Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » It Meant Something Different in 1921. It Really Did

It Meant Something Different in 1921. It Really Did

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 07, 2010

So you pick up your Juvenile Instructor in 1921 and notice a Christmas advertisement for a Salt Lake department store. You expect it to be decorated with a Christmas tree – a snowman – a holly leaf – a candle. But not this, right?



The swastika really did mean something quite different in 1921.



  1. Wow. Despite knowing something about the history and meaning of the swastika, it still is quite a shock to come across those pre-World War II uses.

    Comment by Researcher — December 7, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

  2. They show up all over maps of Japan–can’t remember now if they’re facing clockwise or counter-clockwise. I think it’s a symbol of some sort of temple or shrine. Can’t remember that either.

    Damn useful comment, eh?

    Comment by Mark B. — December 7, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

  3. Wikipedia to the rescue:

    In Japan, the swastika is called manji. Since the Middle Ages, it has been used as a coat of arms by various Japanese families. On Japanese maps, a swastika (left-facing and horizontal) is used to mark the location of a Buddhist temple. The right-facing manji is often referred to as the gyaku manji (逆卍, lit. “reverse manji”), and can also be called kagi jūji (literally “hook cross”).

    Comment by Mark B. — December 7, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

  4. Isn’t the power of symbols astonishing? Like Widtsoe said, we can make just a few marks on a page and it can mean something amazing – or, in this case, something terrible. Fascinating, Ardis, as ever.

    Comment by Alison — December 7, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  5. For a moment I thought your title was referring to the prominent admonition in the copy to “Charge It” and I was trying to think how debt was somehow more acceptable in 1921, then I finally saw the swastika. Silly me; too many late nights. It’s December.

    I’m not sure that the swastika will ever recover from the damaged image it received from Nazi Germany.

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — December 7, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

  6. This gets to the problem of symbols. For a symbol to be effective, it has to have an agreed upon meaning familiar to the social group putting it to use. But symbols can be hijacked in ways that were unintended. What the swastika once meant has been irrevocably altered by the usage applied by the Nationalist Socialist party in Germany.

    But symbols are particularly powerful, which is why we use them. We need to recognize that we can’t always control everything when it gets out into the general culture, where the original meaning can be changed or it’s meaning redirected. Why do you suppose that corporations are so picky about the unauthorized usage of their logos or trade names? Look at how the word Mormon has evolved over the last 180 years, and continues to change. Why else would the church be so concerned about the usage of “Mormon” in the media to describe the polygamous sects and their adherents?

    Comment by kevinf — December 7, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

  7. The Swastika is used in Jainism to represent the cycle of birth and rebirth and individual “jiva” or spirits being in various states of existence. Also used in other traditions.

    I remember seeing pictures of school children early in the twentieth century saluting the flag with arms straight out. The image was rather jolting.

    Comment by Keith — December 8, 2010 @ 1:04 am

  8. Is it just used as a “good luck” symbol here or is there a seasonal meaning I don’t know?

    Comment by Mina — December 8, 2010 @ 8:34 am

  9. I don’t know of any seasonal meaning (I didn’t see anything in the linked Wikipedia entry), so I’m guessing that yeah, “good luck,” or some other generically pleasing meaning, was intended.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 9:06 am

  10. It’s a symbol of good fortune in India, and has been for thousands of years. You still see it all the time there in religious decorations.

    It is indeed a pity that those folks in 1930s Germany had to go and screw it up. Similarly, my daughter’s name Aria is actually a female form of the word “Aryan” which simply means “noble” in Sanskrit. It’s a lovely name even in its male form, but regrettably probably couldn’t be used in the West. Bonus humor because my family is decidedly non-Aryan (racist definition) in makeup.

    Comment by Bro. Jones — December 8, 2010 @ 11:28 am

  11. Ardis, so is there anything that shows how well Nord’s did that Christmas season in sales? And what exactly were the “happy gift selections”? And was it the Manson family?

    Comment by Rameumptom — December 8, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

  12. Bro Jones, thanks for bringing up the Indian symbolism. I was thinking along the same lines. On my mission we got to know a Hindu monk who’d have us over on a regular basis. In his apartment he had a framed image of a swastika with a star of David superimposed over it. Being that we were in Germany, I was quite intrigued with what it to mean thinking only about the Hitler era. My monk friend explained to me the Indian meaning of the symbols–far different than what I had thought at the time.

    Comment by Steve C. — December 8, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

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