Christmas at Macon
by Meredith Minter, class of 1984
If the Ghost of Christmas Past were to wave his holly over Randolph-Macon, he would be baffled indeed. So many things have been part of R-M's Christmas that he could hardly hope to display them all. There was Christmas in wartime, when students forswore parties, giving their clubs' treasuries instead for war bonds. There was Christmas in Lynchburg, when the College presented tableaux for the townspeople. And there was Christmas on the campus itself, when Even spirit mixed with Christmas cheer, and Odds and reindeer seemed inseparable. Until the thirties, Christmas really was spent on campus. Students were permitted to go home, but many could not afford to. Dorms and dining halls stayed open, and the College community celebrated the holiday together. Charades and games were held nightly; on Christmas Day, the President read Christmas stories to students and staff.
Throughout the holidays, social rules were greatly relaxed. Students could dance and play cards (with parental permission, of course) and could go to movies unchaperoned, though of course without male company. Square dances were held in Garland, and on New Year's Eve there were marshmallow roasts.
Since exams were the last week in January, students had more time to give to games and laughter. "CAMOV," or "Catch a Man Over Vacation," was a frequent holiday greeting. And, as always when R-Mers are feeling exuberant, Odds and Evens soon found a place in holiday tradition.
By 1920, it was customary for rival classes to exchange insulting presents. These presents were kept secret until their delivery, and much ingenuity was expended by both sides in their creation.
Once in 1923, the Even freshmen were hard at work on their presents—small devils chained to cardboard hitching posts. The Odds had found their workshop some days ago, but had been unable to force their way in. In dismay, they had retreated for a council of war.
As they sat in deep thought, an idea came. Quickly, some of them hurried to the drug store, while others kept the Evens occupied. The drug store party returned with a bottle of unknown liquid—they had simply asked for an evil-smelling chemical.
Bearing the bottle, the sophomores rushed the workroom door once more, and sprinkled a few drops on the threshold. Everybody retreated rapidly, and someone inside opened the door to see what was wrong.
Then, the Odds panicked. An overexcited sophomore, pursued by Even guards, lobbed the bottle into the workroom—full into an Even's face. She screamed, rubbing at her eyes, and everyone froze. "What was that?" someone demanded. No one knew; the sophomores had not bothered to find out. In a fright, many students started to leave the scene.
But the smell of the chemical had gone before them, permeating to the farthest reaches of Main and even trickling into West. Monitors and dorm presidents, not to mention ordinary students, were running to East from all over campus. And the way those who were there smelled, there was no chance of melting into the crowd. They had to stay and be recognized.
Presently, monitors made some order out of chaos. The Infirmarian pronounced the chemical painful but harmless, and the injured student was slowly calmed.
The Odds were fined and severely lectured, and the Evens, though smelling to high heaven, reorganized their work force and delivered the devils. The odor proved to be semi-permanent, wearing off gradually; it was evident on campus for another semester.
Originally published in The Sundial on December 4, 1981 (Vol. 66, no. 11, p. 5)
This article is taken from "The Past Master," a column written by Meredith Minter Dixon, class of 1984, for the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College student newspaper, The Sundial. It is published here with her permission.
Mrs. Dixon has written an invaluable multi-volume set, Maconiana: A Social History of Randolph-Macon Woman's College. For additional information, please visit her author's page on Amazon.
Please contact Mrs. Dixon (dixonm at pobox dot com) if you have comments or questions about her articles.