Hope in Hard Times: Extension magazines of past Christmas seasons reflect enduring Catholic faith and hope

One thing can be said with certainty about the past Christmas seasons that Catholic Extension has celebrated in its 115 years of history: the wonderous joy and beauty, peace and good will, salvation and new life of the Christ Child arrives in our heart in times of triumph or in tumult.

Though it might be hard to imagine a more difficult Christmas than the one upon us, a trip through Extension magazines of old illustrate for us, in powerful and nostalgic ways, how similar unsettled years of the past in this sacred time gave way to hope.

The Great Depression

Silent Night, Holy Night! | December 1936

On the cover: With little more than a shawl to keep her warm on a cold and snowy night, a woman makes her way home. The light of a shrine to Mary nestled in a humble grotto pierces the darkness. The woman appears to give pause, as if to pray in thanksgiving for the few food goods she carries in her basket.

A peek inside: Franklin D. Roosevelt had just been re-elected following a campaign against Alf Landon that so consumed the radio airwaves, it exhausted the American public.

The magazine editors were ready to turn the page as well stating, “Now that the election is over, let’s talk about the Catholic spirit of the people and their enduring missionary zeal.”

War time

Monahan’s Manger | December 1942

On the cover: A year following the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. troops dramatically defend the nativity.

A peek inside: Monahan’s Manger was a fictional story featured in the magazine that month. It told the tale of a platoon of Marines led by Monahan, a “tough-as-nails” captain.

Following an intense gunfight with the Japanese, Monahan joyfully reveals from their camouflaged trench, a nativity scene set out for his troops determined to celebrate Christmas. 

Vietnam War

Viet Nam at Christmas | December 1966

On the cover: At the top of the world sit the Holy Family—Mary, Joseph and the Infant Jesus. Psalm 93 proclaims, “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

A peek inside: Describing the war as the most frustrating, thankless and unpopular war in American history, an editorial turned to the words of Pope Paul VI to offer hope for all “longing for peace” that Christmas.

From the issue: “Pope Paul has spoken this hope for them all. ‘There is developing a positive concept of peace,’ he said recently. ‘Peace is not fainthearted pacifism. … It is the fruit of a united and unflagging practical effort for the construction of society on the local and universal level.’”

Post September 11, 2002

Three Reasons Santa Doesn’t Stop in Puerto Rico | December, 2002

On the cover: Resplendent in their cloaks and crowns, The Three Kings of Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico, gather for the town’s day-long celebration of Epiphany.

A peek inside: Although the cover portrayed the joyous and longstanding Puerto Rican custom of “Los Tres Reyes Magos” (The Three Wise Kings), Bishop William Houck, president of Catholic Extension at the time, was keenly aware of what was weighing on the hearts and minds of readers.

He said,

These days as we look forward to another celebration of Christmas there is a heightened anxiety and a deepened desire for peace and justice in our world. We are concerned about the possibility of war in the Middle East; we are challenged and confronted by the reality of terrorism in the world and in our own “safe” America; we are conscious of our own vulnerability.”

He continued, “However, Christmas also reminds us of hope because an infinite, almighty, eternal, loving God has come down to embrace us and to bring us salvation and new life.”

Indeed, in good times, but especially in difficult times, that is one thing in which Catholics can be certain.

Our 2020 winter edition of Extension, which features reprinted artwork from our 1925 issue, follows the tradition of offering hope and light in dark times. Read it now!

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