It’s Christmas 1918, and everyone’s in the mood to celebrate! But what to get for that special someone?
Everyone’s already gotten the gift they wanted most,
but there’s lots of other cool stuff out there.
For the Kids
A good place to start your search is Happyland at Bloomingdale’s, where
There’s every old manner of plaything and banner
In BloomingdaleS Showing of Toys,
U-boats and airships, death-and-despair ships
In BloomingdaleS Showing of Toys.
If your kid’s more into reading than visiting death on the Allied forces, you’re still in luck. Recommendations from The Bookman include an edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, with illustrations by Harry Clarke,
Canadian Wonder Tales by Cyrus Macmillan, illustrated by George Sheringham,
English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel, illustrated by Arthur Rackham,
Folk Tales of Flanders, written and illustrated by Jean de Bosschère,
and Dream Boats, Portraits and Histories of Fauns, Fairies, and Fishes, written and illustrated by Dugald Steward Walker, of which The Bookman says that “text and drawing tinkle with elfish laughter and scintillate with flitting wings.”
Or give the gift that keeps on giving, a subscription to St. Nicholas magazine. The kids will spend many happy hours solving puzzles that leave me baffled, like this one:*
For the Men
Vanity Fair’s holiday shopping guide is full of ideas for the “Male of the Species,” but once you weed out the smoking presents
and the war presents
the selection’s a bit limited. There’s this extra speedometer for passenger’s seat viewing, but $50 ($834.56 in 2018 dollars) seems a bit pricey, plus, if given by a wife, isn’t this kind of passive-aggressive?
These wallets ($13 and $7.25) are perfectly nice and all, but a wallet always smacks of “I couldn’t think of anything else so I got you this” desperation.
The Bookman assures us that the poetry anthology Songs of Men, compiled by Robert Frothingham, is a “a book such as nearly everybody has been looking for.”
It is a collection of verse for men, with a swinging range of the gamut of emotions; it sings of camping and seafaring, of mining and mountain-climbing, of cow-punching and horse-wrangling, of prospecting, pioneering, loving and fighting. From the woodsman to the college professor, every man will read this small volume with keen delight.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s a random sample, from the poem “High-Chin Bob” by Badger Clark:
No? Well, then, a fourteen-year supply of alcohol might be appreciated. Get it while it lasts!
For the Ladies
Vanity Fair’s “Gifts for the Eternal Feminine” have stood the test of time better than the men’s gifts, with only the fur stoles (ranging in price from $75 (seal or nutria) to $150 (ermine)) likely to raise eyebrows today. Just as well, since I’d probably leave mine at the opera a week after I got it.**
I’d probably do a better job of holding on to this gorgeous beaded bag,
or, if you weren’t planning on spending $45 on me, I wouldn’t turn up my nose at this collarless guimpe, a steal at $2.75.
If the lady in your life is as ladylike as the readers of Songs of Men are manly, how about the new novel You’re Only Young Once by Margaret Widdemer? It’s about five sisters who find love and is, according to the (male) Bookman reviewer,
the pinkest book it has ever been our fortune to read. It is as feminine as a powder-puff, as delicate as the frou-frou of silken skirts, and as appealing as the passing of a faint aroma of orris.***
Or, if she’s a debutante and is constantly being called on to be sprightly at teas, there’s always Vanity Fair itself:
For the Whole Family
Hint hint: I’ve always dreamed of having a player piano, and this one’s a steal at $495! (Installment plan available.)
On Second Thought…
You know what? My lifestyle doesn’t really call for beaded evening bags. I don’t even know what a giumpe is, to be honest. And there’s no room in my house for a player piano.
Which, now that I do the math, costs two years worth of wages for Lower East Side textile worker Elizabeth Hasanovitz, whose autobiography I just finished reading. (It was excerpted in the Atlantic in early 1918, and I wrote about Elizabeth here and here.) One day, when Elizabeth had just lost yet another job (her unionized shop had closed–it later reopened with more compliant workers), she passed a bread line and saw a man being angrily turned away because he’d arrived late. No weak coffee and stale bread today! She gave him a dime.
If Elizabeth can spare a dime for the (even) less fortunate, I can do without more stuff. Better the money should go somewhere where it will really do good, like to one of
The stories are harrowing–abusive fathers, parents dead of suicide, breadwinners locked up in insane asylums, and children living on the street. Thanks to social safety nets, the kind of abject poverty that existed in the United States in 1918 has, for the most part, been eradicated. But there are still plenty of people in need, and the Neediest Cases Fund, now in its 107th year, is still extending a helping hand. So you don’t even have to be a time traveler to contribute!
Happy holidays to all of you, wherever (and whenever) you are!
*On the other hand, there was a double acrostic on the same page with the hint “my primals and my finals name what every loyal American should own” and I instantly said, “Liberty Bond,” and completed the puzzle in about two minutes. “Thrift Stamp” was the rest of the answer.
**This actually happened a lot–the 1918 New York Times classifieds are full of expensive stuff that rich people lost at the theater or in taxis.
***I read the first chapter a few weeks ago, and I agree, it’s pretty damn pink.