Christmas in Paris (1903) Mademoiselle Arabella Huntington

By Nancy Armitage

In 1889, Napoleon III assigned Baron Haussmann to modernize Paris with (20,000) gaslights at night; 1841, Queen Victoria & her husband, Albert invented the Christmas tree, but dangerously lite it with candles on tin plates. Christmas lights were introduced to the world in circa 1903-1904; Photo credit: Nancy Armitage (Miramar Hotel Santa Barbara, CA)

It was a brand new year, the date: January 13, 1904 a widowed, Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington was sailing home from France into New York Harbor. Mrs. Collis P. Huntington “Arabella” or “Belle” was traveling abroad the grand steamship, “S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm II”. The ship papers state Mrs. Huntington’s last residence was Paris, France. Arabella was traveling with her son, Archer M. Huntington & his 1st wife, Helen Gates Huntington (a writer & a poet). 1904 was an important year for Archer, he was soon to open his own Hispanic Society of NYC (Museum).  He had to get home to the States & prepare for the grand opening in New York City. 

A grand steamship sailing into New York Harbor, being greeted by the Statue of Liberty.

The ship, “S. S. Kaiser Wilhelm II” port of departure was Cherbourg, France. It was to arrive at the Port of New York on January 20, 1904. The Huntington passengers were Mrs. C. P. Huntington (age 54) with Arabella’s personal social secretary, Miss Caroline Campbell, Mr. Archer M. Huntington age 34, Mrs. Archer M. Huntington (Helen), Dominguez Marking (age 27, Spanish male & Valet to Mr. Huntington) Angus McGillvery (age 30, Scottish. single male & Mrs. Huntington’s Head Butler), Jane Reifer (age 24, single German female & Ladies maid to Mrs. Huntington) & Suzanne Gilsmere (age 27, single. Swiss female & Mrs. Archer Huntington’s Ladies maid)   

Romantic Paris at night with the Eiffel Tower.

It was highly unusual that Arabella was in Paris especially during the holidays: Christmas & New Years Eve and New Year’s Day. Mrs. Huntington loved Christmas & the Huntington Family was usually in New York City at Christmas time. By the ship’s document, dated in January 13, 1904, we come to the conclusion that Huntingtons had enjoyed Christmas of 1903 in Paris.

“Buche de Noel” or French Christmas Yule Log cake made of chocolate cake & chocolate or mocha mousse with meringue mushrooms with a dusting of cocoa. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

French Punch or Parisian Punch (1918)

This flavorful French punch was served aboard Cunard ships & in Parisian hotels. This recipe was adapted from a book: Richard Bond’s Ships Steward’s Handbook, 1918. (one of Mr. H.E. Huntington’s rare books at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA). This recipe had 2 lbs. sugar which I omitted, because there is enough sugar in the orange juice. Season to taste.

1 qt. orange juice

juice of 2 oranges

1 pt. Brandy [French Brandy]

1-2 t. sugar to taste

Juice of 2 lemons

1 pt. rum

1 pt. brewed orange pekoe tea

3 oranges, sliced (to garnish)

In a stockpot, combine all the ingredients. Slowly warm up this mixture but don’t boil. taste punch, add sugar if needed. Transfer into a handsome punch bowl with ladle. Garnish with sliced oranges. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Arabella Huntington (Mrs. C. P. Huntington) liked to travel aboard the French lines, the German lines, & the Cunard Lines. She had been traveling on the Cunard line even back in 1870’s: Cunard “RMS Auranic” & in the 1890’s: Cunard “RMS Teutonic”. This tradition continued with Arabella even when she married H. E. “Edwards” Huntington; they traveled on the grand Cunard ships: “RMS Aquitania”, “RMS Olympic”, “RMS Mauritania” & the “RMS Cedric”. These were some of the largest ships in the world, as the time. The Huntington family were also shareholders of these ship lines. The Huntingtons worked & owned Southern Pacific Co. which also owned Pacific Steamship Co. which included Atlantic ship lines, Panama ship lines, & the Pacific Ship lines.

Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington didn’t own her two mansions in Paris until 1907. So in 1903, the Huntington Family might have stayed at the elegant Paris Ritz overlooking the Place Vendome. We know that Arabella vacationed at Paris Ritz in the years: 1901 & 1902. They might have stayed at the Hotel Bristol or Hotel Continental (where Empress Eugenie would stayed) in Paris, also.

Christmas Cake with rose fondants & beautful jewel-toned berries.

If they stayed at the Paris Ritz, Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington & her family would have enjoyed the Ritz famous: “Five o’clock tea”; later to be called “High Tea” or “Afternoon Tea”. The Ritz Paris was favored by wealthy Americans at this time period; they had the most elegant & elaborate afternoon tea. Everyone came to the Ritz Paris “to see & be seen”. Escoffier, the chef was the one that actually change the time period on “Five o’clock tea”; because it was way too close to the dinner hour. His elegant French diners were not eating his beautiful food at the dinner seating. Tea was too close to the dinner hour. So the Paris Ritz changed afternoon tea time from 5 o’clock to 3 to 4 o’clock. 

French Champagne & the festive red glasses are called “Kir Royale” (a lovely French cocktail with creme de cassis topped with French champagne).

In “The Cosmopolitan Magazine article, No. 29 (date 1900) called “the American Colony in Paris” gives us a hint of what it was like to live in Paris. The article written by Walter Germain Robinson, states how wealthy Americans ate in Paris at the time:

The French Macaroon, a very famous pillowy dessert in Paris.

“one lives absolutely in the Paris Fashion with the light breakfast in one’s room in the morning, the elaborate dejeuner [lunch] at one [1:00pm.] & dinner at eight [8:00 pm]. Tea-rooms established near the Rue Royale, the Boulevard Haussman, & the other central districts are much patronized by the Haute ton [High tone or high society] in the afternoon…..”

By a New York Times article dated Sunday, November 22, 1903, not only did the Huntington Family spend Christmas in Paris, they enjoyed & celebrated Thanksgiving & New Years Eve in Paris, also.  

Sunday, Nov. 22, 1903 New York Times, “Doings of Americans in France”, “Miss Getty gave a ladies luncheon at her apartment in the Avenue des Champs Elyssees [Paris] last Saturday. The table was most artistically decorated with choice chrysanthemums & Indian apples. The guests were Mrs. Warren, Comtesse, de Rodellac, Mrs. La Montaingne, Miss Patterson, Comtesse Rene de Coetlogon, Mrs. Dunlop, Miss Dana, Mrs. Waters, Mrs. Audenreid, & Mrs. Huntington.”

Lovely Christmas ornaments on a Christmas tree.

Mrs. Arabella Huntington loved Christmas especially in New York City. The usually time for Arabella & her Huntington Family was to be at the Huntington Mansion at No. 2 East 57th St. in New York City for Christmas. The Thanksgiving holiday was always at Archer M. Huntington’s mansion and estate in Pelham, Oyster Bay, New York City. Weekends & Holidays were spent at the Huntington Family Estate at Throgg’s Neck estate called “the Homestead” on the Long Island Sound in Westchester Co. in New York .

The French tradition of a “Advent wreath” is a Catholic one. An Advent wreath is placed on a table with 4 candles, green foliage, & pretty French ribbon surround it.. Each of the 4 candles are lite every Sunday of Advent in December. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

In 1900, that all changed with the death of Collis P. Huntington. While traveling up to their Camp Pine Knot on Racquette Lake in the Adirondack Mts.; Collis P. Huntington died.  After Collis died, his wife Arabella D. Huntington changed all her holiday plans.

Musee d’orsay is a amazing museum filled with the French Impressionist paintings. The building used to be a train station. Paris France.

Arabella Huntington was lost without her husband Collis, who died in August of 1900. So she distracted herself by traveled to her favorite place, Paris. Arabella was very sad after her husband of 16 years had died, & Paris was a lovely distraction. I think she felt as long as her son, Archer Huntington was with her, she could be anywhere for Christmas. But Paris for Christmas is especially magical place during the holidays, the Eiffel tower & snow on the ground. In 1903-4, whichever 1st class hotel the Huntingtons stayed out (Hotel Ritz Paris or Hotel Bristol) there would be amazing & charming Christmas decorations & lights. Arabella could shop, at the Parisian Christmas markets, look at the “Le Sapin de Noel” (the Christmas Tree), with French fancy ornaments. See all the Parisian Christmas decorations: Christmas wreaths, Red candles, & decorated with beautiful electric lights,& lovely French Ribbons.


