"This Was Panama"
By Ruth C. Stuhl
Star and Herald Newspaper - December 1963

Christmas on the Isthmus, and more particularly in the Canal Zone, has far more festivity, glitter, and cash register value today than it had during the Construction years. In this perhaps it has merely kept pace with changing systems in the States, although life in the Zone today is much more compatible with that in the States than was true fifty years ago,

In 1907, many broke their workday routine with an excursion to Taboga for Christmas day. Quoting from the Star and Herald, "Those that preferred an ocean cruise and sea bathing to the got and dusty town tool the steamer Bouaca from Panama on Christmas morning to Taboga Island. The weather was fine and was enjoyed by all, and those who carried their lunches tool advantage of staying neat the beach under the shady trees, and soon afterwards indulged in bathing. A native who was asked if there were not sharks in these waters replied that they did not cone into shallow water and that with the big noisy American there would not be one in the bay,

The Odd Fellows Society from Gorgona, to the number of about one hundred, also went to Taboga on the steamer Isabel from La Boca."

At Gorgas Hospital, then know at Ancon Hospital, there was a Christmas tree and "all the American children at Ancon and vicinity were the guests of Santa Clause and Mrs. Gorgas and the ladies of this section Saturday afternoon, Mr. Merritt aced for Old Nick, who was absolutely unable to attend in person."

In 1910 Taboga was still attracting those who found it a refreshing change of scene from the bustle of the canal workings and the drab living quarters along The Line.

"Monday being recognized as a holiday on the Zone will give the canal implies two full days of rest and recreation. Many will go to Taboga, and to accommodate them the White House, the popular hostelry of the island, has arranged for a special menu for Christmas Day and also for the following day."

In 1914 the canal was completed. Some permanent features of the Zone emerged and some of the old things were passing away. The town of Culebra, headquarters for canal construction, was soon to be abandoned as civilian town sites.

The Culebra Union Sunday school held a Christmas entertainment in the government hotel of Culebra. "Aside from the holiday spirit, there was a somewhat pathetic significance to the event in that it probably marked the closing service of the Union Sunday School activities in Culebra."

I was the emerging center. The new YMCA building had been completed and other permanent buildings were under construction. Over a thousand people attended the Christmas festivities at the "Y." It had been announced in advanced that "For the convenience of the people of Ancon and others living at a distance from the club house (YMCA) who wished to attend the celebration on Christmas Eve, a special with two first-class coaches will be run. The train will make stops at the Tivoli. Big Tree and Balboa station, discharging the passengers at the door of the club house."

The Balboa Union Church had not yet been built and the Balboa Union Sunday School had its first Christmas celebration in the Balboa Lodge Hall which stood on the site parking lot by the Chase Bank.

The poor were not entirely neglected. Various organizations attempted to distribute a little cheer appropriate to the season. Among them the Cristobal Knight of Columbus gave a Christmas program for the Colon orphanage on Christmas day and provided the children with a Christmas dinner and an excursion to Gatun Locks.

The Methodist and the school of Panama City gave an "entertainment for the 270 prisoners of the Panama City penitentiary complete with ice cream, cake, and barrel of apples.

The chaplain of Ancon Hospital and rector of St. Luke’s hospital chapel (the forerunner of the Cathedral of St. Luke) visited Palo Seco with gifts from the children of St. Luke’s and 60 pounds of candy donated by the parish in the United States.

Under a scorching hot sun, the children fete was celebrated on Christmas afternoon in De Lessps Park (where the National Assembly building now stands), more the 2,500 little ones received gifts from the hands of the ladies of Panama and Ancon’s fairest fair. The park resembled a market fair, with gaily decorated booths and banners flying from tall poles, festoons of blue and white pennants fluttering in the soft breeze, while the band played gaily."

The list of ladies who presided over the booths at this event is a veritable "who’s who" of society in Panama City and Ancon at the time.