Celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Day in the “Chinese” Way

By Xinxian Cynthia Zheng GS

Recently, I found a file of 72 “Chinese New Year cards” in the Princeton University Library Records (AC 123). Looking through them, I saw that they were a syncretic fusion of Chinese and Western elements, rather than the kind of Chinese New Year cards I usually receive from friends now. Dated between 1935 and 1942, many of these “Chinese” cards came from non-Chinese Westerners—some were book collectors and art connoisseurs, while others were individuals with non-profit organizations. They were sent to Dr. Nancy Lee Swann (1881–1966), one of the first female scholars of Chinese history who served as the curator of what became Princeton’s East Asian Library between 1931 and 1948.

Intriguingly, the existence of these “Chinese” cards suggests Chinese elements became part of the consumption culture of celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Day for some in the Americas. Beginning in the nineteenth century, people increasingly romanticized the two religious festivals and made them the rites of selling and buying, as Leigh Schmidt has detailed in Consumer Rites. Just as individual tastes varied in Christmas shopping, these “Chinese” cards also show significant diversity. They came in various sizes, ranging from a greeting on letter size paper to a small card of 5 × 2.75 inches. The cards employed metaphors from Chinese arts and classics in the personalized envelopes, cover illustrations, and greeting messages. Depending on the social context and the sender’s relationship with the recipient, individual authors used elements of Chinese culture as tools to socialize with colleagues, pay respect to friends, convey messages of religious teaching, send off encouragement and good wishes, and reinforce the effect of fundraising. This blog post is the first in a two-part series about these cards. Here, the focus is on cards blending Eastern and Western themes in cards from religious groups and non-profit organizations. Next month, I will highlight the imagery Chinese scholars used in corresponding with Princeton’s librarian.

Because many senders were corresponding overseas from China, their envelopes often presented combinations of Chinese and English, which may appear exotic to our audience today. As the envelope below shows on the front, the staff of the National Committee of the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Shanghai used a five-sent stamp issued by the Chinese Post Office in memory of Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China. On the back of the envelope, the sender rendered the return address in Shanghai in both Chinese and English.

Because many senders were corresponding overseas from China, their envelopes often presented combinations of Chinese and English. As the envelope above shows on the front, the staff of the National Committee of the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Shanghai used a five-sent stamp issued by the Chinese Post Office in memory of Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China. On the back of the envelope, the sender rendered the return address in Shanghai in both Chinese and English.

Continue reading

Imaginary Princetonians

There have been many famous Princetonians, but there have also been a number of famous—or perhaps infamous—imaginary members of the Princeton community. Here we take a look at the nonexistent people who became legends on campus.


Adelbert L’Hommedieu X (Bert Hormone), Class of 1917

The Class of 1917 invented an imaginary member and provided regular updates on his activities for the Princeton Alumni Weekly. Among his exploits, Adelbert L’Hommedieu X (Bert Hormone) was expelled from Princeton after only a single semester, fought in a seemingly endless number of wars, and seduced countless women. In 1941, Harvey Smith included an extended treatment of “Bert” in the fictional book-length account of the adventures of the Class of 1917, The Gang’s All Here.


 Ephraim di Kahble ‘39

When they arrived on campus, five members of the Class of 1939 decided to pull a prank on their classmates. They invented Ephraim di Kahble ’39, who “lived” at 36 University Place, where the group rented and decorated an empty room to make it look like his. Ultimately, they aimed to get their imaginary friend elected treasurer of their class. Ads began running in the Daily Princetonian under the name of Ephraim di Kahble, each more fanciful than the last.

The pranksters took things just a little too far, though, when they had young di Kahble take out an ad in the New York Times requesting information about an orange and black guinea pig. The New York Journal then ran a phone interview with “Eph,” discussing his hopes to change the Princeton mascot. He promised to wash all orange and black guinea pigs before he bought them to be sure they were authentic. The University Press Club was suspicious and investigated, finding that no such person existed. Di Kahble then “died” from exposure.

di Kahble ad 19 Nov 1935 (Prince)_highlighted

Clipping from the Daily Princetonian, November 19, 1935.

Continue reading

Princeton’s Thanksgiving Dinners

Last year, we shared a typical Princeton Thanksgiving of football rivalry with Yale rather than turkey and trimmings with you on our blog. That Princetonians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries tended toward urban entertainment in preference to a heavy meal does not mean that the meal was wholly unimportant, however. We’ve been collecting menus from the University Archives on our Tumblr page since June, and in the process of doing so we’ve discovered a handful of Thanksgiving menus we’d like to share with you here during this holiday season.

