Obviously it's too cold outside for the Smithsonian to put on a holiday-season counterpart of the annual Folk Festival.
Yet with children out of school and many of their parents taking leave to escort them in flocks around places like the Mall, the Smithsonian has filled the void with it's second annual "A Traditional Holiday Celebration: Christmas and Hanukah." It's sort of a mini-folk Festival and it's inside-at the Museum of History and Technology.
The post-Christmas crowds in downtown department stores seemed modest by comparison with the tens of thousands who surged through the cavernous museum for music, storytelling, jugglers, puppets, movies, craft demonstrations, Christmas trees and whatnot.
The scale may not be quite as large as the warm-weather festival, but how could you fit into those events readings from Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," Hanukah cookies and demonstrations by a Maryland wood craftsman making wooden nutcrackers, as in Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker?" The hundreds of events began on Tuesday and continue, noon to 4 p.m., until New Year's Eve.
One walked in on the mob yesterday and felt lost in the crowd. A volunteer docent at the Constitution Avenue entrance came to the rescue with a floorplan and schedule-and with a suggestion.
Asked "What is it everyone wants to see today?" she replied unhesitatingly, "It's the teddy bears.They're almost real life, and the person who makes this kind is here only for today." A person of mature years, she nonetheless went on to eulogize the teddy bear, now celebrating its 75th birthday as a national security blanket. "They're the first thing I went to see this morning. Everybody loves them. You know, I still display the ones I saved from childhood. My husband thinks I am crazy."
Lots of persons agree with the volunteer, as was demonstrated by the mob around the second-floor craft demonstration of Charleen Kinser of Boalsburg, Pa.
Her bears are not the little, cuddly type. The top of the line, called "T.R.'s Bear," is 5 feet from nose to toes and looks more like a real bear than a soft flannel pillow roughly in the shape of a bear.
"This big model first got made for my daughter about two years ago," Kinser said. "She was 13 or 14, and I wanted her to have a bear big enough that she could relate to it. Then we tried five more and took them around to retailers. Bloomingdale's bought the first five and they went for about $350, I think.
"Now we have a full cottage industry going in the State College, Pa., area, with about 30 seamstresses and others putting together the materials. Then we stuff them. In fact, I'd wshow you, but I've had to send my husband to Woodies for 15 pounds more stuffing before we can continue the demonstration."
The nutcracker craftsman, Lee Anske of Sykesville, Md., is a droll, gnomish gent who can, with the help of his family, turn out a foot-tall soldier device in about five hours. His son fashions a cylinder from a block of basswood, which is a linden. "It's hard enough to crack and nut," promises Anske. He carves the soldier, and his wife Lois paints them. "They go up to $39," she says, "if we use gold paint."
Different folk and ethnic musicians perform holiday music for one-hour periods each day in the central forum. Today the concerts begin at noon with Jewish choral music by Zemer Chai and end at 4, when the Potomac Ringers finish with their English handbells.
This multitude of events is financed by the Smithsonian for a modest $13,000.
To pull it all together there are roving singers trouping through the museum. Today, for the first two hours there will be a barbershop quartet, The Key Ings, a Sweet Adelines quartet called The Collector's Item, and, finally, another barbershop quartet, The Old Favorites.