Christmas in the hospital

Written by on December 16, 2021

Kristin Hay and Kirsty Earley

‘It will interest the public to hear of the Christmas doings…showing that even in hospital Christmas can be remembered, and efforts made to render it cheerful and pleasant to the sick and suffering…[help] to keep Christmas in a merry and wise fashion.’

 – British Medical Journal (1870) [1]

Winter is a notorious time of year for sickness. The old adage ‘coughs and sneezes spread diseases’ rings particularly true during the festive season, making it the busiest and most stressful time of year for our health and social care workers.

Yet, despite the overwhelming challenges and extra workload this brings to our health service, the spirit of Christmas still manages to reverberate across the hospital wards. Even in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic, decorations are raised, baubles are placed on the tree, cards and presents are sent, and Santa hats are worn. It a testament to the endless kindness and compassion of health practitioners, who alongside their clinical work, still find time to spread happiness and goodwill for their patients. Christmas cheer within the hospital setting can be found across our archive collection, but especially in our Mearnskirk Hospital collection, the subject of our latest digital exhibition. Here are a few of our favourites! 

Mearnskirk in Winter

Mearnskirk prided itself on its beautiful setting – ‘standing well above sea level, with panoramic views of Glasgow and Ben Lomond.’ [2] Its high altitude, however, meant that it was often hit with snow flurries in the winter. Although neither a donkey nor a reindeer, this horse worked very hard with the groundsmen of Mearnskirk Hospital to clear away a fresh falling of snow. Brr!

Christmas at Mearnskirk

Outside of wartime, the majority of patients at Mearnskirk were children suffering from tuberculosis and its chronic, long-term effects. The prevalence of young people in the wards thus necessitated unique care, as Superintendent Dr Alexander Dale reflected in 1955:

‘In addition to the modern methods of treatment applied, much has to be done to cater for the educational, psychological, spiritual and recreational requirements of the patients…something which can be best described as the ‘Spirit of Mearnskirk.’’

– Dr Alexander Dale, Superintendent [3]

Christmas festivities

Christmas is an exciting time for any child and the young patients of Mearnskirk were no exception. Alongside Christmas parties, the children took part in Christmas craft-making and other recreational activities.

These programmes were handmade by the children to advertise the most exciting event of the year: the Christmas pantomime!

Although Babes in the Wood and the Nativity were firm favourites, the play was always varied – can you guess what famous rags-to-riches hero and his feline companion are pictured here?

He’s making a list and checking it twice…

Despite the best efforts of hospital staff, this would have been a particularly difficult time for the children – being away from home and family, how on earth would Santa know where to drop off their presents?

Thankfully, Santa visited Mearnskirk every Christmas without fail. Here we see ol’ Saint Nick with Mearnskirk staff and benefactors, including Superintendent Dr Dale, his wife Elizabeth, Matron Miss Gourlay, and Lady Anne Kerr.

We are certain that all the patients at Mearnskirk made it onto the nice list!

The children would even receive Christmas presents from the staff – this lucky boy was gifted a Roy Rogers costume, pictured here with Miss Gourlay, Sister Gordon and Dr Dale.

Christmas in the hospital today

Pictured here are some of the nurses of the NHS GG&C Older Peoples Services wearing Christmas scrubs to cheer up patients who could not receive any visitors due to Covid restrictions.

These photographs emphasise that even in the worst of times, our health and social care workers will do all they can to spread some love, kindness, hope and festive cheer.

Thank you to all our NHS staff, and Merry Christmas!



[1] ‘Christmas in Hospital’ British Medical Journal (31 Dec 1870) pp. 709-710

[2] RCPSG, GB 250 52/7/23 ‘The Changing Face of Mearnskirk General Hospital, Glasgow’

[3] RCPSG, GB 250 52/7/12/3/1-3, Mearnskirk Hospital 1930-1955: A Pictorial Album illustrating the life and work of the Hospital, published on the occasion of the Hospital’s Silver Jubilee (1 May 1955)

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The College’s heritage collections – including thousands of medical and surgical instruments, rare books, archives, and pictures – span over 6 centuries and are an excellent resource for exploring the history of medicine and the history of the city of Glasgow. Many items from the collections have been digitised and are available to view here. Our digitisation work is ongoing, and we add new items to the site regularly, so keep checking back to discover more.

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