images of Christmas in 1880 San Francisco

Let’s take a trip back to Christmas in 1880’s San Francisco. It is interesting to note during this season of divisiveness that three quarters of the population of the City were first generation immigrants. They brought some wonderful traditions that are still with us today. The influx of Irish changed the major holiday of the year from the Protestant promoted Thanksgiving to Christmas. The folks from Ireland (largest group of immigrants to S.F. in 1880), many of whom settled in what is now present-day Mission District, started the custom of putting out cookies and milk (or was it Baileys Irish Cream) for Santa on Christmas Eve. This was based on the practice of leaving the front door open so that Mary and Joseph could enter and find a beverage and sweet bread on their journey to Bethlehem.

  Christmas in Old San Francisco:  

Germans (second largest group of immigrants to S.F. in 1880) settled in present-day Polk Gulch and are credited with the convention of decorating the Christmas tree (photo on left). Lit candles, small gifts and candied sweets adorned the fir branches. Soon thereafter, Woolworth’s sold German imported glass ornaments on the cheap. They also introduced the idea of stringing popcorn, edible nuts and gingerbread across the tree as well as adding tinsel (loaded with lead of course). The English (3rd largest immigrant group to S.F. in 1880) introduced the convention of kissing under the mistletoe. Those cheeky devils!   A typical day might have included a visit to the bedecked store window at Macy’s (photo on right) before having lunch at its popular diner. Next, your coachman would deliver you to San Bruno Mountain to cut a tree before returning to your abode along Broadway.  Happy Holidays.  Cheers!

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