This post was most recently updated on July 23rd, 2020
Some of my most memorable travel experiences have been opportunities to participate in local traditions (a birthday party in Athens, Greece), cultural events (a Sicilian festival in Como, Italy), or religious celebrations (a liturgical celebration in the Notre Dame cathedral, Paris, France). San Diego has an annual commemoration of The Mormon Battalion (1846-47), which was the only religiously based military unit in United States history. Reliving history is a great way to learn more about it. The Battalion consisted of volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who enlisted in the Mexican-American War. They made a grueling march from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego—a march of nearly 2000 miles, setting a record for the longest infantry march. They remained in San Diego for about a year and made important contributions to the area now known as Old Town.
This annual commemoration is an event you won’t want to miss, with something for everyone from history buffs to families to tourists. If you’d like more details about the history-making march, you can find more information here.The Mormon Battalion Commemoration is held annually on the last Saturday of January, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. It’s free and the community is encouraged to attend. It begins with a re-enactment of the Battalion marching into the Old Town square. Many of these men and women are descendants of original Battalion members. But for much of the audience, it is meaningful as a reminder of the sacrifices early church pioneers made as they traveled west to find a place where the Church could flourish without persecution.
Throughout the day, there are performers (Mexican dance, choirs, and story-tellers), booths displaying various pioneer crafts and antiques, hands-on activities for children, dutch-oven cooking with judging for prizes, horse-pulled wagon rides, firearm demonstrations, blacksmithing, and costumed photography. Many participants wear pioneer costumes, and although it is optional, it really adds to the festivities. Dignitaries often participate with judging and other acknowledgments. This year (2015), the commemoration was visited by an LDS apostle, Elder Jeffrey R Holland.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I am fascinated with the history of the Church and the faith and devotion of its early pioneers. An event like the Mormon Battalion Commemoration is especially inspiring for me as it reminds me of many of the attributes and skills I would like to develop. As an avid traveler, I am also attracted to events like this. Anything that can help me better understand the culture, history, and customs of the local people makes my experience much more meaningful. If you are visiting San Diego in January (or if you make San Diego your home), be sure to put the Mormon Battalion Commemoration on your bucket list!
Any other time of the year, the public is welcome free of charge at the San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site in Old Town. It’s an interactive opportunity to “experience” for yourselves what the Battalion march would have been like — with themed rooms, talking portraits, a “general store” where the kids can be outfitted for the march, and even a place to pan for gold. Costumed volunteers will take your photo and email it to you, and you can sit on the porch in a rocking chair or in a covered wagon and people-watch. There’s even a replica of the first San Diego courthouse. Reliving history in San Diego can be great fun for the family!
What cultural or historic events have you participated in while traveling?