Teddy bears have always been a part of Christmas, or at least since Theodore Roosevelt's White House. According to Phillip Snyder's book, December 25, " ... in 1906, one million teddy bears were reported to have been on sale in New York alone."

There is no question that the teddy bear originated from a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in 1902, which depicted President Roosevelt refusing to shoot a small bear cub on a hunting expedition in Mississippi. But controversy still reigns with regard to the first manufacturer of toy teddy bears. In Brooklyn, Morris Michtom (founder of the Ideal Toy Corp.) produced stuffed bears soon after the cartoon became popular -- at about the same time Margarete Steiff, in Germany, started her family business of animal replicas. Correspondence crucial to establishing the honor has been lost over the years.

As to the American or German nationality of the first toy teddy bear, Peter Bull, in The Teddy Bear Book, concludes his assessment wondering if "the Russians were manufacturing toy replicas of their national animal centuries before 'either' of them." (Mishka was a well-known bear in Russian folklore and legend.)

In our country, the Forestry Department's Smokey the Bear became a national figure. In British comic strips, Rupert was a favorite. And remember Aloysius Bear in Brideshead Revisited?

From Goldilocks' Three Bears to Winnie the Pooh, from Yogi to Teddy Ruxpin -- lovable bears often share our real or magical adventures. They're very good listeners, offer solace during trying times and add pleasure to happy occasions.

Bears have traveled round the world with children, as well as adults. "They have gone into battle ... and saved lives by intercepting bullets," writes Margaret Hutchings in The Book of the Teddy Bear. They have been " ... burned in concentration camps ... used as mascots and talismans ... taken to hospital" and been the subjects of countless books, songs, poems and pictures.

Adults admit to suffering emotional trauma because a thoughtless parent discarded a beloved bear. In 1969, Bull wrote: " ... of 400,000 articles lost on London Transport vehicles every year, about 250 are Teddy Bears." Happily, he wrote, nearly all were claimed.

With their human-like ability to stand upright, to amuse and to give hugs, bears appeal young and old alike. Ann Noone is librarian at Alexandria County Day School.