Home | All Almanac Topics | Religion

Southern California's First Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree by Winslow Homer, 1858

"The Christmas Tree," wood engraving by Winslow Homer for Harper's Weekly, 1858. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.
The image above is not of the first Los Angeles Christmas tree, but meant to illustrate Christmas trees of that era.

In 1857, with no railroad connection and only a distant small harbor, Los Angeles seemed far from the rest of the world. That did not keep, however, local residents Dr. Matthew Carter, an Englishman and physician, and his wife from leading the organization of a festive Christmas community event, especially meant for children. That year, the Carters proposed and were prime movers of the erection of what is believed to be the first Christmas tree in Los Angeles and Southern California. Although the tree was erected at the Carter home, it was a community project and neighbors came to help decorate it. On Christmas Eve, all children were welcomed to the Carter home and Dr. Carter officiated as Santa Claus. There was music, singing, dancing, games and “the pleasant chatter of friends.” William Workman, another English immigrant and local resident, recounted of that evening, “the true spirit of the Christmas time illuminated each and every heart” and “the children of Los Angeles, than whom none of their successors are happier, did not retire until the wee small hours of Christmas day.”