Smart Reasons to Save, Use and Invest Money

Christmas Experiences During The Great Depression

Food line during the depression
Food line during the depression

Today, I’m going to travel back in time to talk about the Christmas experiences that my grandmother told me about her childhood growing up during “The Great Depression“.  Now granted, she was about 4 years at the time The Great Depression started, but she had an iron trap memory, and I think it’s a story worth telling.

Let me start by saying up front, that stories like the one I’m about to tell you helped formed my frugal habits in life.

Shortly after my grandmother was born, tragedy struck!  While driving a dog to friends in Pennsylvania, her dad got stuck on the railroad tracks and was hit and killed by a train.  Back then life was different, there wasn’t any government aid to help my grandmother’s mother in cases like this!

So my grandmother really didn’t know much about her dad, all that she told me was that he was a typical middle manager in some manufacturing plant of some sort.  But after he died, it didn’t take long for the money that they had save to evaporate with quickly with time…

My grandmother’s mom eventually got a job cleaning houses in which all four kids would help out.  It was a hard life from the beginning for my grandmother and her three siblings (2 girls and 1 boy).

Christmas was an especially hard time for the family.  They didn’t have any money, and I’ve never heard of any mention of a Christmas Tree in my grandmother’s childhood (I do remember her mentioning Christmas stockings though).

Being the curious kid that I was, I’d ask my grandmother what she got for Christmas.  And she would explain to me how instead of gifts, they might get a piece of fruit (an orange), or a piece candy (no chocolate though).  Once she told me that she got a ball and jacks.  And another Christmas, she got clothes made from an old drapery that one of the clients that her mom work for was throwing out (the older kids hated these she said, but she didn’t mind so much).  This was special because the material of the drapes was an expensive type of material…

Now you might think that she was singing the blues to me, but when I told her how I thought that was horrible, and she said that it really wasn’t, and that’s just how it was back then!

If you were to watch TV, sad music would be playing and the kids would all have glum faces as they come down for Christmas to their nonexistent Christmas tree (no Grinch to have a change of heart and save the day in this story) and they would shed a tear or two, feeling pity for themselves.

But it was never that bad!  She said that they would sing and enjoy each others company.  There was great strength in their family, because they knew the world dealt them a bad hand, but they were determined to make the best of it.

I guess that may be why I sometimes route for the underdog and have the Lemons to Lemonade category on my blog…

Being an adult now, I think she sugar-coated it at least a little so I wouldn’t be depressed at Christmas.  I’m sure she felt the bitterness and envy that comes with being a smart but poor kid at Christmas.  But instead of hating the holiday, she made it one of her favorites!  She truly was a brilliant and excellent teacher in my life!

After she was a married and had kids,  perhaps this is the reason why Christmas was always over the top for her and she tried to make it a great experience for her kids and grandchildren.  Her presentation of Christmas was the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing something magical as a child.  Not just for the tree and gifts!  She would play her organ and have the kids sing Christmas songs.

Perhaps this is also the reason that I put my kids first, and want them to have a step up in life, on both personally and financially level.

Thanks for letting me share a bit of my family history and hardships,


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31 Responses to Christmas Experiences During The Great Depression

  1. Sounds like a wonderful grandmother. I am fascinated by the Great Depression and would love to talk with someone that has experienced it.

    I like to think that my wife and I will soon be “Depression Proof”. We are saving up our money and building our residual income. It feels great to have security.

    • Talking to my grandmother (when she was alive), it sounded pretty rough!

      I not quite to a “Depression Proof” state yet, I’m still happy with my progress to date!

  2. Hm… your grandma is about the same age as my dad, maybe a few years older.

    He’s from Europe so he used to set out wooden shoes for Sinter Klaas. And he got an orange too. Santa doesn’t seem to like oranges as much as he used to.

    He hasn’t gone overboard with Christmas. That’s the other in-laws. FIL had broken his back and had to change careers when DH was little and MIL was getting training to her career. They lived in a trailer.

    • Sinter Klaas, he must be Dutch!

      My grandmother’s mom got double whammy, with the recession and the loss of my great grandfather. I’ve see picture of him and his family, they looks sophisticated. Too bad he died so early.

      • something like that

        my dad’s mom got a double whammy too, but apparently his dad didn’t die… he ran off to Argentina with his mistress and all their money. Then he died, but the mistress kept the money.

        (I found this out from my cousin last year. I’d always thought they just lost everything in the war. Apparently not.)

  3. Stories like these make me wish I got to know my Yia Yia (Grandmother in Greek) better…but there was a huge language gap.

    Luckily, I get to talk to The Wife’s grandmother whenever I want and she fills me and seems overjoyed that I am actually interested

    • There are some incredible stories that they have that’s for sure! And times were so different back then! I admit, I would miss computer and other electronic (even though I don’t have many myself)…

  4. I enjoy stories from the past. With all the hardship she mentioned I bet she still talks about those days as “the good old days”….

    Something about us humans when it comes to the “old days” ….

    • She has stories about going to the movies with her twin brother, paying in the morning (or earlier showings), and staying all day. The later dancing home with her brother (there age was still single digits back then).

      I miss her, she died early… Christmas really reminds me of her…

  5. Family is what matter most for us. We didn’t have an easy time growing up, but it was still much easier than the previous generation. I would love for my kid to have a bit of that harder experience so he’s not all soft and complacent. Maybe I’ll send him to live with grandparents for a month around Christmas someday. 🙂

    • I started out raising my son hard, but I’ve soften over the past few years…

      Honestly, I hope my son and daughter never experiences any of the hardships that I experiences. I’m hoping sports will harden him in the way that you are talking about though (at least that the idea) 🙂

  6. My mom used to send a case of oranges to her twin sister’s children in Poland every once in a while. You wouldn’t believe how much that was appreciated.

    Do you think people would behave differently if there wasn’t such a huge safety net provided by the government these days?

    • Oh yeah! Now if you have problems you can get a house, food, and even insurance for you kids if you are unemployed.

      Back in the depression times, you had to hope and depend on charity, soup lines and possible a bit of luck. I think they had to do whatever they could to survive

    • Thanks!

      As I typed, it brought back fond memories of my grandmother. Funny how thinks like an article on Christmas in the Depression days can brig back such strong memories…

  7. What a great story! I have a grandmother who’s 97, and has given me a few bits of money-related advice over the years. She didn’t have much at any time in her life, and didn’t have much opportunity when younger, but imparted tremendous wisdom on her children. These children (my mother and her siblings) worked really hard to have more solid lives. I try to keep this in mind when she speaks, realizing that her wisdom has proven to work.

    Your story can help remind us how we should be thankful for what we have, including family and resources. Thanks.

    • Thanks Squirrelers!

      I personally believe this is my best post. Mostly because of the flood of memories that it brought back! My grandmother was a special woman and the most important person in my life growing up!

      She really had a sad childhood, and the rough life back then, but she overcame it and didn’t let it defeat her! The people that knew her, loved her and knew that she was something special…

  8. I think it is a fabulous thing to remember such a history. Some of the progress that our country has made over the last 75 years or so is amazing (in terms of overall quality of life). Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that and harbor spirits of unthankfulness and entitlement.

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