First Christmas In Arizona


About 8 months ago, my wife and I packed up our bags and left Phoenixville, PA for Phoenix, AZ. There were a number of competing factors that led us to this decision. There was a new job working for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. There was the weather and the fact that they’ve never used the term “Polar Vortex” to describe what was happening outdoors. However, one the biggest drivers was my wife’s family that live out here. She wanted to be closer to them, and this was the way to do it.

First Christmas In Arizona

Everyone finds their own reasons when they move from one place to another. We had ours. Your ancestors had theirs. When you move, you’ll find a series of firsts happen. First Christmas in a new place is one of them. In honor of our first Christmas in Arizona, I would like to talk a little bit about the first Christmas in Arizona.

First allow me to set the stage. The first recognition of the boundaries of what would eventually become modern Arizona happened on February 24, 1863. The land was occupied by the Native Americans for several millennia prior to the European colonization of North America. Then came the Spanish settlements, and later early settlers from the early United States. There was even an earlier territory known as Arizona as the Confederate South recognized them during the Civil War. However, the Christmas of 1863 was the first one where the borders of Arizona looked like they do today.

Mick Woodcock of the Sharlot Hall Museum posted an amazing account of that first Christmas, as described in 1863 by Allyn, the Judge of the Third Judicial District near where Prescott, Arizona would be founded the following year:

We determined to celebrate Christmas Eve, for in this sort of traveling, one never knows what a day may bring forth. A wagon was sent off for wood and greens. It went three times, and just as we got all ready it began to snow. The wood, however, was heaped up, the wagons corralled to keep off the wind, and draped with the old flag. The rear of a wagon served for the orchestra, and a feed box, for the rostrum, while a huge caldron of hot water was hissing on the fire. Speeches were made that, no matter what was their merit, had attentive, earnest, and enthusiastic listeners. Captain Chacon made a speech in Spanish, translated by Col. Chavez that was touching and eloquent; he told of the love he had for the flag, of his sacrifice and aspirations for the republic; it thrilled the mixed audience that stood in that pelting storm, and three rousing cheers went up. The toddy proved excellent, through we had no eggs. The music was admirable, the John Brown chorus carrying the Mexicans off their feet, and a German soldier gave us 'I fights mit Siegel.' The whole affair was closed just as the moon peeped out of the clouds, by some remarks by the chaplain and a short prayer. On the whole, it was unique, impromptu, and a success."

Later, Archbishop Lamy of the Roman Catholic Dioceses described it as so:

"On Christmas Day we were able to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice, to which 20 or 25 persons assisted, kneeling on the ground still covered with the snow which had fallen the day before. We were on the slope of a mountain, surrounded by forests of oak and pinon, silver leaf and cedar trees. The altar placed in the shadow of green, had been improvised with the material on hand, consisting of trunks of trees. Some old boards which had done service, were used as seats and tables. At that time there were only two miserable huts.”

On Christmas Day 1863, Don Manuel Yrissari broke ground and began building the Fort Misery log cabin; his store and home in Prescott, . This is oldest and only known structure still standing in Arizona from this year. That home was relocated in 1934 and is currently a part of the museum. There is a lot more description and a lovely little photo of Fort Misery as well as the officials from that Christmas over at the Sharlot Hall Museum:  They have the rights to the photos, so you'll have to click over to see them.

I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday and a jolly season full of firsts. Merry Christmas from Arizona!

Quick Housekeeping Note: I’m sorry, it turns out that my schedule will not permit me to live-blog “The Night Before Christmas” on December 24th this year. I will try to do that for next year. Again, my apologies. I will be taking a short break from the blog for the following week for the holidays and will be returning to regular blogging starting on Monday, January 5th.

Interesting Links:

Consider Purchasing: