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August 2010

July 2010

Old Spanish Days - Santa Barbara Fiesta - Songs of Old California

Old Spanish Days

In California,  the better families were very proud of keeping their Castilian blood pure,  and though their life was remote from all European intercourse it was easy and agreeable,  so far as fertile country and kindly climate could make it,  and gay because of the nature of the people.

 They lived to a ripe old age,  keeping their faculties and hair and teeth.   They were temperate and happy in disposition,  not caring about business but skilled in all forms of bodily exercise,  and their horsemanship was extraordinarily fine.

 The women married young and were industrious housewives.  There were few doctors and apparently their services were not much needed.   There are still alive elderly people who remember the merry visiting back and forth between the various ranches,  the ladies going in the big family coach and the gentlemen on horseback.

farmers 029

 Many stories have come down to us of the gayeties,  balls,  parties,  picnics,  and so on.... On the country estates the owners always looked after the passing traveller as hotels were unheard of,  and this had its defects as well as its advantages, for the traveller was dependent upon the good will of his host as well as on the size of his establishment.   Most of the reports which have come to us show,  however,  no lack of good will.

 It is said that more than one wealthy man used to keep his gold stored in his attic,  uncounted but ready to loan to friends without interest or security.   

Dana Adobe Vaquero 2

There are descriptions also of early travellers in California being sent off on the best horses belonging to the hacienda where they had stopped for the night,  and apparently it was the fashion for the hacendado to leave a tray of silver coins covered with a cloth on a table in his guest room from which one might draw - but was not expected to take more than enough for immediate need.  

Courthouse Mural

Even before the United States took over the government of California in 1848,  this practice had nearly disappeared because of unscrupulous travellers and promoters from the States who had not hesitated to misuse Spanish hospitality.  Such has been the sad fate of many fine old customs....

Dime Mujer Adorada


~Memoirs of the American Folklore Society, Volume 10

 By American Folklore Society , 1917

fiesta 013

Old Spanish Days is a fine old custom that we celebrate still.  It takes place in Santa Barbara every summer, near to the first full moon of  August.   It is a precious inheritance that we have enjoyed for the past 86 years.   

Our modern Fiesta is a spectacular event that was founded on many older traditions....

Mrs. Francisca de la Guerra Dibblee, who contributed the song above to the collection of the American Folklore Society, was from one of the original Santa Barbara families.  She and many others handed down the legends, stories, recipes, music, and songs that originated in Spain.  These were incorporated into the daily life of the burgeoning town that took root around the Santa Barbara Presidio that was founded in 1782.

Although far from their beloved Spain, the local De la Guerras, the Cotas, Ortegas, de Lugos, and other early families, not only preserved their past, but incorporated current trends and styles into their lives when the occasional ship would land on the Pacific shore, bringing news from the far continent.

Music was a touchstone, a connection to the homeland and a past that was now so far away from them.  Music and song helped to map out the future, as well.  The love of music infilled every aspect of their daily lives.  

From the first song of the morning - El Cantico de Alba a traditional hymn offered at dawn to the Virgin Mary,  to a romantic song by the fire at the close of a day, music was a constant companion.  Special songs accompanied the occasions of individual families and the community - from births and betrothals, to weddings, fiestas, fandangos, feasts, holidays, and funerals.  That musical tradition is still reflected in the annual Old Spanish Days celebration.

It took many months for a ship to travel from Spain around the Cape, to arrive on the shores of Southern California, so it was a somewhat rare - and monumental - event for the early Spanish settlers.    Each new ship brought news of the latest mode of European dress and decor which were reflected in the wardrobes and homes of the well-to-do Santa Barbarans - as much as possible in this isolated outpost of European culture.  

Upon the undulating walls of their white-washed adobe home, the De la Guerras pasted the finest hand-printed wallpapers imported from France.   Layer after layer, year after year, true Santa Barbara style was distilled from a blend of the simple local life and products available,  combined with what was contemporary in the most beautiful residences in Europe. 

Santa Barbarans eagerly learned the newest songs of their home country, received rare copies of the latest books, and heard news of the world at large, although long after most events had occurred on the European stage. 

