What Was Christmas like during the Gold Rush? or When Los Angeles Belonged to Mexico? 12 California State Parks Recreate History for the Holidays

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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. …