Local Traditions Reappear During Christmas Season
(The Panama Canal Review ... Dec. 5, 1952)
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Christmas catches the Canal Zone every year about this time.
Little musicians in the schools and adults in other circles start tuning their instruments and trying their vocal cords on the "Messiah" and other Christmas music that will be shared with audiences at choral and instrumental programs during the holiday season. Plays and pageants will be the thing at other Christmas performances.
Budding young artists in the schools are pondering art and craft principles involved in making Christmas cards and gifts to be given to their elders. The youngsters are also viewing Nativity scenes painted by the Old Masters, shown this year on colored slides in the elementary schools.
Tinsel and stars and strings of lights soon will be dug out of dry closets to fashion indoor and outdoor displays to heighten the Christmas spirit.
Poinsettias are Naturals Poinsettias, which are "naturals" among local Christmas decorations, are already at their blooming best. They start showing off for the big event more than a month before it arrives and continue to redden the local outdoors long after the holiday season.
An odd quirk in local Christmas tradition has elevated to the accepted position as the Canal's "official" Christmas tree no proper northern fir or spruce but an import from the South Pacific.
The spiral-leafed pandanus tree at the Balboa railroad station probably became the Canal's foremost Christmas tree because of its position. It is close to the heart of Canal activities, open to view from several directions, not too big and not too little, and dark green in color and properly cone-shaped like more conventional Christmas trees. While it is decked out by the Electrical Division with colored lights for its holiday role, other branches of the pandanus tree family back home in the South Pacific will be bearing another kind of fruit far removed from Christmas baubles.
Newcomer's Pineapple: some of its cousins in the South Pacific islands have a nutty tasting fruit that looks like a pineapple minus its green top. The islanders call the tree "newcomers' pineapple" because of the tourists who ask to see some of the pineapple "trees."
The leaves of closer relatives of the Canal's pandanus tree are woven into mats and baskets by people in the South Pacific. The South Pacific pandanus tree is called the lauhalu.
Another local Christmas tree that has developed into a tradition is the one set up each year at Gatun Locks, where the employees make Christmas in the Canal Zone an international institution.
The ships that go through Atlantic Locks during the Christmas season receive a greeting card designed, printed and paid for by employees of the Locks. The cards are also sent each year to present and retired personnel of Atlantic Locks and people scattered through many other Panama Canal units.
The big Christmas tree set up in the Locks area for the benefit of ships in the Canal share the Christmas scene with a Santa Claus and his reindeer and other Christmas decorations, which are floodlighted at night.
The employee committee which is in charge of all these Christmas activities is headed this year by Richard L. Pennington, an operator at the Locks.
The Canal will not want for other Christmas trees. The Commissaries will have about 14,000 that are expected on the Panama Line ship that arrives December 15. They will be balsam firs from northern New York, where they are planted and grown solely as a Christmas industry. The trees will be stacked at the Atlantic and Pacific side toy centers where purchasers can take their choice. Or, if the trees are ordered in advance, they will be delivered to homes as in former years.
Other practical or ever-present aspects of the local Christmas tradition include the expected Commissary and Clubhouse crush of late and last-minute Christmas business; the booming business in cards and packages that go through Canal Zone post offices; housewives' concern with turkey and trimmings and other details of holiday feasts; and the children's usual uncluttered concentration on nothing but Santa Claus business.