Europe's finest offerings of silk, lace, and wool, fine china table settings, hand blown glass, jewelry, art, and musical instruments made their way to our coast by ship, in small, precious shipments, bit-by-bit.  These became rare treasures that were carefully guarded by the families,  and eventually by the City of Santa Barbara, even to this day.  You may see many of the actual articles owned by these early Presidio soldiers and the oldest families on display at the Santa Barbara Historical Musuem.

De la Guerra Wallpaper Exhibit 13

Although their resources were limited in this arid and sparsely populated land,  their love of of gracious and elegant living, and sumptuous entertaining was not. 

So, rather than abandon the old ways, they fashioned  a new interpretation of the art of fine living.   It was in this spirit that our beloved California was born, with the imprint of those gracious old ways burnished upon the shining new world that was created here. 

I have read accounts of how the De la Guerra family and their neighbors loved to dress in the old finery that had arrived from Spain with the original settlers, and been passed down from generation to generation.  They loved to open the heavy, dark leather trunks, and bring their family's treasures to light once again - heavy gold earrings and gems, the carved mantillas, romantic fans made of black lace and gold thread, embroidered shawls, and the leather, silver, and fine woven fabrics worn by the handsome men  in the family.  An occasion or a special event was required to warrant the donning of  these costumes,  these precious relics - and almost any excuse for a celebration was welcomed.

De la Guerra Relative 1888

With the passing years, the City of Santa Barbara has endeavored to preserve the traditions of all of those who have lived here - beginning with our Chumash people, the original custodians of the land, and incorporating customs brought here by the Spanish, Mexicans, and finally, the Americanos.  We have added contributions from Chinese, Japanese, Italian, German, Portuguese, Hawaiian, and other immigrants who came to call Santa Barbara home.

This combination has resulted in a beautiful, rich portrait whose combined heritage has created something new - and even more beautiful that its discrete elements.


Santa Barbara Fiesta Mariachis

Soon, Santa Barbara will welcome Old Spanish Days 2010.  Fiesta Pequeña - the Little Fiesta - will begin at dusk on August 4th, with opening ceremonies held at the Santa Barbara Mission.  An evening of traditional Spanish, Mexican, Aztec, and Old California music, songs and dances will entertain the crowd, beginning at 8:00pm.

Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden Lunchtime

For five days, from August 4th through August 8th, the townspeople will open their closets to bring their own Fiesta clothing out for another year - colorful skirts and scarves and hats and flowers.   The tradition continues.

There will be parties and parades, and a Mercado with a selection of some of our best local food.  You can visit the Casa Cantina located at the old De la Guerra home, and enjoy a cold beer or a glass of wine under colorful umbrellas - the home will be open for tours, so you can glimpse the real, original spirit of the place.   The city streets are full of vendors selling colorful souvenirs.

Fiesta El Paseo 3

Santa Barbara's Fiesta is a time to embrace local history that we all concede has been dusted with a romantic glow, a picturesque rendering of people and events that conspired to create one of the most beautiful cities in the world. 

During the celebration, you will have the opportunity to hear the old, authentic Californio songs; you can watch exquisitely trained flamenco dancers who are accompanied by an Andalusian guitar and the sharp report of castanets; you will be lulled by the romantic songs of Mexican mariachis who meander the streets,  serenading Fiesta revelers;

Aztec Princess

you'll hear the ancient rhythms of the Aztecs while dancers leap and twist and almost take flight; country western music will accompany the cowboys and cowgirls who arrive from all over the country to compete with locals in our annual Fiesta Rodeo.

So take a moment now, and enjoy a beautiful Spanish song, a taste of tradition, Asturias by Albeniz , played  by Andres Segovia.  

Prepare yourself for Santa Barbara's Old Spanish Days, a melding of traditions and cultures, played out on the stage of history in this beautiful little city that lies, glorious, under a warm August sun.

Fountain Casa Covarrubias

Visit the official website to learn more about:  Old Spanish Days Entertainment Schedule

Summer Days - Behold the Sea

Seaside Girl

Behold the Sea,

The opaline, the plentiful and strong,

Yet beautiful as is the rose in June,

Fresh as the trickling rainbow of July;

Sea full of food, the nourisher of kinds,

Purger of earth, and medicine of men

Creating a sweet climate by my breath

Washing out harms and griefs from memory,

And, in my mathematic ebb and flow,
Giving a hint of that which changes not.

  ~ Emerson,  Sea Shore