A Victorian San Francisco Christmas

While I am off visiting daughter and family, watching two little tykes experience the fun of opening up presents, I wanted to leave you with a little piece of Christmas Past. Below is the description of San Francisco in December 25, 1879, written in the San Francisco Chronicle. M. Louisa Locke



The Ways in Which Three Hundred Thousand People Sought and Found Holiday Amusements 

Amid a chime of bells that rang cheerily all over the city, and an echo of tin horns operated by adolescent enthusiasts fearless of cold weather, Christmas Day of 1879 was ushered in. As on all holidays the city was early astir, and despite hard times and collapsed stock market, young and old, rich and poor and high and low of San Francisco apparently determined to lay aside the consideration of the ills that the flesh in this section of county has been rather generously heir to of late, and have a good time. The signs of the time were everywhere visible in evergreen ornamentation over doorways, Christmas trees in various stages of bearing, visible through parlor windows, and brown paper bundles careering along the streets in charge of their new owners by right of purchase.  The ice on the streets did not appear to chill the general enthusiasm, but on the contrary lent an added enjoyment to the firesides and made the day  more than usually reminiscent of the Christmas tide in the East. The small boy was out numerously in all parts of the city, dividing his industry between the eager velocipede and the


The latter from its more aggressive and impressive characteristics, “had the call” in the adolescent pools, and if there was one block in the city not favored by some red-cheeked soloist with a tin nuisance it was an oversight as fortunate for the block as it was remarkable to record. Adult humanity likewise took kindly to the horn as a Christmas celebrant and the saloons of the city were marvelously well patronized by a throng whose egg-nog tasted none the less sweet because it was disseminated at the rate of nothing per drink with especial inducements to clubs if the candidate came twice to the same bowl. The churches claimed a large number during the hours of service. In the Roman Catholic edifices low mass was celebrated in the darkness of the early morning hours, the chill of the dawn not deterring hundreds of devotees from leaving warm couches to participate in the holy rites. Between 10 and 11 o’clock high mass was sung to thronged churches, the slow, solemn grandeur of the service being rendered by increasing choirs and orchestral aids under whose efforts the “Kyre Eleison” echoed grander, sweeter and more solemn than ever. So with the Episcopal congregations, the choral service received especial attention and Christmas sermons, recalling the


That the day commemorates were the universal rule. the ungodly––if the term can be fittingly applied to those who choose the droppings of the foaming ladle to the droppings of the sanctuary, and sought the theatrical spectacle rather than the churchly array––were likewise abroad in large numbers. The matinees were crowded, and the Prince of Goldland and his brethren of the tinsel circles went through scenic splendors to the edification and delight of thousands out for a holiday in the theater. The Park and the Cliff road were the scene of an unwanted pageant, comprising all those male and female appreciators of the delights of a fast trot through the frosty air and a spin over the red macadam at a rate that stirred the vigilant policeman to extra watchfulness. The neighboring city resorts caught a large proportion of the amusement seekers, the boats and trains going out heavily laden in the morning with an expectant multitude and coming back a night with the same throng, all the better for a breath of country air, a change of scene and a day of relaxation and rest. The ambitious duck-slayer pervaded numerously


And the crack of Greeners and Scotis was through all the day, music to not a few ears, tough the resultant bags were so meager in most cases as to cast a sarcastic reflection on the marksmanship of the bearer, or pay mute tribute to the wariness of scarcity of the sought-for canvasback. At the various charitable institutions the little neglected inmates found that their adopted mothers had not forgotten them, and there was high revel held about many a charity Christmas tree, burdened with gifts for lonesome little wanderers cast up by the low tide of the social sea on the shores of public charity. As the hours of the day wore on and the shadows of the early falling night crept athwart the streets, the crowds thinned out and the average citizen went home and pushed his chair up to the table, when the turkey, immolated on the domestic altar as a sacrifice to the patron saint of the day, offered up savory incense that agitated pleasantly the membranes of hungry nostrils. There was feasting and merriment for all save the tramps, who slouched along all the more recklessly in the shadows of the street sides.


Were bent on the same errand of celebration, though the different results were shown by the different terminations––the upper ten thousand going quietly to bed, while the lower continued it choruses far into the night in the circumscribed boundaries of the drunk’s cell to an auditory of sleepy trusties and cursing fellow-unfortunates. In the evening the candles on hundreds of domestic Christmas trees lit up tinsel ornaments and bright toys, the theaters opened their doors and engulfed new throngs, the refreshment depots received new detachments of thirsty recruits more merry than ever, and it was far into the morning before the last gay notes were over and the city went again to sleep to dream over again its “Merry Christmas.”  ––San Francisco Chronicle, December 26, 2012

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