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California's First Thanksgiving

Sacramento California First Thanksgiving.jpg

A long 165 years ago from Thanksgiving Day this year, Sacramento celebrated the first official Thanksgiving holiday in our state. California, made America's 31st state in September of 1850, would take a day off from the fever of the Gold Rush to give thanks to God for all the bounty and blessings bestowed upon it.

It was that same year of 1850 that Gov. Peter H. Burnett declared Thanksgiving an official holiday. In late November he was visiting Sacramento for a funeral (Monterey was the state's original capital) when he decided to join in the celebration. Gov. Burnett was the honored guest at a sumptuous Thanksgiving banquet held at the Columbia Hotel, where numerous guests from California high society gathered on that cold day to take part in the festivities. We even have record of the evening's menu, which made the dinner into a genuine multi-course feast:


Soup. Mock Turtle.

Boiled. Salmon, dressed Mutton, Caper Sauce, Ham Tongue, Corned Beef and Cabbage.

Roast. Veal, Lamb, Beef, Pork.

Game. Saddle Venison and Currant Jelly, Turkey, Geese, Duck, Venison, Curlew.

Entrees. Lobster Salad, Chicken Salad, Boiled Ham, Champagne Sauce.

Vegetables. Baked, Boiled, & Mashed Potatoes, Turnips, Parsnips, Beets, Onions, Carrots, Baked Beans.

Pastry. Plum Pudding, Sago Pudding, Rice do., Cranberry Pies, Apple Pies, Pumpkin Pies, Peach Pies, Prune Pies, Pound Cake, Fruit Cake, Plum Cake, etc.

Jellies. Calves' Foot, Champagne, Madeira.

Preserves. Apple, Plum, Quince, Peaches.

Dessert. Raisins, Walnuts, Prunes, Almonds, Oranges.

Wines. Champagne, Port, Madeira, Sherry, Claret. Hock Brandy Hot Punches.


Numerous toasts sounded out in the Columbia Hotel's dining hall, especially in honor of the states of New England. The dinner, after all had been arranged by the Sons of New England, prominent "Yankees" who had come out West to fulfill their California dreams.

It's a wonder, after enjoying their "segars," that the gentlemen present at such a meal could even stand up or fit through the doors of the dining hall. Nonetheless, the event was deemed a success and described in local newspapers for posterity. Elsewhere in the state, however, Californians celebrated Thanksgiving in a more modest fashion. Turkeys were hard to come by unless settlers were near wild forested areas, and venison was considered a "delicacy." Quite unlike the lavish occasion at the Columbia Hotel, pioneer camps around California were satisfied with hunting jackrabbits for their Thanksgiving dinner.

Back in the days of the Gold Rush, Thanksgiving was still an unfamiliar holiday to most Americans outside of New England. Yet when 49er Californians heard of an opportunity for plenty of eating and drinking, many were receptive to the feast that had its origins at Plymouth Rock. Today all Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, and let's never lose sight of its express purpose: gratitude to God for every day we're given, and love for those near and dear to us.

Video added for 2016:

1850 | California's First Thanksgiving from Hackard Law on Vimeo.

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