Christmas on Ellis Island

Christmas on Ellis Island

The holidays were very important on Ellis Island, perhaps the most celebrated was Christmas. It was observed each year at Ellis Island through religious services, festivities, and gift giving. The Roman Catholic Church and the various Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches and denominations offered separate religious services in accordance with their respective traditions.

Religious services were commonly presided over by foreign-born clergymen who could speak fluently in Italian, Polish, German, French, Greek, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese: many services were offered in English for British and Irish immigrants.

For Jewish detainees, Passover, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth, and other holy days were observed. The kosher kitchen staff, under the supervision of a rabbi, prepared food that was appropriate for these occasions.

Children on Ellis IslandMissionary societies sent toys and fruit for the children. The General Committee of Immigrant Aid purchased small, useful articles for the adults, so that everyone could have a Christmas gift. Gifts were given to the immigrants in bright cotton print drawstring bags and contained useful gifts of towels and soap, writing tablets and pencils, stockings for the women and socks and shaving kits for the men. Other items were sewing kits, handkerchiefs and dishes. Special gifts for the children included dolls, games and other toys.

A Christmas tree with lights and a silver star brightened the hall. Benches in a long row with an isle in the middle accommodated the detained. Chairs stood at the side of the hall for the General Committee of Immigrant Aid and their friends. A musical program occupied the major part of the afternoon and the talent was donated.

xmasellis3Social service appeared in national costumes and sang English, Italian, German, Polish, Spanish and Czechoslovak carols. In later years, professional talent joined in the festivities when a broadcasting company presented a musical program that was heard coast to coast. The radio company provided a full orchestra and a Metropolitan Opera soprano to sing a Puccini aria. After the performance the immigrants were given their bag of gifts and fruit.

In December 1927, the New York Times reported that at the Christmas festivity, Santa Claus entertained 300 aliens and 100 guests in the main detention room.


Christmas on Ellis Island