With Christmas only three weeks away, now is a perfect time to reflect on the holiday’s history at at Lehigh. One hundred years ago, Lehigh students celebrated Christmas as a time of joy and, contemplation. Lehigh’s student newspaper, The Brown and White, provides a glimpse into Christmases during the era of the First World War (1914-1918).
Today, pine trees are one of the most common symbols associated with Christmas. In 1914, the Lehigh community celebrated Christmas with a 75 foot tall tree, decorated with colored incandescent lights and placed where Packard Laboratory now stands. As stated in the above article, the practice of lighting a tree for Christmas had started at Lehigh the previous year, 1913. Santa Claus, another beloved icon of Christmas, can also be found in Lehigh publications from the time of the First World War. The plight of sick and wounded soldiers in Europe was heavy on American minds, and the Red Cross ran numerous fundraising drives to improve medical support on European battlefields. One example of such a drive held around Christmastime can be seen above featuring Santa Claus. American citizens were also encouraged to help the war effort by not sending Christmas cards, which were described as “useless and unproductive,” and to instead contribute money towards more charitable operations, which can be seen summarized above.
Another facet of wartime Christmas was the shortening of the 1917 Christmas holidays at Lehigh. Originally set to run until January 2, the faculty decided to reduce the holiday to only six days, from December 21 to December 27, in order to allow men to complete their coursework before potentially being drafted to serve in the First World War. There was an understandable student outcry to this decision. The official notice and student response are shown above.
The digital Brown and White archive provides a portal into Lehigh’s past, and a connection to Christmases past.