This is part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945.
Pfc. Irvin Schwartz had Christmas on his mind when he penned the following letter to Mae Bashore, editor and publisher of the West Schuylkill Press-Herald in November 1943. The letter shows the Schuylkill County native’s savvy with the war-time mail service to and from war-time England. He sent the letter well before Christmas in order to make it available to the editors of the Press-Herald for their Christmas Eve edition. Readers in western Schuylkill County could find this letter from Schwartz in the paper on December 24, 1943.
In the letter, the young soldier-correspondent reveals the research he had done into English Christmas traditions and how they have been entirely disrupted by the Second World War. The holiday seems to have obsessed the 19-year-old, and subsequent letters also documented the experience of an American soldier trying to celebrate his first Christmas away from home, family, and friends while in a foreign country awaiting a meeting with the Nazis in combat.
November 18, 1943
Dear Miss Bashore:
I am taking this means of wishing each member of the Press-Herald staff, from you down to the reader, a “Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Successful New Year.”
Yes, I would like to say this in letters to each and everyone of my friends back home, but over here in the E.T.O. (European Theatre of Operations), you simply don’t receive ample time to write that many letters. So, I hope my friends read this and take it as a personal greeting – a simple one, but by all means, full-spiritedly.
Let’s hope that by next year we can all be together again and even so those that we can shake hands when we do exchange these seasonal greetings.
Even though Thanksgiving Day is… approaching, we are having cold weather and snow, and it does not appear as though we should be dreaming of a white Christmas here in England. I think that’s what we’ll have, but I do know that, even though we will spend this great day in a foreign country for the first time, we can’t enjoy it as much as we would back in the dear old United States. But, as the clock clicks away that seconds of this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we will be thinking of all our loved ones back home.
Christmas is observed quite differently in England than back in the States, chiefly because ever so many of the old customs are still carried on. In regards to the ceremonies in the home itself, there is a far greater observance than we execute in the home in North America.
The Yule clog is a great log of wood, sometimes the root of a tree, brought into the house with great ceremony on Christmas Eve. It is placed in the fireplace and lighted with the brand of last year’s clog. While the log burns there is great drinking, singing, and telling of tales. Sometimes light is also furnished of Christmas candles, but in the cottages the only light is from the haze of the wood fire. This log burns all night, and if it happens to go out it is considered bad luck. This [old] custom is still practiced a great deal in many farmhouses and kitchens in the northern part of England. There are several superstitions connected with it among the peasantry. The brand remaining from the Yule clog is carefully put away to light the next year’s Christmas fire.
Maskings or mummeries were favorite in England during the holiday season in old times, but this practice is more or less something of the past…
I guess after this big holy season I’ll be able to tell you much more about an England Christmas. But… in peace time this country has a more colorful observance… How great an effect the war has on the day in this land remains to be seen, but I’m sure this Christmas will be far more impressive back home, I know it will be.
Not forgetting the meaning of the day, I am asking my friends back home that as they sit down for that big meal at approximately noon (we’ll have 5pm then), to take a slight pause and remember that this very same day is being spent in foxholes, on the firing lines, under machine gun fire, in the air, on the high seas, and in numerous other places connected with World War II.
While Christmas is being observed back in the States, outside a theatre of operations, we overseas are thinking of our former Christmases, but at the same time we have our minds on our enemy on this part of the globe and pray for better days.
When the battle’s over with the Germans we undoubtedly will move into the greater of the two big oceans, the Pacific, and lick the island of Japan from one end to the other. I may say only this, our Uncle Sam has everything which is needed to do so, time only permitting. But we cannot cease firing at this stage of the game, so we keep on fighting. You back home, BACK THE ATTACK in every way possible.
Miss Bashore, I haven’t received the “Letter from Home” in this country as yet, but I am certain I will, and a big “thank you” for the many copies I have received, and for the many copies I hope I will receive.
Again, from Great Britain, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
Pfc. Irvin Schwartz
(Pleasant Valley carrier and correspondent)