Enduring Traditions: The Festival of Gifts

Next year will mark the 90th celebration of the Festival of Gifts at Christ Church Cranbrook – as the church also celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2018. Henry Scripps Booth wrote, produced, and participated in a nativity play at St. James Church in Birmingham prior to the building of Christ Church. With the establishment of the new parish, Booth suggested that the two combine efforts in a special Christmas program. According to documentation in the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth papers, “the cooperation turned out to be in name only.”

Festival of Gifts order of procession and liturgy, 1928. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Festival of Gifts is an adaptation of the St. James play, with a procession of the entire congregation to the nativity tableau followed by the entrance of the Holy Family, shepherds, and wise men as the story of the birth of Christ is read. As the congregation proceeds to the altar they lay gifts at the manger, which are then distributed to local families in need.

Some of the original festival costumes were re-purposed from the 1916 Cranbrook Masque and others were purchased by Henry Scripps Booth in Tunisia in 1922. Originally a doll was laid in the manger, but at some point, the decision was made to cast an infant from the parish. Animals have also been a part of the event, however, according to Henry Scripps Booth, “Brighty” (star of Stephen Booth’s movie Brighty of the Grand Canyon) made the greatest impression!

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Putting on a Holiday Scene

Every year, the Center for Collections and Research decorates George G. Booth’s Office for the Cranbrook House & Gardens Auxiliary’s Holiday Splendor event. This year, we were inspired by the Booth children and grandchildren.

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Some of the Booth grandchildren put on a play at George and Ellen Booth’s 50th wedding anniversary, 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

All children enjoy playing “dress-up” – whether in a costume or in the clothes of a family member. For George and Ellen Booth’s family, especially their youngest children Florence (“Smike”) and Henry (“Thistle”), any occasion was an excuse to dress-up – a family picnic, a visit from family or friends, the arrival of a new boat for Glastonbury Lake.

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Marjorie Booth wearing her grandmother Ellen Scripps Booth’s wedding dress, on the occasion of George and Ellen’s 50th wedding anniversary, 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

For this year’s holiday installation, we imagined the Booth grandchildren playing dress-up with clothes from their grandparent’s closet—their grandmother’s dresses and hats, costumes from performances at the Greek Theater, and other items stored in the vast closets here at Cranbrook House. Perhaps they’re putting on a play, as they did for their grandparents’ anniversary in 1937, or maybe they’re simply celebrating and having fun, as Smike and Thistle were so fond of doing in their youth.

Accompanying the five outfits, the Center decorated a small tree and the mantle with iridescent, green, and silver ornaments, drawing out the colors of Florence Booth’s green dress and a beautiful Rene Lalique (1860-1945) glass vase (before 1930) we’ve set out on the desk. In the center of the mantle we’ve displayed Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth’s Nativity (mid-20th century), sculpted by Clivia Calder Morrison (1909-2010). A Michigan native, Calder Morrison studied at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts with Samuel Cashwan and later at the Art Students League in New York, and this small crèche featuring the three Magi with gifts, Mary holding Jesus, and Joseph was kept in the oratory at Thornlea. Oh, and the Santa bag and hat on display were part of Henry’s costume he donned for Christmas parties here at the House!

Our display will be up through the New Year.  If you are in Cranbrook House for the Center’s piano/violin concert & book launch, Carl Milles’s Muse: Ludwig van Beethoven on December 11, or a Holiday Tea, Luncheon, or just for a meeting, please stop by and visit.

-Kevin Adkisson, Center Collections Fellow; Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar

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