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Ghosts of Kenyon Holiday Celebrations Past

Published: Thursday, December 13, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 13, 2012 02:12

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Courtesy of Greenslade Special Collections and Archives

Today, the holiday season at Kenyon is a mélange of Hillel House Hanukkah parties, ugly Christmas sweater gatherings and departmental holiday dinners. But in decades past, Kenyon has hosted some extra-special holiday events.

One of the most charitable former holiday traditions was the annual orphans’ Christmas party for the boys and girls of the Knox County Children’s Home, organized by the Chase Society. 

In 1951, Frederick Papsin ’54 was chairman of the Chase Society’s planning committee. A 1951 issue of the Collegian reported that the committee raised approximately $400 to buy gifts for the local orphans. In addition, each orphan was assigned a “father for the evening.”

The festivities of the orphan dinner in 1951 included a showing of the beloved Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck and Goofie cartoons on a screen in Rosse Hall. This screening was followed by the decoration of a Christmas tree in Peirce Hall along with a dinner for all of the children and their “fathers.” 

The Chase Society, which relied on contributions from student and faculty members to purchase gifts and provide entertainment and refreshments for the children, had to gather even more contributions in 1955 due to an increase in the number of participating orphans that year.

Although it is unclear how many years the annual orphans’ Christmas spanned, it appears to have begun in 1948 at the latest. The final dinner occurred in 1966, as the Knox County Children’s Home was shut down at the end of the year, sending the orphans to individual foster homes.  

Besides spreading the seasonal spirit generously to neighboring orphans, Kenyon students enjoyed their own share of spirit as well. 

The College has always had some form of a holiday dinner party, be it in the form of Peircegiving or Midnight Breakfast. It seems implausible, though, to expect pitchers of beer to be served in Peirce Hall today, as they most definitely were in 1933 and 1944. At the annual Christmas dinner in 1933, turkey and beer were served to the sound of the chiming Kenyon Singers as they sang Christmas tunes and Kenyon’s traditional songs in Peirce Hall.

In 1944, Kenyon had a wartime Christmas party. According to a 1944 Collegian article, students were “under the grind of the wartime accelerated program,” which provided a more rigorous course-load option, enabling students to graduate early for the purpose of aiding or serving in the war effort. 

The Senior Council’s Christmas dinner party seemed to do just the trick to raise spirits, though, as students “left the party with a real feeling of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men,’” according to the same 1944 Collegian article. Like at the Christmas dinner of 1933, students were “pleased to find beer in the big pitchers, instead of milk,” and the dinner was described as “better than average.” Even the food’s arrival was extravagant, with “the waiters ... dress[ing] in every kind of outlandish costume imaginable.”

Moreover, the Kenyon faculty participated in the holiday fun. On Dec. 31, 1929, the Kenyon faculty rang in the new year of 1930 at a fête in the recently-constructed Peirce Hall. Charades served as the game of the evening, and the party was even attended mysteriously by a “prominent Gambier citizen, disguised as Santa Claus,” who combined a tap dance with a cakewalk. According to a 1930 Collegian article, “Tite Goes East, Gummy Pulls Teeth, Sheeney in Washington, as Dickie, Fauncy, Pete, and Fat Make Whoopie at College.” The dinner included the delicacy of a bowl of raspberry cordial, which a professor apparently knocked over upon his entrance. 

The party ended when the bells of the Church of the Holy Spirit struck 1:00 a.m. and the faculty guests “shoveled [their] way back home” in the snow.

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