By Roger M. Grace
From the Metropolitan News Enterprise
“This year your Government requests ‘Useful Giving and Early Buying,’ ” a Nov. 30, 1918 Los Angeles Times ad for H. Jevne’s grocery store tells shoppers. “Time is short. Get Jevne’s book of useful gifts today....”
Why was the government urging early Christmas shopping and practical gifts?
Well, actually it wasn’t—not any more, that is. The Nov. 30 ad was apparently placed before the announcement came that federal shopping restrictions had been lifted.
The restrictions had been put into place, as a war-time measure, on Sept. 3 of that year, and were rescinded on Nov. 23 in light of the ending of the “Great War” on Nov. 11.
The Sept. 3 regulations, promulgated by the Council of National Defense, were severe, but came as a relief to the general public and to businesses in light of the draconian proscription they replaced. In July, the council—comprised of the secretaries of war, navy, interior, agriculture, commerce and labor—virtually abolished Christmas, in the commercial sense. The only sort of gift that could be given that year, these Cabinet members decreed, was war bonds and stamps.
The government had been calling upon the citizenry during the war to make various sacrifices, such as observing meatless and wheatless days…and for the most part, merchants and consumers complied with the requests without grumbling. But a proclamation that would result in children receiving bonds and stamps in place of dolls and sleds simply went too far.
And what is normally the busiest, hence most profitable, time of year for business would have been a financial dry spell.
In backing down from its July proclamation, the government announced that the guidelines were amended based on assurances from the nation’s retailers that certain restrictions would be observed. These included inducing customers to shop early and and purchase only utilitarian items for gifts—except for presents to be given to children.
“Every child in the United States will rejoice over the decision of the National Council of Defense in the Santa Claus case,” a Chicago Herald and Examiner editorial says in response to the decision.
The guidelines called upon the public to “spread the period of holiday purchases over the months of October, November and December—thus relieving the transportation facilities from the usual heavy congestion during the latter half of December, and releasing thousands of extra holiday employees for war industries.”
Merchants were asked to make note of the policy in their ads starting in early September. A Times ad on Sept. 21 placed by Coulter’s at Seventh and Olive, offered handkerchiefs for sale, exhorting the public to “buy for Christmas.”
A Sept. 30 ad in the Los Angeles Express depicts Santa Claus saluting Uncle Sam. The headline is: “Santa Claus Has Enlisted in the Service of Uncle Sam—and so Christmas Shopping Begins Now.” Uncle Sam is quoted as telling Santa what the shopping rules are for the 1918 Christmas season, concluding: “And be sure to emphasize that all packages to be mailed or expressed must be under way by Nov. 30.” The ad continues: “ ‘Righto,’ says Santa Claus….‘From now on I take my orders from you. And now folks won’t you cooperate with me that I in turn may cooperate with Uncle Sam?”
Putting on extra help at Christmas time or extending business hours was precluded, under the guidelines, and customers were to be asked to carry their own packages, if possible.
In eliminating the restrictions, the government declared:
“The council of national defense now believes that as one of the steps essential to the rapid establishment of normal postwar conditions, it should and hereby does, lift its ban in connection with holiday buying in the desire to give a natural impetus to the re-employment of those normally engaged in the production of holiday material and in the holiday trade.”
Also, the deadline on sending packages by U.S. mail was extended. The Los Angeles Times’s edition of Dec. 1 contains this item (in the format of a news story, but seemingly an ad):
“Gifts of fruits, nuts and perishable foods from Southern California can be sent East as late as December 15. The Council of Defense, realizing the usefulness of gifts of food, has amended its original ruling and extended the date of shipping from November 30.
“H. L. Stillwell, general sales manager of the H. Jevne Company, said yesterday:
“Even though the date of shipping gifts has been extended, still the shopping season this year is comparatively short. This means an unusually heavy drain upon the transportation facilities of the country and consequently a general slowing up of traffic. It is advisable to shop now to make sure the gifts sent East will arrive in time for Christmas morn….”
It was understandable that the company’s president, Hans Jevne, was not quoted. On Nov. 19, his wife of 46 years, Mina, died after a short illness.