Idaho Senator Mike Crapo
In 1832, befriended by Nez Perce and Flathead Indians, Cpt. Bonneville and 13 fellow trappers found safety and bountiful game in the Stanley Basin from Dec. 9 through Dec. 26. Historical records note "an elaborate Christmas celebration with the Nez Perce, who joined enthusiastically in the celebration." A decade later (1842).
Father Nicholas Point and Father Pierre J. de Smet decorated the Sacred Heart Mission (now Cataldo) for Christmas, celebrating with the Coeur d'Alene Indians. These are some of the first Idaho Christmases in recorded history. Reflecting on some past Christmases helps us appreciate the spirit of our holiday today.
As pioneers settled Idaho, they obviously didn't have access to merchandise like people on the East Coast. While the popularity of catalog shopping reaches back to early Idaho households, most Christmas presents were handmade dolls, clothes and toys. Similarly, most decorations were handmade.
In the mid-1800s, Boise residents had a community Christmas tree rather than trees in their homes. The nearest trees were in the foothills, a prohibitive distance for most families to get one for their house. Also at that time, charities played second fiddle to the generosity of individual families. Perhaps because hardship was so common, there was an acute awareness of the needs of those less fortunate. Many gifts were brought to the community tree for others.
Idaho has had its share of war Christmases. In the summer of 1916, the Idaho National Guard,
Second Regiment was placed on duty in Nogales, Ariz. Over the next few months, all other regiments were sent home, to the frustration of family and Idaho Gov. Moses Alexander. In December, Alexander received word that the regiment would be mustered out of Utah. This was the last straw. He asked for a reconsideration of the order and sent telegrams to the Idaho Congressional Delegation, pleading for assistance. The order was changed and the Idaho Second returned to spend Christmas with their families and was mustered out of Boise Barracks on Jan. 22, 1917.
Just two years later, Idaho families received another Christmas present of sorts – a welcome respite from the Spanish Influenza epidemic that ravaged Idaho throughout 1918 and 1919; it subsided for a month in December 1919.
Many Idahoans experienced scarcity and hardship during the Christmases of the agricultural depression of 1921-1928. Idaho's farming, ranching and timber families were just starting to recover when the Great
Depression struck. Prior years of want may have prepared Idaho families for the struggles of the 1930s, but hardship is hardship and, as Idaho's economy gathered strength after World War II, Christmases of the 1950s on were better for most.
Today's holiday season is very different than those early pioneer days.
The Internet has changed the face of shopping. We are comparatively better off than our predecessors. As we prepare for the holidays, Idaho Christmases past can help us be thankful for our blessings, and keep our historical spirit of generosity and close family ties alive in our celebrations. If we can find time to enjoy, as Cpt. Bonneville did well over a century ago, a "cessation from toil, hunger and alarm," in our own holiday season, it's indeed something to be thankful for.