Centenary’s history as a Methodist college meant that Christmas was traditionally the dominant winter holiday. In the 1940’s, the student newspaper interviewed foreign students to see how they celebrated Christmas.
Velma Arosemena, Panama: “Except for the warm weather, Christmas is almost the same in Panama as in the United States. A Christmas tree, imported from the States, is decorated with balls and an angel at the tip-top. Also, cotton is draped on it to give the effect of snow. The entertainment usually takes the form of an intimate family reunion, or a great party with the proper Christmas greetings. Everyone is anxious for the clock to strike twelve to utter Christmas greetings. It is customary to exchange gifts and greeting cards. A Christmas tree is decorated and gifts for all members of the family, from the youngest to the oldest, are on the trees.” Spilled Ink, December 20, 1944.
All entries from Spilled Ink, December 10, 1949.
Marita Ho, China: “Most of the Chinese are not Christians. Christmas is a very quiet holiday. There are no parades or feasts on Christmas as on other Chinese holidays because so few celebrate Christmas. Those who do celebrate have a Christmas very similar to ours. They have a Christmas tree trimmed with glass ornaments and colored lights. They exchange presents and spend a quiet day at home with the family in remembrance of the birthday of Christ. The Christmas dinner in China…is a simple affair of only eight courses instead of the twenty-course banquets sometimes given. “
Asta Tamm, Estonia: “Christmas in Estonia officially begins a week before December 25th with the traditional housecleaning. Everything from the rafters in the attic to the jars of preserves in the cellar is thoroughly scrubbed until the house glistens. After cleaning day the next two or three days are spent in the kitchen baking and preparing for the holidays. The day before Christmas eve is called ‘Big Friday’ no matter what day it happens to be…It is a quiet, holy day. The next day, called ‘Christmas Saturday’ is a busy one. The tree is brought in and trimmed…Christmas carols are sung and the grandfather or father of the house reads to his family the Christmas story from the Bible…Christmas itself is celebrated for two days, the 25th and 26th of December. The first day of Christmas is a quiet one. All the gaiety, feasts, parties, opening of presents, singing and dancing is done on the second day of Christmas.”
Hanna-Rose & Ruth Zimmerman, Germany: “Christmas is very similar…to Estonia. Preparations for the holidays are made weeks before. There are the traditional Christmas eve church services. There, however, presents are opened on Christmas eve around the tree. The Christmas party is usually held among the family. Two days of Christmas follow and are similar to those in Estonia.”
Anna Thoroddsen & Lyda Thorsteinsson, Iceland: “Great preparations are made for the holidays. The house is cleaned, baking is done and the Christmas Men come. In Iceland there are not one…but nine Christmas Men. There is one who peeks in the window, one who licks the pot, one who deals with good children and one who deals with bad children. Children listen with wonder and fear to their parents about the Christmas Cat, the cat to which they will be taken if they are bad children. There are two days of Christmas in Iceland.”
Tien Oei, Holland (Dutch East Indies, modern day Indonesia): “St. Nicholas was once a very rich and kind and generous man. He loved children and during his lifetime constantly gave them presents in exchange for laughter and fun. He is always pictured dressed in a long purple robe. He has a white beard and on his head is a high headdress similar to those worn by bishops. With him always is Pieter, his helper. Pieter carries the presents in a huge bag in one hand, and a long switch for bad children in the other…On the eve of the 5th (of December) when St. Nicholas is expected the children leave their wooden shoes by the door filled with hay for St. Nick’s horse. This is the day when presents are exchanged in Holland, rather than on Christmas itself. The two days of Christmas, the 25th and 26th of December, are much more serious days.”
Pat Melarkey & Janet Bond, Hawaii*: “Of course there is no snow in Hawaii…On Christmas day, big luau parties, or feasts, are given. There are many all over the islands on Christmas day. They are given on a long table out of doors. Much singing and dancing accompany these feasts and it is a very gay affair. Everyone is dressed in bright clothes, either shorts and colored Hawaiian shirts or native costumes such as muu-muus or halokus, adorned with leis. The luau is for the family and friends, and the more the merrier! The feast consists of opiis, or a raw sea food, poi which is a pasty substance made from pounded tarrow root, lomi-lomi salmon. There is always a roast pig complete with head and an apple in its mouth…Of course there would be much pineapple and okolehau.”
Christmas celebrations even in America vary greatly, and yet Christmas itself does not. Everywhere one finds the spirit of peace and good will, of friendliness and giving.
The Centenary College of today welcomes all celebrations – not just Christmas festivities. During the holidays, sentiments of good-will and happiness can be found everywhere. The Taylor Memorial Library wishes everyone a wonderful holiday and winter break. See you in January!
*Hawaii became a U.S. state in 1959, 10 years after this article was written.