The first is George Whitefield Betts, Class of 1892, who had his 1890 Thanksgiving dinner at “Mrs. McCarty’s.” A modern audience will recognize some of what was on offer as currently traditional, but might balk at cold boiled tongue. (Scrapbook Collection (AC026), Box 150)

Cover_Box_150_2

Continue reading

“Dear Mother … with Heaps of Love”

This Mother’s Day, we thought we’d give a shout out to all the Princeton moms. Though Princeton has changed a lot over the years, one thing has remained pretty constant: many students want to share their academic triumphs, heartbreaks, and other local news with their mothers, who once received letters like this one and today more commonly hear from their children at Princeton via smart phone.

The letter below, one of hundreds of similar letters in our Student Correspondence and Writings Collection (AC334), was written ca. February 1913 by Peter Carter Speers, Class of 1914.

Peter_Carter_Speers_Letter1 Continue reading

The St. Patrick’s Day P-Rade

It’s no secret that Princetonians love parades; thousands descend upon our small town for each annual celebration of Reunions, the capstone of which is the “P-Rade.” Each class wears its own specially-designed orange and black jacket for this parade. As the Alumni Association notes, this tradition has roots in other, older traditions. It began officially in 1896, when a parade to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the newly-renamed Princeton University (formerly the College of New Jersey) brought thousands of alumni back for a mile-long walk around town, many in costume. Yet a much less well-known and rather short-lived tradition from the early twentieth century was also called the “P-Rade” and treated locals to many unusual sights and sounds on St. Patrick’s Day each year. The St. Patrick’s Day P-Rade had its origins in the parade of students and alumni in 1896, too. This St. Patrick’s Day marks the 100-year anniversary of the last such P-Rade.

1913_parade_AC112_Box_SP17_Image_4086

1913 St. Patrick’s Day P-Rade, Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, Box SP17, Image No. 4086.


Continue reading

Happy Holidays from John Foster Dulles

MC016

John Foster Dulles Papers (MC016), Box 567

John Foster Dulles, Princeton Class of 1908, devoted most of his life to public service, beginning in the late 1910s through his death in 1959. The John Foster Dulles Papers (MC016) at the Mudd Manuscript Library document his career, particularly his influence on United States foreign policy. Portions of the Dulles Papers are currently being digitized as part of a grant awarded to the Mudd Library by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). By the project’s end, the selected correspondence, diaries and journals, and speeches, statements, and press conferences series will be available online in their entirety, totaling over 146,000 pages of archival content.

Though the collection spans his lifetime, the John Foster Dulles Papers focus on Dulles’s service as the fifty-third Secretary of State under the Eisenhower administration. Dulles was formally appointed to the position on January 21, 1953. In December of that year, he made his first Christmas address to the American people, wishing them “peace on earth, good will to men.”

Pages from Christmas Greetings

John Foster Dulles Papers (MC016), Box 321

Check the blog for future posts about the progress of the John Foster Dulles digitization project. For more information about the Digitizing the Origins of the Cold War project, see some of our previous posts.

A Princeton Thanksgiving

Last year, Princeton University extended its Thanksgiving break, after lengthy discussions on the merits of canceling Wednesday classes before the holiday. Now, students have the equivalent of a five day weekend to observe Thanksgiving. Most will probably leave campus for feasts involving turkey and cranberry sauce, but that hasn’t always been the Princeton way.

Thanksgiving has meant football and fun in the city rather than turkey and time with family to many students in the University’s past. As the Tiger explained in 1892, “The day of days of the football season is, of course, Thanksgiving. The customs of the day have changed somewhat … Empty chairs are plentiful at the erst-while all important dinner.” The dedication to football is further revealed in a 1920 proposal to shorten the Thanksgiving break to allow time off from classes at other times in the semester to accommodate other football games. Princeton typically played Yale in New York on Thanksgiving day, a tradition so revered that in 1892, Princeton rebuffed Harvard’s offer of a Thanksgiving game. (Harvard responded by refusing to play Princeton at all.) (“Yale-Princeton Thanksgiving Day 1893,” Athletic Programs Collection (AC042), Box 1, Folder 1) “Thoughts of the quiet home-scenes and the usual Thanksgiving turkey fade before the highly-wrought enthusiasm incident to the game with Yale.” (Tiger November 26, 1891, p. 32)

Football_Program_AC042_Box_1_F_1

Yale-Princeton Football Program, November 28, 1889, Athletic Programs Collection (AC042), Box 1, Folder 1.

