Thursday, 28 November 2013

Christmas Shoebox Program

Museum interpreter Matthew Hughson with his annual Christmas shoebox display
Mariners often find themselves far from family and friends on the holidays; frequently living in isolated and austere shipboard quarters where everyday comforts and luxuries are in short supply.  To help remember mariners in this season, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was pleased to partner with the Halifax Mission to Seafarers during the annual Christmas shoebox program.

Each December shoeboxes are filled with items bound for the crews of visiting ships in Halifax Harbour.

A typical Christmas shoebox - we supply the box if you can supply some of the content.

We welcome your donations of:
  • Hats, Scarfs, Gloves & Socks
  • Tooth Paste, Tooth Brush, Soap, Shampoo, Deodorant, Shaving Cream & Disposable Razors
  • Note Paper, Envelopes, Postcards, Pen & Hard Candy
  • Signed greeting cards along with small mementos  
  • (Please note we cannot accept cookies or chocolate.)

 We take care of the box but welcome your donation of any of the above. 
 And as a special thank you, we'll give a museum family day pass to anyone bringing in a Christmas donation. (Only one pass per donation per visit, please)

Donations were accepted at the museum until Wednesday, December 18.
Thanks to generous gifts, we filled a record 49 shoe boxes this year!
The shoebox tradition harkens back to wartime tradition of sending gift bags to sailors. In World War II, it was organized by the Navy League of Canada for Canadian naval and merchant sailors. The gift bags were called "Ditty Bags", after the small bags used by sailors for centuries to hold personal belongings

World War II ditty bag in the Museum's Convoy Exhibit. Courtesy the Navy League of Canada

Back in World War II, the ditty gift bags contained contents that were very similar to the Christmas shoeboxes,but slightly different:

  • Soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • A flat of 50 "smokes"
  • Writing paper, pen, pencil and envelopes
  • Reading material such as a Canadian magazine
  • And knitted socks and scarves

Knitting warm comforts like socks scarves and hats was a big part of the effort behind these wartime gifts. Similar programs also helped Canadians in the Army and Air Force as well as to prisoners of war and wartime refugees such as British families made homeless by bombing during the "Blitz". The Canadian Red Cross was a key organizer of many of these programs and in 1940 published a much used booklet called "Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work". Here is a charming pair of photographs from the Nova Scotia Archives virtual exhibit An East Coast Port : Halifax in Wartime 1939-1945 entitled "Harriet knitting Mittens for Britons".

E.A. Bollinger NSARM accession no. 1975-305 1942 no. 655-14f

The posed but charming photograph show Harriot Spurr puzzling her way through the detailed instructions in the Red Cross booklet.

 A page from the same booklet is shown on the right, from a well-used copy of "Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work" in the Museum's research files.

(Don't feel you have to knit your own gloves or socks for the Museum's Christmas shoebox!)

These charitable wartime efforts were promoted not only by the Navy League and the Red Cross but also by textile companies who saw a good way to enhance their wartime image - and sell more wool.

Below is a detail from a booklet by the Monarch Knitting Company of Dunnville, Ontario showing how gift gloves were supposed to look, with a happy sailor and two soldiers giving the knitter thumbs- up from what looks to be the deck of a troop ship.

And it wasn't just knitting - groups of volunteer women also got together to make warm work clothes. The vest below may look like a piece of cool hippy fashion from the 1960s, but it is a piece of World War II charitable work. Volunteers with the IODE, the Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire, had cut up their leather purses and lady's gloves into small squares to make this leather vest for a merchant mariner.

 MMA, M2001.58.1

So like this woman in the Monarch booklet, in the spirit of thinking of those in need far from home, if you could spare any Christmas shoebox items, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Halifax Mission to Seafarers would welcome your contribution.

 For additional information:
Richard MacMichael

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