It was not a white Christmas in Columbus in 1908. It was something of a rainy day, in fact. But that did not stop most people from thoroughly enjoying the holiday.

It was not a white Christmas in Columbus in 1908. It was something of a rainy day, in fact. But that did not stop most people from thoroughly enjoying the holiday.

Christmas in the capital city has always had its traditions and some of those traditions --like church services to celebrate the holiday and warm family celebrations beginning quite early and lasting quite late -- are with us still.

Other traditions evolve over time. Some vanish along the way with changes in what comes to be regarded as the public interest. For example, it was noted that Theodore Roosevelt sat down to what would be his last Christmas dinner as president of the United States.

In 1909, Roosevelt would relinquish the office to William Howard Taft and head off to Africa to go on safari. Sitting down to Christmas dinner is nothing new for an American president, then or now. However, taking a brisk pre-prandial walk followed by a horseback ride through Rock Creek Park would probably never be permitted today by the Secret Service. But that is precisely what President Roosevelt did.

In Columbus, a rather different local tradition continued to be quite popular. Charles Anson Bond was ending the first year of his first and only term as mayor of Columbus. It says something about how different Columbus was a century ago that Bond spent most of his time managing his local clothing store at Gay and High streets rather than sitting in City Hall. As had been the case for some time in the past, Charles Bond did not have a quiet Christmas morning.

Two weeks earlier, the store had announced that every child who wrote a letter to Santa in care of the store would personally receive an invitation to visit the store on Christmas morning to receive a gift from Santa himself. In total, 7,000 letters were received and about 5,000 children and their guardians arrived at 9:30 on Christmas morning.

They were met by the store's clerks, four policemen and Santa Claus, who distributed more than one ton of candy in less than an hour.

All of this sort of conjures an image of families rising early on Christmas morning for presents and breakfast. This was then followed by a mad dash into downtown Columbus to get a box of candy from Santa and then returning home in time for a midday Christmas dinner. It was not a tradition that was destined to survive, but it must have had its moments while it lasted.

For a number of other people, traveling downtown was not really an option. Many of the students at the Ohio Schools for the Blind and Deaf had left the institutions to visit relatives for the holidays. The students who remained were treated to a nice dinner and entertainment by the remaining staff.

The 100 children at the Franklin County Children's Home noticed that Santa Claus seemed to be walking the halls and not caring very much whether peeking eyes saw him or not. On Christmas Day, a large turkey dinner was followed by a musical drama enacted and sung by the children themselves. The situation at the Hare Orphans Home was bit less formal since there were only 32 children in residence. They were treated to presents by the lady board of managers of the Home and this was followed by a turkey dinner, as well. In the evening, all of the children attended an "entertainment" at the Lane Avenue Lutheran Church.

Turkey dinners were popular at the Ohio Penitentiary, as well. This was one of the few times of the year when the inside yard of the prison was opened to outsiders so family and friends could come and visit at length with inmates.

For those who did not have guests, a little vaudeville was in order. The cast of the current production at the Gayety Theatre arrived in full force and delivered a rousing production of "The Gay Masqueraders" in the prison chapel. It must have been a wonder to behold.

A later newspaper account reported that the cast from the Gayety had a very busy Christmas Day. After giving the prison performance, the troupe returned to the theatre and gave a matinee and evening performance. After all of this was over, the theatre was cleared and tables were set for a full Christmas dinner for 40 people on the main stage. As a local paper put it, "Good cheer and good times prevailed until an early hour in the morning."

For people planning their own Christmas dinners, there was no shortage of a wide variety of main course options. Steelhead salmon fresh from Seattle and turkeys from somewhat closer to home were each going for 25 cents a pound.

Ducks, the last of the season and weighing five to seven pounds, were being offered at 22 cents a pound. Chickens were being sold from 45 cents to 65 cents for fryers. Those prices were considered to be a bit high for the season. For the more adventurous, rabbits were being sold for 25 cents apiece and venison steaks were available at a dollar a pound.

Of all of these offerings, turkey far and away remained the most popular main course for Christmas dinner. One local newspaper noted that local merchants estimated that the population of Greater Columbus would consume 400 tons of turkey on Christmas Day.

All other types of game, fish and fowl would constitute another 100 tons of feasting.

The 285 inmates at the Workhouse did not have a turkey dinner with cigars followed by a vaudeville show, but they still had a better dinner than they usually received. And they did not have to work on Christmas Day.

For a number of years, I have usually offered a menu of one sort or another for a Christmas dinner of a century ago. This year, we offer the menu from Christmas dinner at the Columbus Workhouse:

Pork Loin

Sage Dressing

Brown Gravy

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Mashed White Potatoes

Mince Pie




Coffee (with real cream)

Happy Holidays!

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.