This Christmas Day 2016 edition of Memory Lane will continue and conclude this look back into Napa’s holiday history from almost 140 years ago. This retrospective and two-part holiday series was gleaned from the pages of the 1877 Napa County Reporter special Christmas section and article.
The Reporter’s holiday section began its Christmas Day activities review with a weather report. “The morning of Christmas Day indicated rain but it happened to be only fog. Consequently, nothing interfered with devotional exercises.”
The coverage continued, “At the Episcopal Church the usual preparations had been made by appropriately decorating the church, increasing the choir and selecting the appropriate music for the festival. The little church looked handsome in its Christmas attire. The dressing evidently was not intended to be very profuse or gorgeous. But it was neat and chaste, showing skill and fine taste by those who did the work.” It added, “The sermon was eloquently and impressively delivered...” and the choir rendered “the Holiday music very beautifully.”
As a societal tradition of that time, Christmas began with attending a worship service—not opening presents! In fact, many people of the 1800s devoted Christmas Day exclusively to practicing their faith. However, by the late 1800s and definitely by the early 1900s, most of Christmas revolved around gifts and socializing, not church services.
Apparently, and according to the 1877 Napa County Reporter, every effort was made by the community to make sure everyone had an opportunity to celebrate Christmas and join in its festivities.
For example, it wrote, “At a first glance, amusement and merriment seems as grotesque and out-of-place among the unfortunate whose minds are wrecks and whose reason is dethroned as Byron’s observation on a skull. But medical men and experts know that anything which affords amusement to the disordered intellect, is a priceless medicine that affords at least temporary relief to the troubled brain and respite to the probably aching heart that is burdened with some great sorrow.”
The details continued, “Hence the Amusement Hall at the Asylum (State Hospital) is used for pleasant diversions for the patients. Christmas is the occasion for extraordinary exercises in this line. The Asylum Dramatic Company gave their second performance on Tuesday evening last, at which a large number of persons from town were in attendance.”
The article added, “The play selected was ‘Down By the Sea,’ a drama in two acts. The performances opened with an overture, ‘Regoletto,’ (performed) by Miss Montgomery and Mrs. Dozier to which the audience listened with marked attention. At the conclusion of this, the curtain rose and the play began.”
According to the Reporter, the audience enjoyed a well-rounded program. “Between the acts, some very excellent music was given: ‘Fairy Tale Waltzes,’ (performed) by Mrs. Dozier and Mr. Barlow. ‘Overture to Semiramide,’ ‘Maiden’s Prayer’ and other pieces (performed) by Miss Montgomery, Mrs. Dozier and Mr. Barlow.”
To balance the drama and musical tones, the evening also featured a comedy. The article continued, “At the close of the drama, a farce—‘A Close Shave’—was given, which made the audience roar with laughter.” Then the real fun began for all who were in attendance. The article added, “Dancing was now in order. The farce had put everyone in such good humor that they were ‘eager for the fray.’ After the floor was cleared, they entered into the giddy maze of dance with animation.”
Another site for Christmas 1877 festivities was Napa’s Turn Verein—the German Social Club and Hall. The Reporter wrote, “The display made by the sons and daughters of the Fatherland on Christmas Day was second to no other in the city. The social qualities of the Germans are proverbial, and our fellow-citizens are no exception to the rule.”
The details continued, “At their festivities there was good cheer and fun to saiety. The Christmas tree was laden with a rich and beautiful fruitage, that was plucked by the expectant audience through the medium of officiating gentlemen. After divesting the tree of its presents, the ball was opened.”
According to the newspaper, the Turn Verein Christmas extravaganza was well attended. “Over (70) couples” were present and “chased the flying hours with glowing feet,” to the “melody of beautiful Straus waltzes and other selections. They saw the day through in good style.”
While Napa County residents enjoyed both their faith-based and community oriented Christmas activities, prior to the holiday, they also engaged in the holiday “hustle and bustle” of shopping, decorating, sending cards and more—just like today! However, all of this effort is, and was, for a very special reason which the Reporter explained so eloquently some 139 years ago.
It stated, “This is the day to forget animosities, and to interchange tokens of regard, to bind old friendships and strengthen new ones all amidst a general good feeling.”
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all! Also, thank you for your readership, ideas and kind words!