California’s 1st Christmas

Father Juan Crespi, who accompanied Gaspar de Portola’s expedition to California in 1769, celebrated the first Christmas in Alta California. The padre was overjoyed when 200 curious Indians brought gifts of pinole (a coarse flour) and some fish to the explorer’s camp on Christmas Eve. “It was God’s will that we should celebrate the Nativity joyfully,” he noted in his diary on December 24th. His entry for Christmas Day itself lamented that the cold was so biting that the exploration party couldn’t celebrate in any other manner than by saying Mass, yet they continued traveling until they reached a small village of Indian fishermen, who provided a great deal of fish in exchange for beads. “So we celebrated Christmas with this dainty,” Father Crespi recorded, “which tasted better to everyone than capons and chickens had tasted in other places, because of the good sauce of hunger which all had in abundance.”

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