Pioneer Moments: First Christmas

After the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847, they surveyed the city and decided to build a fort on the city block where Pioneer Park is located today (between 300 and 400 West and 300 and 400 South).

It was in this fort, in log cabins built with a limited supply of timber and adobe bricks, where many early pioneers celebrated their first Christmas in the valley.Just as it grew dark on Christmas Eve that year, a light snow fell. Early settlers woke the next morning to fields that sparkled beautifully in the sunlight. Christmas that year fell on a Saturday.

"We all worked as usual," wrote Elizabeth Huffaker. "The men gathered sagebrush, and some even ploughed, for, though it has snowed, the ground was still soft, and the ploughs were used nearly the entire day."

She said that most celebrated Christmas on the Sabbath day, "gathering around the flagpole in the centre of the fort, and there we held a meeting. And what a meeting it was! We sang praise to God; we all joined in the opening prayer, and the speaking that day has always been remembered. There were words of thanksgiving and cheer. The people were hopeful and buoyant, because of their faith in the great work they were undertaking.

"That day we had boiled rabbit and a little bread for our dinner. . . . It was a feast we had. All had enough to eat. In the sense of perfect peace and goodwill, I never had a happier Christmas in my life."

In celebration, Church members also attended dances and plays presented by the young people, however, very few gifts were exchanged that first Christmas.

M. J. Thompson received one of the few gifts given that year. The young girl hung a stocking on the wall of her log cabin the day before Christmas. "Mother said to me, `my child, I fear you will be greatly disappointed' . . . And sure enough I was disappointed," she wrote.

However, later that day a neighbor visited the Thompson cabin to wish the family a Merry Christmas. She "presented me with a little earthen sugar bowl, an article not much use[d] at that time, as sugar existed in the camp mainly in the form of memories of people. But I was delighted with my Christmas gift."