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Rebecca Yerger, Memory Lane: A Christmas sampler from Napa County’s past
Memory Lane

Rebecca Yerger, Memory Lane: A Christmas sampler from Napa County’s past

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Season’s greetings!

While most people are trying to navigate through the challenges of 2020, they are also striving to maintain as many as possible of their time-honored holiday traditions. As illustrated by numerous local newspaper accounts, this cultural heritage is long-rooted in Napa County’s past.

While this year’s community holiday gatherings have been curtailed, or are being presented in a virtual format, the neighborhoods and towns of Napa County have assembled to celebrate Christmas for generations.

The programs of these gatherings have essentially remained unaltered over the years. For instance, today, local churches continue to offer seasonal sermons, music and skits similar to those programs enjoyed by the local congregations of the past.

In addition to the local church services, area residents had any number of other holiday options to celebrate the season. Two Napa organizations could always be counted on by the community to host memorable Christmas events.

The “Turners,” members of the local Turn Vereins, enjoyed the reputation of being exceptional hosts of grand holiday social events. (Turn Vereins were social, cultural and fitness organizations originally established by and for those of Germanic origin and descent.)

In 1884, the Napa “Turners” organized and hosted a community-wide Christmas party known as a “Christmas Tree” at their Randolph Street hall. The evening’s soiree featured dancing to live orchestra music and a sumptuous banquet dinner.

The centerpiece of the hall’s decor and the evening’s activities was the large conifer decorated with not only ornaments but also gifts. Those presents were distributed by the Jolly Old Elf himself, Santa Claus. Regarding the event, the Journal wrote, “the entertainment was a brilliant social success, as the affairs gotten up by this popular organization always are.”

The second highly regarded holiday host was the Elks Club. Their Christmas activities were for Napa’s children, ages 12 years and under. At their Main Street hall (once located across the street from the Opera House), the Elks delighted the local youths with an array of activities.

For example, the Dec. 25, 1910, Journal reported the hall was all decked out in its finest holiday decor with a large and beautifully decorated Christmas tree as the seasonal focal point. The party included a holiday theme program of music and amusing skits, the appearance of Santa Claus and generous refreshments. Each child also received a gift and bag of candy.

Areas and neighborhoods outside of the local communities organized their own holiday gatherings. Frequently, these celebrations were held at either the rural schoolhouse or grange hall. In 1924, the Carneros school students “entertained parents and friends with delightful programs...” The Napa Daily Register wrote. “During the party, Santa made his appearance with a gift and a box of candy for each child present.”

Local institutions also made sure their residents enjoyed some holiday cheer. In the years 1890 and 1924, the Christmas dinner at the Veterans Home merited mention in the local newspapers. The 1890 Napa County Reporter wrote, the 240 residents of the facility received 250 pounds of turkey from the Director of the Home “so that they might properly celebrate Christmas.”

Thirty-four years later, the 1924 Register printed a veteran’s letter reporting the status and activities at the Yountville campus. The author, Sam McKay, left out no ingredient or morsel served as part of their Christmas dinner. The turkey meal with all the traditional side dishes was enjoyed by the veterans as they listened to classic holiday music performed by the Home Band. McKay added, “The meal was well cooked and served and the officials, cooks, waitresses and all concerned deserve great credit.”

The Yountville Veterans Home was just one of the numerous veteran centers receiving special holiday attention in 1924. Being only a few years after the conclusion of World War I, the general populace was quite aware of its veterans, especially those who were wounded during the “Great War.”

According to the Register’s Christmas Eve 1924 edition, “attractive and pleasing gifts have been sent to the wounded and sick sailors in the hospital at Mare Island by women of Napa acting under the auspices of Napa County Chapter of the Red Cross.” It added, “Fifty of these Christmas boxes were sent from Napa and 20 from St. Helena.”

A couple of columns over from that article was another, and related, an article titled, “Christmas Cheer For War Veterans At State Hospital.” The Register reported, “As has been done annually since the World War, ex-servicemen convalescing at Napa State Hospital have been remembered at Christmas time by the Knights of Columbus.” The parcels were filled with an assortment of personal care and comfort items. The Register also noted, “Fifty veterans of the late war are receiving treatment in the ex-service men’s ward at Napa State Hospital.”

The Dec. 24, 1924 Register also reported the Napa County Infirmary patients were to receive a roasted duck dinner with all the traditional trimmings on Christmas evening. However, the newspaper also added an interesting side note. “Vegetables and fruits served on the menu will be almost entirely the products from the gardens and orchards of the Infirmary (located along Old Sonoma Road.)”

Christmas 1924 also offered some entertainment for the sports-minded with two well-known local businessmen challenging one another to an exclusive golf match. The Christmas Day showdown pitted Frank G. Noyes. the local lumberyard mogul, against the newspaper titan George Francis owner and publisher of The Register.

The 36-hole golf match was played at the Napa Valley Country Club. At first, Noyes looked to be the hands-down winner, but Francis suddenly came from behind to clinch the match. Francis also had the distinct honor of being the first winner of the Bank of Italy (America) sponsored the silver trophy cup. His was the first name to be engraved on that trophy.

Regardless of whether or not your name is engraved on a victor’s trophy, you are a winner to me as I truly appreciate your readership and support of Memory Lane. Thank you! Also, I wish you a joyous holiday season!

WATCH NOW: HOLIDAY DECORATIONS WILL MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPY

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