First Christmas in California

In 1768, Father Junipero Serra was appointed to build a chain of missions in Spain’s vast—but as yet un-colonized—territory known as Alta California. Serra’s associate Father Juan Crespi, who arrived in San Diego overland from Baja California on May 14, 1769, recorded the first Christmas celebration in the new land. Near San Francisco Bay, where he and a contingent of soldiers were exploring, Crespi was overjoyed when 200 curious Indians brought gifts of pinole (a coarse flour) and some fish to their 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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