A Soldier’s Christmas

The Cornhusker, yearbook of the University of Nebraska, in 1918 was dedicated to “Nebraskans-Students, Alumni, Faculty-here and over there” who were serving in World War I. Included was a series of letters, reports, sketches, and pictures of servicemen associated with the school. A December 26, 1917, letter home from Lt. Norman B. Curtice, stationed in France, described his Christmas observances there:

“Merry Christmas! And may this be the last time I have to write it and am not able to shout it right in your face! Be that as it may, it has been absolutely pleasant and wonderful and I can only say I have enjoyed the day thoroly. Listen, here is how I spent the Xmas of 1917:

“I arose at the swell hour of 10 A. M., and altho my sock wasn’t hung by the fireplace (’cause there isn’t any), and was lying in a wad on the floor without ‘Santy’s’ prosperity and only full of holes, I shaved and had a bowl of hot coffee preparatory to dinner, and here is what we poor American soldiers had for Xmas dinner:

“S’awfil! A. Hors d’ouvre (fish sausage, etc.) B. Turkey and peas (lots of it). C. Salad (real lettuce). D. Cheese, confiture, fruit cake, candy, petit gatean, nuts, fruit, red and white wine, champagne and coffee. Cigars and cigarettes and much talk about what we would be having at home.

“By all the rights of normal men we should have ended the day by going immediately to bed, but not so! Over we tramped to the Y. M. C. A. to play Santa Claus, and I don’t know when I have ever had such pleasure. All the children of the town were invited to the Y. M. C. A. to get presents, and we were told there were about seventy-five in town.

“Well, there were about 275! But, thanks to foresight, there were enough presents to go around, or at least I think so, for I, being one of the ‘Santas,’ almost lost life and limb in a howling bedlam about two minutes after the thing started! I had an armful of presents which I started to distribute in an orderly way, but after seeing one little chap appear for about the ‘steenth’ time (good old American fashion which I know so well myself), I decided about the only way to do would be to drop the whole mess and leave it to the survival of the fittest. I did.

“There was one rather touching incident. An old lady held out her hand for some little toy boats I had (which were about the size of my little finger), and not seeing any children with her said, ‘Pour les enfants’? ‘Mon,’ she said, with one of those sad smiles that makes you feel like a dummy, ‘Pour Moi’ Well now, what in thunder she’s going to do with that little boat is a mystery to me, but I gave it to her, and she could have had a dozen more if she had asked for them.”

Curtice ended the account of his Christmas abroad in 1917 on a practical note: “Received a package of cigars from dad, mailed September 27, only three months ago tomorrow. C’est tout. NORMAN”

From The Cornhusker (1918).

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