clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Christmas 1847 in Salt Lake Valley was full of warmth, gratitude

It was a warm Christmas, made even warmer by the day's activities. The Mormon pioneers spent their first Christmas in the Salt Lake Valley working. Some gathered sagebrush for fires. Others plowed fields. Some hunted rabbits. Others worked on their tiny cabins."We had no floor but the ground, but we were thankful for a roof," Mary Jane Mount Tanner wrote in her autobiography. "My father laid the floor on Christmas Day, and my mother called it a merry Christmas. It was indeed a time for rejoicing; we had been so long without a home and suffered so much living in a wagon during the cold weather, for we had no stoves and the only chance we had to warm was by the fire out doors which was also used to cook by."The warmth of the last week seemed like a divine tempering of the weather, but it brought some wet challenges as well. Parley P. Pratt wrote that "nearly every house leaked during the first winter, and umbrellas, where such a luxury as an umbrella was owned, were frequently in demand to shelter those engaged in cooking."One pioneer spent part of the day rigging a canvas cover to keep muddy drips coming out of the sod roof off the baby cradle.Food was scarce — making every bit seem like a feast. Eliza R. Snow wrote about a small afternoon lunch party at Lorenzo Young's home. "After a splendid dinner at which we freely and sociably partook of the good things of the earth, father John Smith blessed the babe of Brother and Sister Lorenzo Young. I served as scribe. Brother Jedediah M. Grant prayed and dedicated the house to the Lord."Rebecca Riter remembered, "Christmas came and the children were hungry. I had brought a peck of wheat across the plains and hid it under a pile of wood. I thought I would cook a handful of wheat for the baby. Then I thought how we would need wheat for seed in the spring, so I left it alone."In the evening, Edith Chase held a party at Clara Decker Young's small home for the little girls of the camp. Young's husband was President Brigham Young, who had traveled back to the main body of the Saints still in Winter Quarters. He would not return to the Salt Lake Valley until September 1848.Christmas Day had begun with the firing of the cannon. Although many Mormons greeted each other with "Merry Christmas," there was no mentioning or expectation of gifts.According to Elizabeth Huffaker, who was a child at the time, the real celebration came the next day, the Sabbath.Everyone gathered around the flagpole in the fort. "What a meeting it was!" Huffaker wrote. "We sang praises to God, we all joined in the opening prayer and the speaking that day will always be remembered. They were words of thanksgiving and cheer; not an unkind word was uttered. The people were hopeful and buoyant because of their great faith in the work they were undertaking. After the meeting there was handshaking all around. Some wept with joy."Huffaker remembered her Sunday "Christmas" dinner. "That day we had boiled rabbit and a little bread for dinner. Father had shot some rabbits and it was a feast. All had enough to eat."When the evening came, the Saints gathered again around a sagebrush fire. As the flames leapt upward, the group sang the song that took them across the plains, "Come, Come Ye Saints." Of all the songs of Christmas, this hymn of the exodus captured the moment. It was the Mormons' own Christmas carol — a pledge of faithfulness and a thanksgiving."In the sense of perfect peace and good will I never had a happier Christmas in all my life," Huffaker wrote. "That was the Christmas of '47."


E-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com