The Eiffel tower lit up at nighttime, actually it started lighting up at night in 1985. Paris, a perfect place to be at Christmas time.

There is a possibly that Mrs. Arabella Huntington could have stayed with her friend, Mrs. Charles Alexander (Harriet Crocker) who had a mansion in Paris. These two ladies often would get together in New York City or San Francisco for afternoon tea. From an affidavit of Mrs. Alexander signed after Mrs Huntington died (1924), the two were very close & would see each other when they were in the same city & have tea & a chat. 

The Paris Ritz would have been decorated in a magical way for the wealthy Parisians & Americans to enjoy. They would have had a large Christmas Tree decorated with red bows & lights, candles and very large ornaments. 

Christmas in Paris is spectacular & has been for decades. Especially the 1st Class hotels where Mrs. Huntington & family & entourage would stay: the Ritz Paris & Hotel Bristol

In Paris, Mrs. Huntington would have had some many wonderful choices for buying Christmas gifts. What a fun time to shop in Paris, at Christmas time. They called them the “Marche de Noel” (Christmas Market). The smell of mulled wine & hot spiced apple cider. They had roasted chestnuts, foie gras, & French Speculaas spiced cookies. So much Parisian food to buy & bring home to the states; like French macaroons, madelines, & Christmas gingerbread. Lovely French Condiments like French Dijon Mustard, Lavender Honey, Lavender Jelly, Parisian Candies like French Chocolate Bonbons (Chocolate truffles), Citrus Tea from Maxims Restaurant. We know Arabella frequented Maxims because there were 2 Maxim Paris menus in the Huntington family ephemera.

Christmas markets in France & Europe, with spiced almonds, gingerbread cookies, hot mulled wine or Belguim hot cocoa.

Parisian Christmas treasures for Mrs. Huntington to buy for her loved ones & wrapped up in beautiful Christmas papers and fancy French ribbon. The French have sublime packaging for gifts. Mrs. Huntington could have purchased large Christmas Creche (the Nativity Scene) in porcelain, or French perfume & Lavender & Violet soaps, French wine & champagne. Her favorite French porcelain dishware: Sevres, Havilland, & Limoges. She could buy a art book or souvenir from the Lourve Museum or tea from Maxims. For the little children friends & family: a Bishop St. Nicholas medal or statue or spicy Speculoos (St. Nicholas) French “sables” (spicy cookies) or Bishop St. Nicholas chocolates.

“Jour de St. Nicholas” (St. Nicholas Day) – (December 6th) is a fun celebration in France. Little children on the December 5th put out their shoes. In the morning, their shoes are filled with nuts, candies, chocolates, Clementines oranges, spicy French speculaas “biscuit”cookie. They bake a “Mannele” brioche shaped like the saint, while singing St. Nicholas Songs & poems. St. Nicholas humorous poems are little rhymes stating the receivers good & bad traits. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage


HEH Coll.MS 38/6 (Affidavit for Mrs. Arabella Huntington signed by Mrs. Chas Alexander- Harriet Crocker Alexander); HEH Coll. HEH EPH E40 (Huntington family menu ephemera) all at the Huntington Library, San Marino CA. (January 13, 1904 Ship with Mrs. C.P. Huntington & Entourage); New York Times article: Connecticut Museum City of Lights/Electric Paris by Susan Hodara (Paris installed 20,000 gaslights in 1889); Christmas Traditions in France Saint Nicolas Day by Stephanie Hajjar Dec 6,2016; Book: Richard Bond’s Ship Stewards Handbook 1918 (Alfonso Gomez was a wonderful steward on a Cunard ship in 1911. Archer Huntington met him & he said go meet my mother in NYC. Alfonso was hired on the stop, maybe this book was Alfonso’s book.

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