Christmas Wasn't Very Exciting
Canal Zone's First US Force
from the Panama Canal Review, Dec. 4, 1953
Christmas 1904, was a beautiful day, at least in Cristobal and Colon. The Colon Telegram, which wished its readers the "compliments of the season," reported: "During the Christmas season, excellent weather was experienced in Colon. On Christmas Eve most of the stores on Front Street kept open until a late hour."
The venerable Star & Herald, on the Pacific side, did not mention the weather and, except for a few advertisements, the comparative handful of men who made up the Panama Canal forces of those days -- the first Christmas after the Americans took over the Canal construction -- would not have known from the newspaper that the Christmas season was at hand.
By Christmas 1904, according to the Star & Herald, there were about 3,000 employees on the roll of the Engineering and Construction Department, at the time the bulk of the Canal force. Of these, 360 were on what was called the "gold" roll; of these only 215 had been brought from the United States, the remainder being Panamanians, Frenchmen, Americans, and other "resident classes."
And what did they do for Christmas, the first in the tropics for many of them? Christmas Shopping From La Ville de Paris, a Panama City store, they could shop from "the largest and most beautiful assortment of toys," or select "fancy articles suitable for Christmas presents."
Lyons Hardware Store, also a Panama City firm, advertised: "Christmas celebration varies as to detail in every clime, but the custom of present giving is universal."
Atlantic siders may not have fared so well, for the Colon "Telegram" commented that "the show of Christmas goods is less this year than it has been for many years past."
Christmas that year came on a Sunday. There was a "divine service" on Christmas morning in the library of Ancon Hospital, with "Drs. Gorgas and Carter officiating," and a special choral service.
All of the churches had Christmas services and in the evening the band concert in Cathedral Plaza featured selections from "The Prince of Pilsen."
"Christmas was Peaceful"
On the Atlantic side, crowds of people swarmed the streets until late on Christmas Eve, going on after last minute shopping to the midnight church services. 'The Colon Starlet,' which printed its Christmas Eve front page entirely in red ink, reported on the holiday: "Christmas Day was peaceful in all respects. Large congregations attended the church services, but Christmas Eve was lively and crowds of people flooded the streets.
Officers of the Salvation Army sang Christmas Carols between 8 and 11 PM in front of the residences of families who might have desired it.
Christmas Monday was observed almost generally as a holiday. In the afternoon there was horse racing on the Zone at Cristobal. The gentlemen's purse with gentlemen riders was won by Cinderella, Mr. Mike Nunez being the rider."
Compiled by the CZAngel
December 5, 1999
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