Christmas Time in the “Black” Canal Zone

Holiday Gingerbread Cookies
Merry Christmas to you all and may your holidays be blessed and “sweet!”

The traditional
Christmas feast would eventually become an Americanized holiday for Westindian Black families living on the Canal Zone. The Christmas ham, turkey, cranberry sauce, eggnog, and all the other traditional fixings for the eagerly awaited celebration would be found in the commissary stores. Everything necessary to celebrate this yearly holiday from work and school was bought at the commissary with the familiar commissary coupon book and many families rejoiced at the thought of providing their holiday table with the best of fare from the United States.

The days leading up to the 25th of December the homes would be decorated with all the symbols of the time of year. The foil banners wishing a “Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year,” the tinsel, the images of northern winter scenes all covered with the snow that they only saw in American movies, would decorate the doors and front part of most of the Silver housing units.

The evening of Christmas Eve, however, would be the night that Westindian youngsters would go traveling to the different citadels to compare and judge the best decorations with multicolored lights, Christmas trees, and Christmas wreathes- all bought in the Canal Zone Commissary stores. The twinkling lights, the visits to close friends, the gatherings under the houses to view the events in the neighborhoods where relatives and neighbors would join in to toast with some of the best eggnog in the world all became precious memories. These treasured events on the Black Canal Zone as much as the banqueting on baked Virginia Ham and an enormous stuffed Turkey– which could not be absent from the tables of the participating homes- eventually became a Westindian tradition in the “Black” Canal Zone and few people in the Republic of Panama could prepare these holiday delights like the Westindians.

It was during the years of the mid 1920’s that the Black Canal Zone would become the focal point where such “holiday spirit” would first take hold amongst the poorer working class people of Panama. However, the economy of the times would determine how widespread the customs would become. In fact, in the barrios and areas were Westindians resided within the cities, the areas controlled by the Panamanian government, no such outward display of Americanism would be evident in the population. It would not be until the late 1940’s and onward that stores in Panama proper would start to use those familiar foreign symbols to celebrate Christmas.

This story continues.

2 responses to “Christmas Time in the “Black” Canal Zone

  1. Kyle & Svet Keeton

    Hey Roberto and Lydia,

    That was a good article. Seems strange for us to think of a warm and Summery Christmas.

    Thank you for the insight to another cultures Christmas!

    I read it to Svet and she said;

    “Merry Christmas!” :)))

    We wish you a good holiday & keep up the wonderful posts.

    Kyle & Svet

    PS: Want some snow? We have lots!

  2. Hi Kyle and Svet,

    Thank you so much for the Holiday greetings and for your continued support throughout the year. May your New Year be blessed with the best of everything and may you be able to meet us here in Panama to enjoy the warm sun!

    Merry Christmas to you in the closest place to the North Pole that anybody will get! :-))))