Come, boys and girls, just listen to this news for you and me: They’re going to send a Christmas Ship across the deep blue sea!
Men, women, nurses, sailors, soldiers and a man in a funny hat. What are they doing? Packing gifts for Christmas. The clue is in Henry Sawyer’s song lyrics. It was 1914, and as World War I ravaged Europe, leaving countless children homeless in its wake, America’s sympathies were aroused.
“Hurrah! Hurrah for the Christmas Ship” was a call to young Americans to contribute holiday gifts for these beleaguered children, with the gifts sent across the Atlantic by ship. Kris
Kringle “can’t half get ’round as he has done before,” Sawyer wrote. “So this year we’ll help Santa Claus remember each poor child” with a gift of clothing, food, a toy, money. “Let Dorothy and Mary send a pair of shoes a-piece, and little Jane can send the dime she got from Aunt Bernice.”
Word of the gift drive spread through a campaign loosely organized by America’s daily newspapers (the Internet of the day). The vessel chosen as the Christmas Ship was the USS Jason, a Navy collier launched at the Maryland Steel yard at Sparrows Point in 1912. In early November, the Christmas Ship left New York, filled with gifts donated by America’s youth: 5 million items weighing in at 12,000 tons.
The first stop was Plymouth, England. “The Town Hall steps and landing were crowded with eager youngsters, among whom some 900 gifts, usually a garment and a toy, were distributed” by the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association, a local paper reported. “Seven-year-old Alice Bailey got a pair of stockings and a toy animal, her 2-year-old neighbor a length of colored ribbon.” The ship moved on to Belgium and other parts of Europe, where the same enthusiastic scenes were replayed.
Here in America, we may have forgotten about the Christmas Ship. England, however, remembers. In 2014, Plymouth celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Jason’s arrival. “It was the moral support, as well as the actual value of the gifts,” a SASFA spokesperson said.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue.