Christmas at the Ebell

by Dana Herko

If the Ebell is “a mirror of society,” in the words of archivist Michael Palmer, there’s no better evidence than the ghosts of Christmas past. Listen now, to the Ebell President’s Christmas greeting as recorded in the Yearbook:

“When the message that hostilities had ceased was flashed across the world three years ago, we thought it was the sweetest message of the century…..But…unrest, political dissension, labor differences still hover on the horizon…”

The year was 1921. And as in years before and since, the Ebell chose hope as the theme of the holiday season. That year, club members honored the tradition of celebrating the season with children as invited guests – “with an offering to be shared with the less fortunate children…”

By 1927, Ebell women had an added reason to celebrate the holidays: their first Christmas in their beautiful new residence at 4400 Wilshire Boulevard.

“We must live up to our new home,” Mrs. William Read wrote in the inaugural edition of the Ebell Magazine. That year, the Ebell offered a party as well as gifts to “aid members in last minute shopping…” There was also “a drama workshop… music… and a special party for the little children in the solarium with games, stories, and simple refreshment…” The price? A dollar for adults, and fifty cents for children.

By the following year, writes Mrs. A. Bennett Cooke in the annual Christmas message, “Ebell affairs have been moving smoothly and we are settling down to a real enjoyment of the club…You, the Ebell members, are the club…What more appropriate gift could we resolve to make your club at this Christmas tide than the most desirable one of Right Atmosphere, which is obtainable through courtesy and harmony.” That celebration included a fashion show and Christmas tea for scholarship aid for “young girls, eager for university training, brave souls, dreaming of days to come…” as well as funds for the Rest Cottage, “to provide a brief period of peace and perhaps content for those whose days are past.”

In 1929, there was a dinner dance and heightened awareness of a growing need in a country whose economy was hard hit. By 1935, the annual Christmas message included a gentle admonishment to remember those in need.

“Ebell has a large part in bringing happiness and cheer to lonely hearts at holiday time,” reads the Christmas message. “Would this not be a glorious month to persuade a friend that membership would prove a lasting Christmas gift – one that would reflect the spirit of the holiday season, long after the tinsel and ornaments had been laid away?” As always, there was a special performance for the children – a holiday ballet by the Peggy Vance Dance Group.

By 1947, the Ebell – like America – was in a mood to celebrate. World War II was finally over, and the notes about the Christmas benefit indicate it was quite a party: dancing, dinner, performances (including dogs!) music, and of, course, Santa.

Today, the Christmas traditions continue. Marionettes might have replaced the dogs, but children, good friends and giving remain hallmarks of the holiday season at the Ebell.

Ebell member Dana Herko is an author and mother of two who lives in Windsor Square.

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