Christmas Celebrations in Idaho Falls during the Spanish Flu – Charles Barnes

On December 10, 1918, the Bonneville County Board of Health passed an order putting the county under quarantine because of the number of cases of influenza.  Quarantine meant people will not be permitted to come and go at their pleasure where there is a case of influenza but on the contrary members of the family will be quarantined either in or out of the home, as the expediency of the case may demand. The previous Friday the Idaho Falls City Health Officer held a consultation of all physicians of the city and they agreed to institute a rigid quarantine within the city limits, and recommend it be extended to the entire county.  However the County Physician was opposed to the stricter quarantine, violations of which carried fines and jail time.  He argued for a less severe quarantine based on both scientific and economic reasons.

So how did Christmas play out in 1918?  Apparently churches curtailed their services and programs, as the only one of any kind I could find announced in December newspapers of that year was of the Mission Church in New Sweden, a service held on Christmas morning.  In contrast, in 1916 and also 1919, there were announcements of Christmas services, cantatas, concerts, dramas and other programs in all or nearly all of the churches in town.  Also in 1916, the city held a community celebration on Christmas evening. The Idaho Falls Times reported:  It was a joyous crowd which gathered around the Community Christmas tree Monday night at the intersection of Broadway and Park.  The city electrical department had arranged a brilliant and beautiful display of lights and Mayor Edgington had taken the precaution to have the snow for considerable distance removed and a platform erected. The occasion was enjoyed by hundreds and there were more than a hundred voices in the chorus which sang Christmas carols. The invocation was delivered by Rev. Jewell of the Baptist church and the address of the occasion by Rev. Chample of the Christian church. Catching the inspiration of the occasion (the entire crowd) took up the songs that never seem to grow old.  And as they sang, softly the snowflakes drifted down as a gentle gift from Heaven.

The December 19, 1918 issue of The Idaho Falls Times acknowledged that The past year has seen many sacrifices, many sorrows, many weeping hearts which likely referred as much or more to battles in Europe that the influenza pandemic.  The paper’s Christmas wishes also acknowledged the benefits of the suffering and sacrifices of many.  As we remember the birth of Christ this year, may we reflect on His suffering and sacrifice as well as His victory over death, and renew our commitment to seek His reign in our lives, our city and our nation.

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