Travel through time with the DPO to what was perhaps the most poignant Christmas ever
Hear the phrase “Christmas Past,” and you might think of Charles Dickens and the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchet, and Tiny Tim (the one with a cane, not a ukulele).
Talk about an emotional Christmas!
But that story took place 168 years ago. And those were names of fictional characters, not real people.
If you want to spend what was probably the most poignant Christmas ever with real people who actually lived, you need go back in time only 70 years.
In 1941, America had a population of only 132 million people, compared to 308 million today.
AM radio was the average home’s contact with the outside world; that and the newspaper. The first American commercial TV, the DuMont 180, debuted in 1938, but few could afford one. People listened to 78-rpm shellac recordings of music, which they played on turntables; some electric, some hand-cranked.
Open the hood of the average car, and – regardless the size of the engine – you could still get a great view of the ground. There were no electronic devices, no catalytic converters. Most cars had manual transmissions; in 1940 GM developed the first automatic transmission, the Oldsmobile’s Hydra-Matic drive, followed in 1941 by Chrysler’s Fluid Drive. But few could afford them.
We all know what things cost today; in 1941 they were much, much less costly. The average price of a new car was $925. Gas cost 19 cents a gallon, a new house $6,900, bread 8 cents a loaf, milk 34 cents a gallon, first class postage stamps 3 cents.
Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it? Yes, until you consider that the stock market Dow Jones
Average was only 111, the average annual salary $2,050 (that’s $40 a week or $1 an hour), and the minimum wage per hour was 30 cents. That means an hour’s worth of work at minimum wage earned you enough to buy one gallon of gas, one loaf of bread, and one postage stamp. But not enough to buy you a gallon of milk.
Radio Holly Days
with 5 by Design
Friday 12/2 & Saturday 12/3
Schuster Center, 8pm
Click for Tickets
The US was coming out of the economic effects of over 11 years of the Great Depression, but slowly. Things had been bleak for a long, long time at home. Abroad, they had turned ugly. The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and begun what would become, on the European Continent at least, the Second World War. Diplomatic relations between the US and Japan were deteriorating, due to an oil embargo the US levied in August against Japan to make it withdraw troops it had sent into China.
There was no polyester, Dacron®, or moisture-wicking material. Orlon® was just hitting the market. Trucks (and some horse-drawn wagons) delivered milk in glass bottles to your doorstep. Doctors made house calls. Privately owned businesses were the rule; national chains were the exception. There were no big box stores. Most neighborhoods had a walk-in movie theater. There were no shopping centers, malls, theme parks. People rode buses and trolleys more than they drove their cars. There were few suburbs.
Now, in this simpler world and time the American people were preparing to celebrate Christmas. They either went out in the country and, with permission obtained from a farmer or landowner, cut down a small tree to place in their living room and decorate, or they visited a corner Christmas tree lot and bought one. Kids wrote letters to Santa Claus and listed what they wanted most for Christmas. Department stores created miniature winter wonderlands in the front windows to attract shoppers.
Christmas was coming!
But one December Sunday morning, the world awoke to learn that Japan had perpetrated a surprise attack on the Hawaiian Islands, virtually destroying the US Navy fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor and killing 2,403 Americans.
Suddenly, the ecstasy of the forthcoming Christmas seemed an agony. Peace on earth? Where? Good will toward men? Where? What kind of Christmas would it be when brothers, fathers, uncles, and sisters would be leaving, if they hadn’t already by Christmas, to go to war and perhaps never return. Never.
But these Americans were members of what Tom Brokaw has called The Greatest Generation. They believed in themselves, in one another, and in their country. And, armed with a steely resolve, they faced the future with courage and determination. And marched off to fight in Europe and the Pacific or give their sweat and productivity on the home front and make a crucial, significant contribution to the war effort.
With a song in their heart.
On Friday, December 2 and Saturday, December 3 at 8pm in the Schuster Center, you can travel back in time to Christmas, 1941, with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and the amazing musical group Five By Design as they present Radio Holly Days, a musical re-creation of a radio studio setting of the 1940s big-band era.
Radio Holly Days is a live radio drama, complete with sound effects, to the heartwarming music that made Christmas special for the boys overseas and the folks at home, with all the great music, newsy inserts, commercials, and comedic antics of radio that provided comfort and relief to a beleaguered nation. And Christmas music we all know and love: I’ll Be Home for Christmas, White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, and Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.
So, come on. Remember Pearl Harbor, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, and take a Sentimental Journey to a time when Americans had to Kiss The Boys Goodbye, Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, and throw everything they had right in Der Fuehrer’s Face. When a Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy played that G.I. Jive.
And America was Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer.