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Christmas in Coloma

11/30/2008 04:00PM ● Published by Super Admin

Once again the holiday season is fast upon us, like snow on a pine branch. Children are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Santa, popular Christmas songs are playing on the radio, trees are popping up in living rooms all aglow with lights, and there’s that cool nip in the air that says, “Winter is here.” Some folks may think that the season, as we know it, has existed since time out of memory. However, the customs surrounding our modern Christmas are, historically speaking, not so far removed from our present. The “traditional” Christmas as we know it, originated before the Civil War, specifically in the 1850s.

Step back in time to 1850s Placerville during the holidays, and you would see the beginnings of the more familiar customs as well as some traditions that have all but disappeared. Though far from common, folks were placing Christmas trees in their homes. Some folks, following the German custom from which the Christmas tree originated, placed the tree on a table. Still, others placed it on the floor. These trees were commonly decorated with various fruits and homemade ornaments. Candles placed on the boughs of the trees would become common in the late 1850s, while glass ornaments, originating in Europe, wouldn’t catch on until decades later. Santa Claus was hardly the cultural icon he is today, and shared the gift bearer status with the likes of Father Christmas and Kris-Kringle. Gift giving was quite common at this point, and so was commercialization, though it wasn’t near the fever pitch it has reached in modern times. In many ways, the early “traditional” Christmas of the 1850s was similar, and yet unlike, the Christmas of the present.

Interestingly enough, if you want to see how Christmas was celebrated our area over a century ago you do not need a time machine. A drive to Coloma on the either the 13th or the 14th of December would suffice. Musicians wearing top hats wander about performing merry melodies, young children wearing period clothing make dolls from cornhusks, and the scent of roasting chestnuts and baked sundries, carried by the cool winter air, and into to the nose of passersby. Wreaths are handmade, as are other such arts and crafts featured at the various booths and tables. Volunteers, all dressed for the occasion, walk about, telling Christmas stories or giving demonstrations of various trades and crafts that were done during the 1850s. For children, there’s toy making, various period games to learn and play, and a special appearance from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Additionally, horse-drawn carriage rides are offered so patrons can enjoy the festivities in style. A steaming cup of hot apple cider will no doubt make a perfect end to a perfect day.

Nothing beats an old-fashioned country Christmas celebration. Perhaps, after considering the origins of our modern customs of Christmas, getting back and celebrating the roots of the holiday can be just as fun as celebrating the holiday itself.

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