When Was North Dakota’s First Christmas Celebrated?
We are less than three weeks away from celebrating another Christmas, but what was the first Christmas celebrated in North Dakota?
We need to jump into the Way-Back Machine also known as Prairie Public and travel to 1805. Just 29 years after the birth of our nation and 84 years before North Dakota became a state.
Lewis and Clark are credited with being among the first Americans to celebrate Christmas in what would become North Dakota, in addition to spearheading the country's first exploration of the West Coast.
The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, was the inspiration behind the Corps of Discovery, which dispatched the expedition to regions that the newly formed nation had never officially visited before. Through Jefferson's acquisition of the Louisiana Territory from France, the United States had doubled in size.
The difficult journey that Lewis and Clark took to reach the Pacific Ocean is now regarded as one of the major moments in American history. The explorers are renowned for having met and interacted with the Mandan and Hidatsa Native Americans when they arrived in what is now North Dakota in 1805.
In addition, they built Fort Mandan, their headquarters, named after their newfound friends. They stayed in the cold, icy high plains for the winter.
There were speakers of French and English among the group of explorers. There was Seaman, Lewis' Newfoundland dog; York, Clark's manservant and slave; and Sacagawea, the fabled Shoshone, who lived with her husband Charbonneau. Jean Baptiste, also known as Pomp, Sacagawea's infant son, completed the mix of characters.
The Corps of Discovery observed the Christmas holiday in 1805. The ground was covered with a layer of winter snow that morning. By midday, the temperature had reached twenty degrees.
Compared to now, Christmas was a far more low-key celebration. At the flag-raising ceremony, Captain Clark allowed celebratory cannon fire and gave the men taffia, a concoction of rum and water. "Some men went out to hunt, and the others to dance," wrote Clark.
"We had the best food that could be had and continued firing, dancing, and frolicking until nine o'clock," a member of the Corps wrote.
The men on the expedition also observed New Year's Day and Independence Day as holidays.
65 years later, in 1870, Christmas Day was declared a national holiday in the United States.
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