Review - Christmas 1945

November 9, 2010 — Print this Page

Joplin Independent by Jack L. Kennedy, Nov. 19, 2020

Some of the most memorable Christmas presents come in small, unadorned packages. They grow in meaning as you look more deeply into them, and draw the mind into unanticipated offshoots and byways.

This is certainly the case with Christmas 1945, a deceptively thin but meaty volume by Matthew Litt (History Publishing Company)

It is as the subtitle says, “The story of the greatest celebration in American history.” Its focus on the surface is the first Christmas after the end of World War II when nylon stockings were still scarce but the spirit of the holidays was not. Lights were on in the nation’s largest cities for the first time—in many ways: lights of hope, with the realization that troops were finally coming home from Europe and Asia, and that war plants would soon be making tin toys for Santa’s stockings again.

So why should anyone today want to read Christmas 1945, unless they have a nostalgic feeling for the time or love wars and their histories? The book offers much more than that, and focusing on one series of events rather than attempting to do another comprehensive overall view of a decade is an excellent idea.

The book is a launching point for contrasts, then and now, big city and small town. One remembers the lack of a reception the small-town boy received when he sat alone in a little cafe in southeast Kansas after returning from service in Vietnam in the 1960s without the honor of a parade. What a difference compared to the reception given in small towns and large when troops returned from World War II to a grateful nation, as told by Litt’s simple eloquence.

What a contrast also with the previous Christmas. In 1944, the Allies thought they had the war nearly won when the last days of turmoil broke out in a wooded, mountainous region of Germany. The Battle of the Bulge was to be the last major conflict of a war winding down, a Christmas conflict which would lead in a few months to the surrender of the Nazis and the Japanese. If Christmas 1944 was a frightening reminder that the war was not really over yet, Christmas 1945 was a collective prayer, a nationwide sigh of relief.

Litt, 32, the talented but unassuming author, is a New Jersey lawyer with a degree in politics. His book, purposely, is not a ponderous pretender, claiming to look into all events surrounding the war. But his finely-honed and trimmed approach is a way through the use of footnotes and documentation to find more if you wish. Read the book as a snapshot of hope in a time gone by, or as a view of how people today might learn from the past as they measure their response to returning servicemen and women...with policy questions, perhaps, but gratitude for service.

Part of the book’s charm and impact is in its human interest approach—employing every-day people in service or out, while keeping the use of military or historical documents or tales of strategy to a minimum. Another plus is in the use of newspapers of the time, small and large, to tell the tale of the returning combatants or to editorialize about the spirit of Christmas in 1945. Sources include the Lincoln Journal (NE), the Oakland Tribune (CA), the Athens Messenger (OH) and the Big Spring Herald (TX).

A big and busy Camp Crowder in Neosho, MO is mentioned, as is Independence, MO, the home of Harry Truman, who succeeded the embattled wartime president and commander-in-chief Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Truman, Litt writes, insisted upon braving a storm to fly home to Missouri from the White House for his first postwar Christmas dinner.

The fact that Litt found digging through old newspaper clippings about Christmas 1945 more interesting than his dealing as an attorney with white-collar insurance fraud has given us a highly readable, unpretentious, often personal, local and touching story that is as meaningful today as the holiday was then. There are abundant pictures of wartime figures and verbal glimpses of many more.

This is easily a book for those who cannot forget as they look back, and for those who want to learn as they peer into the future.


Printed from the History Publishing Company website, visit .

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