Gold Miner’s Christmas

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When Christmastime came during the California Gold Rush years, tens of thousands of predominantly male, mostly young gold-seekers—who had, by now, realized that mining a fortune in gold was much harder than they had previously thought—found  themselves in a harsh and lonely landscape far from hearth and happy familiar faces back home. A number of preachers in the gold camps or town saloons offered short holiday services, and some miners dodged the pain of a cold, lonely day by singing old Christmas carols like “Jingle Bells” or “Away in a Manger” around camp fires.  Homesick letters to loved ones expressed longings for East Coast Christmas parties replete with turkey, hens and pound cakes.  Some camps offered jubilant celebration in the form of brandy-soaked revelry that left the celebrants with headaches for days afterward.  Many miners in towns and the out-back alike ushered in Christmas Day by whooping or firing guns, a short-lived burst that preceded a long, difficult day caulking cabin roofs, or inexpertly mending shirts and socks with calloused fingers.

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