in the service.

What were the gifts that were purchased during 1917 Christmas time? Why, Victrola records, 75 cents to $2. Of course, you needed a Victrola to play them on, and they had one for every pocketbook, from $15 to $400.

A useful gift was a pair of spectacles or eyeglasses, furniture for the house, tables, chair and couches.

And we cannot forget Simon Brothers and the coats, sweaters and clothes that could be purchased at their store on Main Street.

Furs could be purchased at H D Smith Store, as could the newest Kodak camera, to help you remember the good moments at Christmas,

Bement and Brooks had the newest model of vacuum cleaners, as well as the Socony kerosene oil heaters to heat your rooms to a pleasant temperature and would run eight hours and burn clean.

There are the mufflers and mittens and hats that could be purchased at several of the local stores, and of course, food, cakes, cookies fruits, books and games for the kids, wallets and shoes for dads and moms, as well as kitchen, pots, pans, new dishes, hairbrushes, and jeweler.

As we head into Christmas morning, I hope you will receive what you truly wanted, have more than enough food to eat, and are surrounded by family and friends.  Here is hoping that you make your Christmas a memorable one, and maybe if family is around, take out the old photo album and tell stories of past Christmases and family.  Merry Christmas!

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