“Christmas for the Early Pioneers,” Ensign, Dec. 2011, 71
Harsh winter months made for difficult times for most pioneers, and resources for Christmas presents and celebrations were often scarce. Yet that didn’t deter the early pioneers from creating special memories during the holiday season. Here are a few records of how Christmas was celebrated in pioneer times:
“My first Christmas in the [Salt Lake] Valley came on Saturday. We celebrated the day on the Sabbath. All of us gathered around the flag pole in the center of the fort. There we held a meeting. What a meeting it was. We sang praises to God. We joined in the opening prayer, and the speaker that day has always been remembered by me. There were words of thanksgiving and cheer, not a pessimistic word was uttered. People were hopeful and buoyant, because of their faith in the future. After the meeting there was handshaking all around. Some wept with joy. Children played in the enclosure and around the sagebrush fire that night. We gathered and sang, ‘Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear; but with joy wend your way.’ We had boiled rabbit and a little bread for dinner. We all had enough to eat and there was a sense of perfect peace and good will. I never had a happier Christmas in my life.”
Unknown author, quoted by Bryant S. Hinckley, in Kate B. Carter, comp., Our Pioneer Heritage, 20 vols. (1958–77), 14:198.
“One night when I was sixteen years old, Father gave a Christmas party for his own children and their families and the nearest neighbors. We danced. My brothers were the musicians. We knew it was Father’s aim to end the party at ten o’clock, which he did right in the middle of a square-dance by ordering the musicians to stop. But Father didn’t know that my brothers had lifted me up to the clock many times that night. Each time I turned it back thirty minutes. It must have been past midnight when the party broke up.”
From Christian Olsen family records, in Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage, 15:199.
“When the children awoke on Christmas morning in 1849, not a doll was to be found in all the land, no, not even a stick of candy, or an apple was found in the cabins. But the children and their parents were happy for all that. They were glad that they still had a little to eat, and prospects before them in their new homes were beginning to grow brighter every day. But, if there were no dolls or toys for the children, the fathers and mothers could not forget Christmas, and before the day was over they all had a jolly time.
“In the evening they met at the cabin of John Rowberry. This was the house where the first meetings were held. There they had an old fashioned dance to wind up the day, and it was the merriest crowd that ever met in a Christmas gathering. … But the great drawback was music. Not an instrument of any kind was to be found. Cyrus Call was a very good whistler and he whistled tunes while the merry pioneers danced.”
Sarah Tolman, in Kate B. Carter, comp., Treasures of Pioneer Heritage, 6 vols. (1952–57), 4:197–98.