The Princeton-Yale Thanksgiving game was so popular that it became a source of revenue for New York’s merchants, who decorated their shops with Princeton orange and black, as well as Yale blue. In 1893, Harper’s Weekly referred to the Princeton-Yale game as “the greatest sporting event and spectacle combined that this country has to show. … No one who does not live in New York can understand how completely it colors and lays its hold upon that city, how it upsets and overturns its thoroughfares, and disturbs its rapid routine of existence, and very few even of those who do live in New York can explain just why this is so; they can only accept it as the fact.” New Yorkers, too, were more inclined to view Thanksgiving as the day Princeton played Yale, rather than as a day for feasting: “The significance of that day, which once centered in New England around a grateful family … now centers in Harlem about 22 very dirty and very earnest young men who are trying to force a leather ball over a whitewashed line.” New York “surrenders herself to the students and their game as she never welcomes any other event, except a presidential election.”

Football and Love

Poster from Yale-Princeton Thanksgiving weekend game, 1894, Princeton Artwork Collection (AC376), Box 2.

Charles V. Kidd ’35 wrote in his diary about seeing a football game on Thanksgiving in 1930: “It wasn’t such hot football, but we had fun yelling.” Football wasn’t the only non-traditional diversion students sought, however. After the game, Kidd went for a drive with friends. “Margaret,” he noted, “is a crazy driver.” (Diary, November 27, 1930, Student Correspondence and Writings Collection (AC334), Box 5) Leonard Bleecker ’19 dispensed with football and New York altogether in 1916, and went to an arcade in Trenton, where he wrote that he had “a good time.” (Diary, December 8, 1916, Student Correspondence and Writings Collection (AC334), Box 1)

Cropped_Scrapbook_Princeton_Yale_Thanksgiving_1890_AC26_Box_172

Clothing Store ad pasted in the scrapbook of Charles Howard McIlwain (Class of 1894), 1890, Scrapbook Collection (AC026) Box 172.

That is not to say that students never went the traditional route, nor that Princetonians were universally in favor of the typical revelry of a Princeton Thanksgiving. In 1930, the Daily Princetonian editorialized, “economic misery and the likelihood of a hard winter for the victims of the depression and the possible necessity of a bread line to stave off starvation” should give students pause. Instead of the usual frolicking in the city, the Prince suggested finding other ways to spend the holiday on campus. Some also chose to spend time with family. Christopher Donner ’35 went to his aunt’s farm in nearby Skippack, Pennsylvania, “where we had a pleasant day with everything good to eat,” but still, he missed Princeton—as “It is quite a long time since I last used an outhouse—especially with a northwest wind blowing.” (Diary, November 30, 1933, Student Correspondence and Writings Collection (AC334), Box 4)

Motivations for choosing to spend Thanksgiving weekend near Princeton varied, but a major factor was the length of the break. In 1943 and 1944, there was no break at all; for most other years, only Thursday was granted. Students were also penalized for skipping classes, and missing a class just before or just after Thanksgiving was counted against them as “double,” or as if they’d missed two rather than one. Travel costs and penalties for missing class were Bleecker’s reasons for the Thanksgiving arcade visit mentioned above. The breaks were occasionally lengthened to accommodate the Princeton-Yale football game if it fell on a day other than Thanksgiving itself, but the standard break remained only one day—and students were expected to attend classes on both the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving. In 1939, they may not have wanted to plan an out-of-town trip for other reasons. Not knowing whether Princeton’s observation of Thanksgiving would fall on the same day as the one at home complicated matters. After President Franklin Roosevelt asked governors across the United States to move Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November, non-compliant New Englanders kept their celebration on November 30, rather than November 23, as it was in New Jersey and elsewhere in the country.

After World War II, widespread absences made Princeton a much quieter campus on Thanksgiving and the following weekend. In 1957, the faculty decided to extend the break from Wednesday afternoon until Monday morning, noting that most students were leaving campus anyway. Yet those who find themselves on the largely-deserted campus this Thursday may find comfort in the idea that being here for Thanksgiving has been, by choice or necessity, something thousands of other Princetonians have experienced, too.

Sources:

Athletic Programs Collection (AC042)

The Daily Princetonian

Princeton Artwork Collection (AC376)

The Princeton Tiger

Scrapbook Collection (AC026)

Student Correspondence and Writings Collection (AC334)

For more on the history of Princeton football, see our previous blog post.