The gift of traditions

by John Neiuber

On December 21st at 7:00 pm, Claremont Heritage will present its virtual holiday program, The Gift of Traditions – A Claremont Heritage Carol.  The program will be broadcast free on YouTube.  Traditionally, Heritage presents a holiday program in early December as a thank you gift to its membership for their support.  Proceeds from donations and sponsorships will fund the 3rd Grade Local History Program that Heritage provides all third-grade students in Claremont.

The program usually consists of food and drink provided by local restaurants, caterers and purveyors of beer, wine and spirits.  There is entertainment, sometimes harkening back and paying homage to the heyday of the Padua Hills Theatre.  Mostly it is a time to connect with friends and acquaintances and catch-up on people’s lives—news of work, family, children, grandchildren, births, losses, college plans, vacations taken and forthcoming, and, of course, holiday plans.

As I write this, the pandemic is surging across the country.  Health experts are predicting a dark winter if we don’t take steps to curtail human contact and slow the spread, yet the holidays are all about human contact and all of us are experiencing quarantine fatigue.  Yet, none of us want to be responsible for spreading the disease to grandma and grandpa or someone we love or a friend who has a preexisting condition that makes them vulnerable.  This pandemic, this year has us all feeling tense, irritable and/or anxious.  We are experiencing cabin fever, stir-craziness, stuck-inside-itis—we all need a little touch of normalcy.

So, this year Claremont Heritage’s gift to its members and the community, is a look at the traditions that give meaning to the holidays wherever they fall in the year—the stuff that memories are made of, because we remember the traditions from throughout our lives, not the things we wished for and received that new bicycle or some other thing we just had to have, whose memory fades quickly.

We have missed so many things this year—the Wine Walk, Concerts in the Park, the Pie Festival, the Holiday Promenade, the Taste of Claremont, Village Venture, the 4th of July Celebration, the Pilgrim Place Festival.  And that is just a small list of the traditions and events we celebrate in Claremont as a community!  Each of us and our families have traditions that are being canceled, postponed or modified.

We open gifts at a certain time because our tradition was to do so.  We attend a particular religious serve at a certain time because that is what our family did.  We look forward to events in the City, at our place of worship or gatherings with friends. We go caroling, attend a performance or take a drive to see the holiday light displays.  We must have grandma’s stuffing, mom’s sweet potato pie, our sister’s cookies and fudge, our aunt’s tamales or dad’s famous egg nog.  Nothing else would be right.  The traditions are the “gifts” we remember.

The production of The Gift of Traditions – A Claremont Heritage Carol, is presented in three acts or segments:  Holidays Past, Holidays Present and Holidays Future.  It is very loosely based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  The production will feature performances from local musicians and thespians.  Claremont citizens and restaurant owners will share their favorite holiday fare.  The Claremont business community will share how they promote business and cultural heritage tourism.

In the Holidays Past segment we start with the celebration of the Winter Solstice by the indigenous people that first inhabited this area and most of Southern California, the Tongva. The local village, Torojoatnga, was near the mesa later known as Indian Hill, where the California Botanic Garden is now located. 

Christmas of 1888 was a lonely one for the few residents of Claremont.  The land boom had gone bust and the town was mainly vacant lots with a few scattered houses, the depot, the land office and the empty Hotel Claremont.  But in 1889, Henry Austin Palmer donated the Hotel to Pomona College and the entire faculty and students moved in during the winter break.  They christened the hotel Claremont Hall and celebrated the first of an annual celebration with a program of music on December 19.

Later the annual celebration moved to Holmes Hall and later the center of town and gown was the Claremont Inn that opened in the fall of 1906.  Christmas dinner was offered at the Inn for just 75 cents and the menu would not change much over the next 60 years.

In the Holidays Present segment we revisit the current traditions that we will miss this year—Village Venture, the Art Mob Sale, the Village Holiday Promenade and Tree Lighting Ceremony, the Nutcracker at Bridges Auditorium, the Candlelight Pavilion productions, Luminaria Nights at the California Botanic Garden, and the list goes on.

The presentation will also feature a photographic tour of the art and architecture of Claremont’s churches and houses of worship.  Claremont is home to many significant architect designed churches filled with the art of local artists, many of whom became internationally known.

In the Holidays Future segment, we predict that the future of Claremont traditions will be much like the past.  No one has the proverbial crystal ball but we do know the pandemic will pass.  We predict that it will make us stronger and more prepared for the future.  We know that because it is what we have always done as a nation, a state and a City.  We have experience to draw from—the recession of 2008 presented the City with challenges, but it came back stronger than ever and it will do so again.

The future will be bright because we choose to embrace those things that keep Claremont – Claremont.  We must stay the course, respect our historic resources, embrace cultural heritage tourism, renew our dedication to citizen participation in government, continue volunteerism to our nonprofits and shop local.  These things are the lifeblood of our City that have given us a strong sense of community.

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