Father Christmas’s Big Bash

With an authentic renaissance flair, Father Christmas arrived in Santa Barbara. The scene was the 63rd annual Holiday Party presented by the Santa Barbara Historical Society at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, decked out in festive red ribbons and green pine boughs. Co-chairs of the event for the third consecutive year were Ralph and Diane Waterhouse.

Guests were welcomed with a merry selection of traditional carols, sung by the Santa Barbara Holiday Carolers Nichole Dechaine, Kathy Kamath, Roy Spicer, and Mark Steketee, dressed in Dickensian garb, soothing the yuletide spirits of all that passed through the museum’s wooden doors. Inside, guests were greeted by several of Santa Barbara Historical Society’s Board of Directors, including Board President Edgar Sands, First Vice-President Richard Glenn, and trustees Don Fuhrer and Thomas Mielko.

In the Main Gallery, attendees were treated to an exhibition of one of history’s most beloved toys, entitled “Best Friend: The Story of Teddy Bear.”

In 1902, the Teddy bear came into being simultaneously in both the United States and Germany. In the U.S., the bear was the brainchild of Morris and Rose Michtom of Brooklyn, who were inspired by a famous cartoon describing an incident with President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt and a bear cub he refused to shoot. Placing their newly crafted “Teddy’s Bear” in the window of their candy and stationery store, the Michtoms’ creation became an instant hit. At the same time, the Stieff Company of Germany produced a bear drawn from life. Their creation became so popular in the United States that Stieff was soon exporting bears across the Atlantic. The excitement the Teddy bear caused in the early 20th century was probably similar to a phenomenon experienced at the end of the 20th century with the arrival of Ty Warner’s Beanie Babies.

Several months ago the Santa Barbara Historical Museum staff (led by Curator David Bisol) brought the idea of a Teddy bear retrospective to Warner, a Montecito resident. The result? The large Christmas tree in the Museum Gallery, covered in Beanie Baby bears from top to bottom, all donated by Mr. Warner.

Along the walls of the gallery are storyboards and glass cases chronicling the history of this fuzzy little creature. Life-sized bears in chairs, doll houses filled with miniature bears, and bears from as far away as Botswana, Sri Lanka, Peru, and Japan are testaments to the enduring fascination of this stuffed animal. Douglas Diller, assistant curator of the Museum, avers that the bear represents an important international symbol of unity that cuts across all borders and cultures.

Renaissance music and dance by the Merrie Wreath Consort and Noble Patrons, a “Scottish Renaissance Enactors Guild,” guided attendees through the galleries into the courtyard. The Handbell Choir of Carpinteria Community Church rang out seasonal favorites as guests were seated under a large white tent. The buffet was served outdoors, and the warmth of the encircling adobe cloister and good cheer throughout kept guests comfortable. In the center of the tent hung a large cut-crystal chandelier draped in pine boughs.

Richard Glenn noted that the evening was first and foremost a celebration for the children of Santa Barbara, and that the children lucky enough to attend this evening were in for a magical event. From Stroud Puppets’s presentation of “Holiday Under the Sea” to award-winning juggler Ivan Pecel’s hilarious performance, children of all ages delighted in the shared experience of joy and good cheer. As Board President Edgar Sands observed, “You don’t need a computer or electronic game to have fun. The evening’s event,” he opined, “teaches children that the most important activity is the shared human experience.”

Along with the holiday buffet, guests enjoyed wassail and wine, while UCSB’s Maurice Faulkner Brass Quintet played. Just as dessert (furnished by board members and trustees) was being consumed, children rushed to greet Father Christmas and his court as they arrived in full regalia (and with basketloads of free Beanie Baby Bears for all) to herald the start of the Holiday Season.

From the ancient English tradition, Father Christmas carries the spirit of winter with him, and whosoever is kind to Father Christmas will be treated kindly by winter in return. David Bisol has done the honors of donning the Father Christmas outfit for several years. He is so convincing that the real Father Christmas has reportedly become nervous about holding on to his position!

Whether you have children or are simply young at heart, you should visit the museum this holiday season and share in the magic of the Teddy Bear. Admission to the Teddy Bear exhibit is free; the show runs through January 15.