Today I learned (from the New York Times City Blog) that a City ordinance makes illegal the display and sale of Christmas trees outside the month of December.
Then the New Yorker put up a selection of its seasonal covers. Inevitably, from that source, there is always a touch of the bitter-sweet. This would be my favourite:
War, and rumours of war.
That must have been a very curious Christmas season all round. It was still the time of the Phoney War (Churchill’s Twilight War — the second volume in his history), the Sitzkrieg (the OED cites that, as R.A.F slang, from the New York Times of February 1940).
America, of course, officially was nowhere near being formally involved in these dire foreign doings. So there was the “business as usual” affectation, while below the surface, edgy and ominous, something darker lurked. Meanwhile Roosevelt’s White House was engaged in massaging “informed opinion” and thereby the public mood.
Roosevelt knew, and was further prevailed upon by Prime Ministers Chamberlain and Daladier, that the arms embargo clauses of the 1937 Neutrality Act had to be amended. While this might be presented as impartial, in practice it meant aircraft and other arms could be supplied to Britain and France.
Soundings suggested sixty senators would accept the change: twenty-five would oppose. FDR eased the way by smooching key figures: Archbishop Spellman to bring the Catholic vote on board; Thomas W. Lamont to square Wall Street; the GOP names on the 1936 ticket (Alfred Landon and Frank Knox) to suggest wording, GOP waverers through the like of Rep. Bruce Barton. Vice-President Henry Wallace was put firmly into his box, and warned off anything partisan. It worked: the Senate negated the embargo on 27 October, and the House obliged a week later.
All this was barely hidden in almost-plain sight: not unlike the more personal goings-on in Perry Barlow’s cover, above. It was, incidentally, this image which Saks Fifth Avenue recycled for a 1952 Christmas card and Saks banged home the message by commissioning a recording of I saw Mummy kissing Santa Claus (music and lyrics by Tommie Cooper).
Compare and contrast …
as they say, what Norman Rockwell was putting up tor the 1939 Saturday Evening Post cover:
We are not addressing the metropolitans of New York here. This is for the suburban, even rural types. Europe and its problems are off-stage. It’s all cosy, comforting and America First.