Christmas in Ptown: the war years
Originally published in the Cape Codder, Dec. 11, 2017
When Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, it ushered in some of the darkest days in American history. Here on the Outer Cape, it was no different than it was across the rest of the country, although there were increasing glimmers of hope as the war raged on — especially at Christmas time.
Paul George Lambert, the managing editor and publisher of The Provincetown Advocate, offered a variety of observations each Christmas in the pages of the Cape tip’s weekly newspaper. During the days and weeks following the Pearl Harbor bombing, festive lights on the streets of Provincetown and on the Pilgrim Monument, which was lit for the holiday season during the 1930s, were nowhere to be found.
“The lights which glowed at Christmas time like a bracelet around the wrist of the arm of Massachusetts will be dark this holiday season,” Lambert wrote.
As many Outer Cape men made their way off to war, Lambert shared the dark outlook that he and many of his neighbors held:
“This is not the kind of Christmas we want. This is not the kind of Christmas nine out of ten men, women and children throughout the world want.
“It may be that this is the darkest Christmas the world will know.”
There was gloom, but also some hope. The Dec. 24, 1941 edition of the Advocate posted “Out of the Night,” written by Henry P. Nickerson, on the front page:
“Out of the day spans darkest hour, Flooding the night when all is still, There comes the song of the whippoorwill. Child of the Night, and yet it sings, For Hope still throbs at the heart of things.
“O man, so sodden drunk with power; In the throttle of death, and battle ring Lies hidden the voice of love — O sing! Away with greed and wrong! Out of the night! A song!”
In December 1942, Lambert dropped in on “Friday” Cook during the weeks before the holiday. Cook was standing on a table, attempting to put black crepe in his window, only to see his frustration build. Finally, Cook had enough.
“When in the hell is this ‘G—d—— war going to end?!” he bellowed.
“The sentiment and language express so well and appropriately what we are all thinking and wondering … so it is being sent along to you,” the paper reported. “At Christmas time, especially, as we think of so many of our Cape Codders scattered all over the country and the world … we ask the same question.”
The mood improved significantly in 1943, as lights and decorations began to light up windows around Provincetown.
“In front of Town Hall, ‘Scoop’ Rogers’ little Christmas tree, pretty well loaded down with lights, beams bravely — a warming spot of color and hope in this darkened world,” Lambert wrote.
In the Dec. 21, 1944 edition of the Advocate, Lambert had praise for Alice Silva, Dorothy King, Anna Enos, and Edith Costa, along with Wilhelmina Lopes and Pearl Cambra of the Servicemen’s Center, for decorating trees for soldiers, sailors and Coast Guards at the Truro Army barracks, the station and boathouse at Highland, and the two Navy barracks in town, near the head of Town Wharf and the other on Bradford Street. The USO mobile unit was also coming into town.
In 1945, the war having ended, a weary nation — and Cape Cod — looked forward to a bright future, even with its uncertainties. In the Dec. 20, 1945 edition of the Advocate, Lambert wrote:
“We have been traveling fast, aided by new and fiendish contrivances for more speed. And each seems to bring us closer to ultimate and complete disaster. They have taken us far from peace on earth and joy for the millions of people who suffer and die today.
“But we still have Christmas. We still have a knowledge of its meaning. And we may still deserve it.”
Don Wilding is a lecturer, tour guide, and author of two books: "Henry Beston's Cape Cod: How 'The Outermost House' Inspired a National Seashore," and "A Brief History of Eastham: On the Outer Beach of Cape Cod." His "Shore Lore" column appears weekly in the Cape Codder.