The Thanksgiving observances in Napa during the late-1800s featured, to say the least, exuberant and spectacular galas. Two years in particular, 1871 and 1882, offered Napans grand, fanciful and unforgettable holiday events.

The details regarding this pair of special holiday celebrations were found in the Napa County Reporter. The first of these events occurred on Nov. 26, 1871. That Thanksgiving was, according to the Reporter, “a delightful winter day, cool, clear and invigorating.”

The holiday began with a non-denominational sermon held at the First Presbyterian church in Napa. “Clergymen of various denominations participated in the exercises, as is customary on such occasions.”

Following that service and a day filled with social calls and traditional family gatherings, the main event of Napa’s 1871 Thanksgiving observances began at 8 p.m.

The Reporter provided an extensive review of the grand Thanksgiving gala. “Never before in Napa had a greater number of people gathered in one building than the assemblage at the rink on Thursday evening,” the newspaper reported. “Without attempting to estimate the number with anything like accuracy, we will only say that the immense hall, 50-by-180-feet, was so well filled that many were unable to find seats on either side of its great length.”

That hall was the Maple Skating Rink, once located in downtown Napa. This large building was generally referred to as “Maple Hall.” Due to its size, it was frequently the site of the community’s special events. The types of events held there ranged from scholastic to social to political.

The 1871 Thanksgiving gala officially began at 8:30 p.m. with the Mechanics’ Brass Band playing their first number. Following that cue, the masked and costumed skaters entered the hall and commenced the Grand March.

The newspaper judged the 20-minute procession to be “very handsomely executed in all its various maneuvers.”

Afterwards, the adventurous attendees negotiated the packed skating arena for about an hour, after which the skates and masks were removed and the dancing began. However, they did pause at 2:30 a.m. to enjoy a hearty buffet.

Wrapping up a couple of hours later, the grand 1871 Thanksgiving extravaganza attendees returned to their respective homes tired but happy. The Reporter added, “A more pleasing, sociable and orderly entertainment has never been witnessed before in Napa.”

However, about a decade later, the Rebekahs of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, or I.O.O.F., organized an eagerly- and much-anticipated grand masquerade ball to revive the previous event. The venue for the 1882 Thanksgiving gala was the Napa Valley Opera House located along Napa’s Main Street.

The Reporter wrote, “At an early hour guests began to arrive and by eight o’clock the gallery, which was reserved for spectators, was filled to overflowing, their numbers running up to something over two hundred.” This 1882 Thanksgiving event gallery was, and is, the balcony area of the venue’s second floor live performing arts stage and theater.

The festivities began as the Robert Pettie band played their first notes at 8:30 p.m. The Reporter continued, “On that cue, the maskers filed out of the dressing rooms to participate in the grand march. Almost every character imaginable was represented,...and as they wended their way through the beautiful and entangled figures of the march, presented a grand sight of beauty and compounded merry foolishness.”

Following the march, those in costume “engaged in the merry dance...(and) presented a rare spectacle of dazzling beauty and brilliance,” said the newspaper.

At 11 p.m., the order to unmask was given, generating further entertainment and even surprise. The Reporter added, “After this, the spectators were allowed to take to the floor, and the merry dance went on ‘till near the break of dawn.” However, as before, the 1882 gala attendees paused to enjoy a plentiful buffet during the early morning hours.

In review of the 1882 Thanksgiving gala, the Reporter wrote, “Too much praise cannot be given to the ladies for the successful manner in which the details of the affair were carried out.”

Regardless of how you may be planning to celebrate the holiday, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Email Rebecca Yerger at yergerenterprises@yahoo.com.