Section: Features

From the Archives: Looking back on past Hilltop holidays

From the Archives: Looking back on past Hilltop holidays

Rejoice, Kenyon — it’s the most wonderful time of the year! It can be difficult to see beyond the finals-induced haze that settles over campus each December, but the Collegian archives reveal decades of holiday celebrations and traditions that brought seasonal cheer to legions of stressed-out students. As we prepare to head into 2024, a look at holidays past provides a needed study break.

Early iterations of our beloved paper heavily favored coverage of various sporting events, but an issue from Dec. 16, 1920, sports a modest advertisement for “Personal X-mas Cards.” The Book and Art Shop in Mount Vernon “urge[d] an early selection” for students hoping to send their well-wishes from the Hill. Shortly thereafter in Dec. 1928, the Collegian devoted a spread to “a merrie yuletide tale” complete with festive illustrations. On the next page, students were urged to purchase Christmas Seals — labels placed on mail (like stamps) to raise money and awareness for causes, organizations and other charitable endeavors. This trend continued for a considerable amount of time, with an advertisement appearing in a Dec. 1939 issue: “This week, there is a student representative in every division cooperating with the [Village] and county by selling Christmas seals.” The ad states that all proceeds would benefit the creation of tuberculosis clinics in Knox County. These seals were, notably, introduced to help children with tuberculosis and were the subject of a public service announcement featured on the Frank Sinatra Christmas album. 

Between Nov. 6, 1942, and March 5, 1943, the Collegian ran a supplemental volume. In an issue from Dec. 5, 1942, a campus-wide Christmas dinner was advertised in a scaled-back typewriter font, with “members of the faculty and their wives” listed as the guests of honor. In addition to detailing who would be at the “high table” during the festivities (Dr. and Mrs. Chalmers were notable names), the article takes care to specify that “The Great Hall…will be decorated in true Christmas style. Evergreen branches will adorn the walls and corners of the room, and carol singing will be the principal form of entertainment.”

Speaking of carol singing, Kenyon’s musical talents were frequently put on display during the holiday season. In a 1949 issue, a recap of a concert put on by The Kenyon Singers and the Chapel Choir graced the prized spot on the Collegian’s front page. Highlighting that the event was the groups’ first public concert, the coverage included highlights from the program like “Christians, Hark!” and “Sing we Noel.” Further down the page, beneath the bold headline “WANTED: A Merry Christmas,” students were encouraged to support the so-called “Children’s Home Christmas Party” (perhaps a precursor to the annual Shawn Kelly holiday party?). The advertisement utilizes some pathos to garner donations: “We’re sure you want to help make this party the best of any possible. So when a member of the Party committee approaches you, and asks for your support, think of the kids. Then, we’re sure you’ll give generously.”

By December 1983, the Collegian had implemented a “Happenings” section of the paper devoted to supplying students with a full list of weekend diversions. In this issue, numerous Christmas concerts and fundraising events are featured: The Owl Creeks performed a holiday set in Peirce Lounge, while the brothers of the now-defunct fraternity Phi Kappa Sigma hosted a pie-in-the-face event benefiting a charity that “helps underprivileged children have a happy Yuletide.” The following Saturday, a “Candlelight Caroling” session offered cookies and hot cocoa — refreshments that still manage to draw a sizable crowd of students today.

It wouldn’t be a writer’s college holiday without some poetry, as the Collegian staff of 1991 knew. In a Dec. 12 issue from that year, a poem titled “Gambier Receives Visit from St. Mich” that had initially been printed in a 1979 issue of the paper made a reappearance in honor of the season. Modeled on Clement Clarke Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” the Kenyon-ized version is decidedly more collegiate; stanzas like “The beer cans were stacked / ’Round the doorways with care / In hopes that St. Michelbob / Soon would be there” are plentiful in this rendition of the holiday classic.

You may have noticed a conspicuous lack of non-Christmas celebrations immortalized in the archives, and it is true that the College’s Episcopal background seemed to hinder coverage of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations in the twentieth century. A Dec. 10, 2009, preview of films to be shown by the Kenyon Film Society (KFS) pokes fun at this tendency: “We wanted to represent a more diverse collection of winter holidays, but unfortunately, there are few movies about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. We refuse to show [“Eight Crazy Nights”]. So, two great Christmas films!” KFS ended up showing “Its a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” in the then-Kenyon Athletic Center theater.

Despite the lack of diversity in previous Collegian issues surrounding the holiday season, Hanukkah celebrations are no less important to the community. A 2018 Feature highlighted festivities hosted at the Rothenberg Hillel House, which held candle lightings for each of the eight nights, much like it plans on doing this year. Students took the opportunity to “eat latkes, spend time with friends and light the menorah” while Jewish Chaplain and Director of Hillel Marc Bragin “led prayers and encouraged students to share traditions from home, all while wearing a stuffed blue hat in the shape of a menorah.” 

Whether your winter holiday of choice is Christmas or Hanukkah, whether you’re a veritable Grinch or a lifelong believer, whether you start celebrating the holidays before or after Thanksgiving, we all have one thing in common: we choose to make a home on the Hill together. As the finals crunch continues, we can all be comforted by the fact that winter break is only a week away. So, happy holidays to all, and to all a good night!

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