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 Continue reading Christmas in Mexican California

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 Continue reading California’s 1st Christmas

Creating Thanksgiving

President Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving as a national holiday in September 1863, following Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Prior to that, the observance was sporadically celebrated, mainly in the American North, as a day of feasting and merriment after the autumnal harvests. Sectionalism Continue reading Creating Thanksgiving

New Year Customs of Old

New year ballIn the last decade of the 19th century Californians celebrated the coming of a new year much like we do today, with parties, games, and resolutions to better themselves. Churches drew the faithful for services with choirs and special sermons on New Year’s Eve; masquerade balls promised to usher out the old and usher in the Continue reading New Year Customs of Old

The Legend of Santa Claus

old santaOur English Puritan ancestors made it illegal to mention St. Nicolas’ name, light candles, or exchange gifts, practices customary in England since Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, but Dutch immigrants brought their legend of Sinter Klaas to New York in the 17th century.  In 1804 the New York Historical Society chose St. Nicolas as their patron saint, and encouraged its members to exchange gifts at Christmas in the Dutch tradition. Five years later author Washington Irving spun a tale describing St. Nicolas riding over the trees in a wagon in his popular book A History of New York. Ten years later two poems gained wide popularity: “Santeclaus” featured an imaginary person who dressed in fur and traveled about in a sleigh pulled by one reindeer. The second poem, which later became better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” portrayed Saint Nicolas as an elf with a miniature sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. By the mid-1840s people were saying “Criscringle” and “Santa Claus.”  The gold discovery in 1848 lured thousands of Americans to California, who brought these holiday cultural icons west. By the early 1900s the image of Santa had been standardized as a bearded, plump, jolly man who wore a red suit with white fur trim.