A Very Jesuit Christmas: Holidays in the Maryland-New York Province

November 14, 2023

GU Holiday Card, 1921

Georgetown University holiday card, c. 1920. Georgetown University Christmas/Holidays Cards

One of the first collections that required my attention upon arriving at the Georgetown University Library in August of this year was the Archives of The Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus (informally known as the “MPA”). As I processed the collection’s newest accruals, received earlier this year, I encountered materials from the Georgetown Jesuit community that appear at first glance—to put it frankly—quite mundane. However, it is in these seemingly ordinary materials that the viewer can see the lived experience of Jesuits in the early 20th century. The papers offer insight into the meticulous planning that went into celebrating another holiday season, whether it concerned meal preparation, decorating, the scheduling of masses, or gift giving. 

Jesuits at Woodstock College, 1914

Jesuits at Woodstock College, 1914. John Brosnan, S.J., Photographic Collection

Even though the Jesuit community would have been feeling considerable financial pressure due to the ongoing Great Depression, their 1934 and 1935 Christmas dinner menus include a considerable variety of dishes (although one Jesuit noted in 1935 that dinner was “too heavy” and the ice cream was “too hard”).

Christmas menus, 1934 and 1935

Christmas dinner menus, 1934 and 1935. Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus

Another consideration during the holidays for the Community were decorations. In 1935 the Georgetown Jesuits purchased seven 10-15 foot trees from a nursery in Falls Church, Virginia, and other items from the “North East Market” for $32.50 ($730.16 in 2023). Although the MPA does not have pictures of the Georgetown Jesuit decorations during this time, a photograph taken at the Woodstock College refectory shows how the laurel rope, wreaths, and holly would have been used.

Holiday decorations list, 1935

Holiday decoration purchases, 1935. Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus

Refectory, decorated for the holidays

Woodstock College refectory, date unknown. John Brosnan, S.J., Photographic Collection

Masses and other ecclesiastical duties had to be scheduled for approximately 50 Jesuits. Christmas Day services were celebrated on campus, and also at various infirmary chapels and in the local convents. 

Mass Assignments

Christmas Day Mass assignments, 1935. Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus

Gift giving was comprehensive in the Community, with the house superior providing presents for each Jesuit and each lay staff member. Lists in 1935 and 1936 show cigars, cigarettes, loose tobacco, and candy alongside each name. 


Presents for the workers, 1935 and presents for the Jesuits, 1936. Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus

Presents were also sent to other local institutions, including 120 pounds of turkey for the Sisters at Georgetown Visitation Convent at the cost of $36 ($797.36 in 2023).

Record of turkeys purchased as gift to Georgetown Visitation

Presents for others, 1935. Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus

Thank you note from Georgetown Visitation for gift of turkeys.

“Thank you” card from Georgetown Visitation Convent, 1935. Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus

As our own holiday celebrations approach, it is worth noting that November is Jesuit Heritage Month—a period dedicated to the exploration and celebration of Georgetown’s Jesuit history and traditions. According to the Office of Mission & Ministry, events during this time focus on spirituality, social justice, the arts, and education, and include opportunities for meeting with and becoming acquainted with individual Jesuits. You can see the complete schedule of events here. The materials from this post are on display at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections through the end of the year.

Happy holidays!

Nativity scene.

Nativity display at Woodstock College, 1938. John Brosnan, S.J., Photographic Collection

--Aleksandra Kinlen, Processor of the Jesuit Collections