Editor’s note: Beginning on Jan. 1, Rebecca Yerger’s trips down Memory Lane will be running on Monday’s on the Connections features pages. Look for her column there.
This Yuletide collage gleaned from local newspapers provides a nostalgic look back at past Christmas celebrations, activities and events. These holiday season accounts ranged from humorous to traditional.
An 1882 Napa County Reporter holiday edition added a bit of levity to its review of local seasonal observances, reporting: “The story is told on a well- known citizen that on going home Christmas night — rather the next morning — he went to the closet to ‘take a little wine for the stomach’s sake.’ Not finding the bottle in its usual place, he reached to another shelf for a bottle from which he turned out a glass full and drank it. But the liquid wouldn’t stay down. He got awfully sick. Wine had never had such an effect on him before.
“Finally, fearing someone had put poison in his wine, he rushed into the presence of his wife, and asked if she knew what was the matter. ‘Good gracious!’ she exclaimed, ‘you have drank daughter’s medicine that the doctor only allowed her to take a teaspoonful three times a day. No wonder it made you sick.’” Although this incident had the potential of ending tragically, the only real causality was the “well-known citizen’s” pride.
Also during the late 1800s, the local newspapers printed frequent accounts of the numerous Christmas time church services. During the 1870s, these services were oftentimes referred to as “Christmas-ships.” They comprised traditional Christmas sermons and choral music as well as Christmas theme programs.
Although some of the local churches offered pageants or productions, such as the “Fairy Grotto” performed by members of Napa’s Methodist Episcopal church in 1871. Also during the late 1800s, the local churches’ Christmas programs ended with Santa’s arrival and distribution of gifts. An unusual version of this grand finale occurred at the Methodist Episcopal church of Napa. In 1871, Santa arrived aboard an actual ship — a rowboat. It descended downward from the balcony and across the sanctuary to land near the pulpit. Once anchored, its cargo was distributed to the congregation by Santa and his helpers.
Fraternal organizations hosted yearly Christmas events for their members and/or the local children. For example, the Dec. 24, 1911 Napa Daily Journal announced, “The Elks’ annual Christmas entertainment for the children of Napa will be held at the Elks’ Hall on Brown street Monday (Christmas) morning, commencing at 11 o’clock. This event is given for the benefit of all children under 12 years of age. Owing to the limited capacity of the hall no adults will be admitted. Parents of small children may send the little ones in the care of the older children.”
The Journal added, “There will be a Christmas tree and every child in attendance will be made happy. The little ones will be given a time they will remember for the balance of their days. So don’t let any of them miss it.”
In a brief article printed a few days later, the Journal wrapped up its coverage of this 1911 Christmas Day event. The large number of children in attendance enjoyed an entertainment program consisting of seasonal songs and recitations performed by the students of the Franklin, Lincoln and Central Grammar Schools of Napa.
In additional to that program, the Elks provided holiday theme baked goods, beverages and sandwiches as well as organized games for the children. However, the most eagerly anticipated and enjoyed feature of the gathering was “...Santa Claus (who) added joyousness to the occasion.” The Journal added, “After the programme, each child was given a present of candies and nuts.”
I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!