Christmas during the First World War

Christmas during the First World War

 As Christmas fast approaches, most of us are contemplating what gifts to buy our friends and family. During the First World War (1914–1918), many families did not have the money or resources to buy extravagant presents. Those that could spare some pennies tended to purchase British made items including toys, perfume, pens and cigars and these were considered a true luxury during a period of food shortages, price hikes and wartime thrift.

Exchanging presents at Christmas was viewed as an important act. Through all the struggles and hardships of war, Christmas time offered a flicker of happiness and a feeling of hope. Not only was this important on the home front but also on the front line where soldiers maintained military operations throughout the winter months. During 1914, at the age of seventeen, Princess Mary supported a public fundraising campaign to send gifts to the soldiers serving overseas. The Princess Mary Gift Fund box was made of brass and contained a variety of items such as tobacco, sugar candy and a Christmas card.

Princess Mary Gift Fund Box, 1914–1915 

Brass tin containing two packets of cigarettes, tobacco, a printed Christmas card and a bullet pencil case.

Many families shopping for soldiers in Britain searched for practical gifts as opposed to seasonal novelty products. Relatives purchased presents that would be useful to the soldiers such as gloves, lighters, razors, watches and wallets. The leather wallet pictured below is an example of one such item:

Leather Wallet, 1917

Brown leather wallet with fabric and buff leather lining presented as a gift by the Northampton Allied War Fund during Christmas 1917.

In 2018, objects like these and many more will be made available online for you to explore through a First World War digital archive. For more information on the Conflict & Community Project please click here.

Further reading:

Imperial War Museum: Princess Mary Gift Fund 1914 Box and Contents

10 ways Christmas was celebrated during the First World War