During the chaotic early days of the California Gold Rush, the majority of the population were men who were far from home, seeking their fortunes as miners, tradesmen, or entrepreneurs. The Christmas holidays, which magnified the absence of loved ones, were especially hard for so many of them, prompting feelings of sadness and loss.
Many probably anticipated, or wished for, packages from their families, and realized that they, too, should probably send gifts. For some, though—busily engaged in other pursuits—this realization likely occurred at nearly the last minute. What, then, should they should buy and send in time for it to arrive home by Christmas? Cross-continental mail, though furnished by Pacific Mail Steamers that departed from the port of San Francisco twice a month, was still sluggish.
On November 15, 1850, this article in San Francico’s Daily Pacific News provided some inspiration. Granted, the piece was a barely concealed commercial advertisement, but it did urge its readers to take action.
DELAY NOT. Now is the time—before the steamer sails today—to obtain such suitable tokens to forward to loved ones far away, as shall brighten the chain that binds us together, and make glad the hearts of those who shall be gathered around the Christmas hearth, with the pleasing consciousness of being not forgotten, but fondly remembered, though seas and a continent separate us from the objects of affection.
If you send what is most valued, a portrait of yourself, go to Bradley’s, Montgomery Street, next to the corner of Washington, who will give you a perfect likeness in a sitting of ten to twenty-five seconds. He is, in our judgement, one of the best operators in the Daguerrean Art in America, as those who examine his specimens cannot fail to acknowledge. He will turn out a picture even within half an hour before the steamer leaves; but it will be better to call in the forenoon.
At any rate, send home something for a holiday token, be it ever so trifling—say, from an embroidered shawl to a California gold ring.