A Sonoma Christmas in the 1890s by Peter G. Meyerhof

In 1965, historian Helen Shainsky recounted the Christmas celebrations of the late 19th century in Sonoma. She recalled that many families went up into the hills to cut their Christmas tree which they put in their parlor. A few days before Christmas, the trees were decorated mostly with strings of popcorn, cranberries, and paper chains made by the children.  Some families had beautiful imported ornaments too. Lights consisted of tiny wax candles inserted into holders that were clipped onto the branches. And as today, the children of many families hung stockings by the fireplace.

During the days before Christmas, the Congregational and Methodist Churches would hold parties. There would always be a Christmas tree, a resident dressed as Santa Claus, and a festive party. The Catholic Church would hold a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve with all parishioners dressed in their very best. General Vallejo’s daughter, Luisa Vallejo Emparan, would sing every year, either as a soloist or in the church choir.

Then on Christmas morning, the gifts would be revealed. Christmas stockings were filled with small gifts like an orange, some candy, as well as a small toy such as a harmonica. Larger gifts for children such as a doll or drum were placed under the tree as were the often less appreciated gifts of clothes. Ads in the local newspaper showed an astonishing wide selection of items for the adults in the family. The Sonoma Index Tribune announced then, as today, “There is no need for anyone to do their Christmas shopping out of town. The stores in the city of Sonoma are well stocked with all the needs of the people, both for gifts and daily use and to help celebrate the holiday in a fitting fashion.”

The photo below is from 1959 showing the decorations of the Plaza that Christmas