When we celebrate Thanksgiving in San Francisco this year, it will be a far cry from the holiday’s early origins.

Way back in the 16th century, in lieu of Catholic holidays, Protestants instead celebrated Days of Fasting and Thanksgiving. (Aka “Days of Humiliation and Thanksgiving“… Very 16th century.)

When English settlers came across the pond, they brought that tradition with them to New England. As early as 1621, they celebrated the “first Thanksgiving” of the colonies in Plymouth.

A scene of Gold Rush-era men around a campfire celebrating the first San Francisco Thanksgiving in a serene and picturesque setting
An (AI) artist’s depiction of how the first Thanksgiving in San Francisco may have looked. Very cozy.

The First Thanksgiving in San Francisco

Fast forward 200-something years to the California Gold Rush, and San Francisco’s influx of Yankee prospectors meant that Thanksgiving had also arrived to the California coast. In a delightful article published November 22, 1896, the San Francisco Call newspaper recounts the events of Thanksgiving in San Francisco, 1850.

California Governor George Burnett had declared November 30th to be a statewide holiday, therefore “business was suspended and the day was observed by all men from New England and many others who did not object to a good time.”

Thanksgiving was quite foreign to those who hailed from southern and middle states or Europe. But when they learned that the “celebration meant considerable eating and drinking, they inclined to the belief that it was not such a bad thing after all, and concluded to take part in it.”

‘Twas not a modern feast, by any means. According to the Call, turkey was sparse that first Thanksgiving in SF, as were deer, beef, pork and mutton. Most of the men were content with jackrabbit, as “in those days the boys didn’t look down on the gray jumpers.” Yum.

Digital art of a 19th-century man next to a rabbit.
Don’t worry, this little guy is safe. 🐰

A More Modern SF Thanksgiving

Eastward in Sacramento, an elaborate event was held, with 40 dishes prepared including classic fixins like turkey and pumpkin pie. Aside from football and a nap on the couch, it seems tradition has not much changed since then.

As we look ahead to Thanksgiving this year, we want to share our thanks with you, our readers, clients, and dear friends. We hope your holiday season gets off to a wonderful start!

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