History Snapshot: Christmas in San Francisco


This time of year is heavy with nostalgia, and many of us seem to focus on capturing the simplicity of times past.  In an effort to satisfy that desire, these images serve as visual reference points on how San Franciscans have celebrated the season.

‘Dress-Up’ or party clothes worn by every-day residents can speak volumes about how trends appeared in every-day/non-couture apparel. These photos evidence how Santa’s costume has changed over time , how people have chosen to acknowledge the holiday publicly and even how commercial businesses have tried to attract customers (How often does one see a Christmas tree made out of Mink Coats?)

In looking through the San Francisco Public Library’s Historic Photo collection related to this time of year, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of charity work being done (especially in the 1940s and 1950s). Many of the photos are of holiday parties, performances and other charity functions to benefit military soldiers and veterans, the disabled, the elderly and others less fortunate. It served as a reminder to me, of how important it is to be generous to those who are in need this time of year :

December 24, 1943: Service men enjoying the turkey Christmas at the American Women’s Voluntary Services (AWVS) Third and Townsend sts. canteen, San Francisco Via San Francisco Public Library

December 24, 1941: “The Christmas tree in the foyer of Union Square Lounge serves as a gathering place for this happy group to toast the holiday spirit. The Union Square Lounge at 177 Maiden Lane, near Stockton, is a cocktail lounge that is fast catching on as ‘a new place to meet.’ Al Payne and Duke Rehfeld are hosts.” Via San Francisco Public Library

December 24, 1934: Santa Claus with ferryboat passengers. Via San Francisco Public Library

December 23, 1952: “HAPPY HORDE–A small percentage of the thousands of kids who jammed the Crystal Palace Market yesterday afternoon for the annual Santa Claus Party. A steady stream of children came to see Santa and receive gifts from him and his helpers – including balloons, bow and arrow sets, cookies, apples, candy canes and ice cream sandwiches. The party was repeated this morning.” Via San Francisco Public Library

November 23, 1953: “IT DOES, TOO–Mink, that is… grow on trees, we mean. In any event, something over 500 skins of natural Canadian wild mink are hanging on a 14-foot Christmas Tree on the first floor of I. Magnin’s. Admiring it, as what woman wouldn’t, are Jane Winter and Evelyn Hakala. Myriads of tiny brilliants in all colors illuminate the lustrous fur and there’s a spherical golden sunburst at top. Decorations are worth more than $50,000.” Via San Francisco Public Library.

  • For more on the history of Christmas, see Christmas: A Candid History (2008).

*December 22, 1958: Members of the Catholic Alumni Club trimming a Christmas tree at Clarendon Hall in Laguna Honda Home Via San Francisco Public Library

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