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What was Christmas like during the gold rush? Or when Los Angeles belonged to Mexico? 12 California state parks recreate history for the holidays.

What was Christmas like during the gold rush? Or when Los Angeles belonged to Mexico?

Ever wonder what Christmas was like in the California of the mid-1800s--for prospectors in Mother Lode boom towns, vaqueros on isolated ranchos, or Californios in the capital city of Monterey?

You can find out at a dozen historic state parks offering holiday programs this December. Festivities range from a simple, homey afternoon of music at Bidwell Mansion in Chico to nearly three weeks of elaborate activities at Columbia in the Gold Country. While few programs are designed to be historically authentic, volunteer organizers and even park rangers often don costumes to help re-create the period atmosphere.

Some events, such as candelight tours or performances, are fund-raisers and require tickets and reservations. But most programs are more like an open house: just drop by and join in.

We list state parks that have announced programs by our press time. Two will mail schedules of events; for all, call ahead for confirmations and updates before you set out. Activities are free unless noted.

From Shasta to Clearlake, crafts and music mark celebrations

Shasta State Historic Park, State Highway 299 and Trinity Alley, about 5 miles northwest of Redding; (916) 243-8194. From 11 to 4:30 December 7, Shasta's 1855 Court House, which once dispensed law and order, opens its doors to give visitors a look at a turn-of-the-century Christmas. In the clerk's office, look for a tree decorated with handmade glass ornaments. Nearby, in the new visitor center, an 1890s press prints old-time holiday postcards.

A block from the Court House, the Litsch Store Museum is decorated for the holidays. Here you can see displays of 1870s merchandise and buy baked goods, crafts, and old-time Christmas ornaments.

William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park, 21659 Adobe Road, Red Bluff; (916) 527-5927. From 1 to 4 December 20, tools and materials from the 1850s are used in taffy pulling, candle dipping, and toy making at a pioneer Christmas party. Free popcorn popped over a fire, cookies, and fruit are served with hot apple cider and coffee.

Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park, 525 The Esplanade, Chico; (916) 895-6144. On December 7, this 1868 Italian-style villa fills with Christmas music as the Allegro Bell Choir performs five successive 45-minute concerts, beginning at 1. Admission is free, but call ahead to reserve a spot.

Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, 917 Kelly Ridge Road, Oroville; (916) 534-2372. From 9 to 4 on December 13 and 14, volunteers in period dress staff the holiday-decorated visitor center and teach pioneer crafts such as basket weaving, tin punching, and cornhusk dollmaking. From 2 to 4 both days, musical entertainment is provided by either the Allegro Bell Choir or a school choir singing carols.

Anderson Marsh State Historic Park, on State Highway 53, 1/2 mile south of Clearlake; (707) 994-0688. December 6, 13, 20, and 27, fireplaces glow and a candle-lit tree decorates the 1855 Anderson Ranch House. Docents in 1890s holiday costume give informal tours and offer free coffee, hot cider, and cookies. Hours are 10 to 4.

Gold Country towns offer a feast, festivities, and holiday plays

Columbia State Historic Park, on State Highway 49 about 4 miles northeast of Sonora. On 10 evenings between December 4 and 19, City Hotel serves a five-course Victorian banquet that includes wine and continuous entertainment. Price is $50 for adults, $45 for ages 12 and under. For required reservations for this popular event, call (209) 532-1479.

December 5 through 21, historic Fallon House Theatre presents The Butterfingers Angel, a Christmas play with carols. Performances run Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. For tickets ($5 to $8) and show times, call 532-4644.

December 6 at 6:30, a lamplight tour takes you to lively, well-performed living history reenactments in historic buildings, ending with a dessert buffet and Christmas carols. Cost is $10; for reservations, call 532-4301. December 13 and 14 from 1 to 4, Main Street bustles with caroling and music, candy-cane making at the Candy Kitchen, and a visit from Santa, who arrives by stagecoach. At 5:30 Sunday, you can join the half-hour Las Posadas procession reenacting Mary and Joseph's search for room at an inn.

For a schedule of events, write to Columbia State Historic Park, Box 151, Columbia 95310, or call 532-4301.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, at Coloma on State Highway 49, 8 miles north of Placerville; (916) 622-3470. From 1 to 5 on December 7, costumed volunteers introduce you to the town and characters from its past as you make a self-guided tour of historic buildings--churches, houses, a grange hall, a warehouse. All are trimmed with handmade decorations. Cost--$6 for adults, $2 for ages 12 and under--includes a holiday melodrama by the Coloma Crescent Players.

In Benicia, Monterey, San Juan Bautista: living history, tours, caroling

Benicia Capitol State Historic Park. For details on a December 5 Victorian-style open house and other Christmas events, see page 32.

Monterey State Historic Park, near Fisherman's Wharf. From 5 to 9 December 18 and 19, a dozen historic houses and adobes open for touring. Providing a sense of the many ethnic groups living in California a century ago, most have music; some also serve refreshments. At the Stevenson House (Robert Louis Stevenson stayed here), bagpipers play. Larkin House, decked in holly, has an 1850s New England motif. Cost is $5 per night, $1 for ages 6 to 17. Pick up tickets and maps at buildings on the tour.

Also planned for December are a festival of trees, Las Posadas procession, and Dickens Street fair. For details on all the above, write to Chamber of Commerce, Box 1770, Monterey 93942, or call (408) 649-1770.

San Juan Bautista State Historic Park, on State Highway 156 about 15 miles southeast of Gilroy; (408) 623-4881. Noon to 4 on December 6, living history is celebrated in holiday fashion at the Plaza Hotel--in the 1800s, the main stopover for travelers between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Costumed volunteers tell tales of early days and the town's historic characters. On December 13 at 7, you can join a candlelight caroling party.

Other activities are tentatively scheduled elsewhere in the park; call ahead.

In Southern California, pinata parties

El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park, Olvera Street, Los Angeles, (213) 628-4349. At 8 every evening December 16 through 24, merchants along Olvera Street host Las Posadas. The hour-long parade begins at the Avila Adobe, the city's oldest house, and wends along the street, ending with a pinata-breaking spree for children. Shops and restaurants will stay open until about 10.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, Old Mason Street School, 3966 Mason Street; (619) 297-1183. At 6 on December 10, lighting luminarias in the Plaza and recounting the Nativity story are followed by Las Posadas, a tradition begun here in 1837. After nine stops within the park, you end up back at the Plaza for Christmas carols. Inside the schoolhouse, there are hot chocolate, cookies, and a pinata.

Photo: Columbia

Gold rush--era costumes clothed cast in last season's adaptation of A Christmas Carol at Fallon House Theatre (above). Meanwhile, in town, Kate learned from bearded hero that he was known to Victorians as St. Nicholas

Photo: Monterey

Flickering luminarias lead visitors up path to Casa Soberanes, 1830 adobe where costumed musicians play from balcony. Inside, cups of Mexican hot chocolate fortify participants for evening walking tour of historic houses

Photo: Los Angeles

Booth-lined Olvera Street fills with costumed singers following Mary and Joseph in the annual Las Posadas procession. The walk ends at Nativity scene

Photo: Cane makers wave their creations at Candy Kitchen in Columbia, one of several state parks with hands-on activities for children
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1986
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