Christmas in Mexican California

Secularization of the California missions (taking control away from the Catholic Church in favor of private ownership) began in 1834, after the Mexican government decided that they could no longer afford to support the mission system. At Christmastime, however, the centuries-long, deeply ingrained and much beloved religious practices and family customs would not be denied.  A few weeks before Christmas, citizens set up crèches in their homes, featuring figures made of wax, clay, or wood, of angels, shepherds, the three Kings , and the Holy Family. Ranchers donned their best finery and came to town on horses and in ox-carts to enjoy music from guitars and mandolins, to dance until daylight, and to participate in religious rites. People gave toys, baskets and incense to Baby Jesus. They gave peppers, sweet potatoes, sacks of beans and rawhide strips (for making furniture) to the priests. They gave blankets, handkerchiefs and young cattle to the Indians on December 25th, but only gave presents to one another on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany of Three Kings, the date believed to be when the three Kings arrived at their destination with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.


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