Christmas in San Francisco’s Jewish Community a Century Ago

In Albert Bender’s and Anne Bremer’s social circles, it seems there was no mention of Hanukkah, no neutral “Happy Holidays” greetings, etc. Jews were happy to celebrate Christmas in the American style with cards, gifts, Christmas trees and parties. As Frances Dinkelspiel has written, “they did not consider it a holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus.” [] They were not particularly observant of Jewish ritual traditions; many rarely if ever visited a synagogue. But they did participate in Jewish charities and generally married other Jews.

Albert had an eventful Christmas in 1912. He was celebrating at the Pacific Heights home of architect G. Albert Lansburgh when a chimney fire started. “Lansburgh, together with L. C. Mullgardt, also one of the exposition architects; Albert M. Bender, a well known insurance man, and James McNab, vice president of the exposition and chairman of the buildings and grounds committee, quickly lined up. although clad in holiday attire, with the firemen” to put it out. [San Francisco Call, 26 Dec 1912]

The Bender Papers at Mills College include many Christmas cards and thanks to Albert for thoughtful gifts. There is also a love poem by Anne, inscribed “To A.M.B., Christmas 1920.”

According to Oscar Lewis (who did like to exaggerate), “AMB’s orders for Christmas cards are said to run into the thousands. He addresses each one himself and he usually finds time to add a few lines of personal greeting.”

A few of the letterpress items Bender had printed at Grabhorn and other presses were labeled as Christmas offerings, including the Lord’s Prayer printed by J. H. Nash in 1939—a decidedly un-Jewish choice. Here is what it looked like:

2 thoughts on “Christmas in San Francisco’s Jewish Community a Century Ago

  1. I miss the days when everybody sent Holiday cards. I know, I know, I could still send them. I was thinking along those lines for this year but decided against as it’s an expense I cannot afford in these lean times. Happy Christmas to you, Phil, Adam and Bryan!

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