Emigrant Christmas

Before the Gold Rush, Christmas was just another working day tending livestock or repairing equipment for those Americans who had settled in California, although many took time out for a few hours of quiet celebration. On December 24, 1845, Captain John Sutter’s logbook records that a worker completed a pump that day; two years later, he notes that the women who lived at his fort during the Mexican American War were doing laundry on Christmas Eve, and mentions a Christmas dinner given by his tanners and shoemakers on the 25th. The gold discovery occurred January 24, 1848—and within a year California was overrun with men who had come for just one thing—to get rich quick. In 1849, certain hard-bitten gold seekers spent Christmas Eve drinking and gambling in Sacramento’s Elephant House. The following year in the same city, an observer noted “yelling, and hallooing, and shouting and singing and firing of guns and crackers and bands of music” on Christmas Eve, adding the wry comment that “The aspect of things is essentially different from that of this same holiday last year.”

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