featuring "Christmas Eve at St. Gabriel's" A One-Act Play Produced By STERNDALE BENNETT
Thursday, December 18, 1952
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. John W. Griffin.
MR. GRIFFIN: Seeing this noble pudding carried in brings to my mind a paragraph in an amusing little book by Eric Nicol, from which I quote with apologies to his publisher, The Ryerson Press,
"An English dessert is still hard to beat. Nothing lands in the stomach with the solid thud, deeply gratifying to those parts of the body that don't have to digest it, of a treacle tart . . . the phlegmatic nature of the dessert calls forth the superlative and inevitable custard under which it lies, like a body under a cloak. French desserts –c heese, fruit, pastery--lack this body, and for me the ties of Empire and Commonwealth are forever cemented with rice pudding."
The annual Christmas Party is one of the most important occasions in The Empire Club year and it is customary for the President and his executive to start planning for it as soon after they take office as possible. In our case we first considered today's meeting back in June and originally the Committee thought only in terms of having one of the many fine Church choirs from the Toronto area. However, one member of our executive, Dr. C. C. Goldring, Director of Education for the City of Toronto, suggested that we should try to have a Christmas play instead of a choir. This idea was enthusiastically received by the Committee and Dr. Goldring was asked to see what he could find. The result is the presentation we are about to see and we are all very grateful to Dr. Goldring for the great deal of time and keen personal effort which he has put into today's meeting. It is a great pleasure to call on Dr. Goldring to tell us about, "Christmas Eve at San Gabriel's".
DR. GOLDRING: Most people in this room have heard the traditional Christmas Story annually from the days of childhood. In times long past, the story of the Birth of Christ was usually presented to the people in a somewhat different manner and with a different emphasis from the familiar story of today. We are going to see a play dealing with the Christmas Story in a little Mission in California, approximately one hundred and seventy-five years ago.
Today we think of California as a large, wealthy state noted for its glamour, its fine climate, its fruits, its oil, fish and lumber, for being the salad bowl of the North American continent, and for its many other attractions, not the least of which are its mountains and its fine scenery. But California has become thickly populated only in recent years and was admitted to the Union only in the year 1850. The first American emigrant train did not enter the state of California until 1826. However, the coast of this state was known to Spanish and English explorers who made brief visits to it at various times during the 16th and 17th centuries, and about the middle of the 18th century small numbers of Spaniards came to live more or less permanently along the coast. In 1769, Franciscan monks founded the first mission in California at San Diego, and soon after other Spanish missions were established.
San Gabriel Mission, the scene of our play, was founded in 1771 and is located only nine miles from the heart of Los Angeles. It is still used at a church today. As one steps through the gate in the brick and stone wall surrounding it, one is transported to an old-world environment. Flocks of pure white pigeons hop around at one's feet. Among the many indications of its long history, one sees ancient candle and soap factories, sacred paintings done by early Spaniards and Indians with paints made from coloured soils and extracts of plants, and the old vestments used by priests long since departed. Many Indians and members of California's first families are buried within the Mission walls. Six of the statues in the church came directly from Spain in 1791, and the baptismal font was a personal gift of King Charles III of Spain.
But today we are concerned with the observance of Christmas in this ancient Mission about one hundred and seventy-five years ago. A few Spaniards and Indians then lived in that neighbourhood and under the direction of their priests the Christmas Eve observance is taking place. Let us, in imagination, transport ourselves back nearly two centuries to this old Mission on the Pacific Coast and look in on their Christmas Eve celebration.