Have you ever wondered how Americans celebrated Christmas in the past? Thanks to a project that University of Mary Washington students have been helping the Museum with, we have recently gotten a glimpse into how those on the Dahlgren naval base celebrated the holiday season back in the 1960s.
Many of the events reported in The Laboratory Log would sound familiar to us today:
· the Naval Chapel serving as the setting for a performance of Handel’s Messiah
· the Dahlgren School holding a Christmas program during its December PTA meeting
· the Enlisted Wives’ Club holding a children’s Christmas party where Santa distributed gifts
· a Dahlgren resident performing in the chorus at the annual Mary Washington College yuletide concert
· the Garden Club (the one that Edra Cohen, wife of Dahlgren pioneer Dr. Charles J. Cohen, belonged to) meeting to decorate the community house
· the Dahlgren Civic Association awarding prizes “for the best decorated doors and the best over-all decorations”
· local students participating in benevolence projects: in 1963, students from Dahlgren School, Potomac Elementary School, and Ralph Bunche and King George High Schools collected 705 new Christmas cards for patients in Central State Hospital, Petersburg, to send to their loved ones
Natural trees (vs. artificial) were probably the norm on base at the time, as the papers mention where on base residents could go to cut their Christmas trees and contain detailed information on how to select and care for a fresh tree. Fire prevention messages talk about precautions regarding trees, colored lights, decorations, train sets, and gift wrappings.
Some of the notices shared in the 1960s The Laboratory Log were military-specific, not just for those serving at Dahlgren. Children of American servicemen could mail their letters to Santa at Santa Claus House at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. Airmen and civilian employees would volunteer to postmark and return the enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope. According to a 1967 article, “Since the 1955 start of the program, 84,000 letters have been remailed.” During this period of war, the Communications Workers of America and the United Service Organizations (USO) made a special opportunity available for servicemen abroad. A 1963 article stated: “For the eighth consecutive year, free telephone calls are being made available to servicemen and their families during the holiday season….This year the emphasis will be on calls emanating in the U.S. from parents or wives of servicemen stationed overseas.”
Did you live or work on or around the Dahlgren naval base during the 1960s? If so, we would love to hear some of your favorite Christmas memories. Please share them in a comment on the related post on our Facebook page or email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caption: Cover image from the December 21, 1961, edition of The Laboratory Log of the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory, Dahlgren, VA.