That spirit, that feeling of Christmas morning and the wonders it holds, is alive and well at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley. Through December and until Jan. 7, the museum is putting on its "Christmas Memories" exhibit.
Sonya Seyler is the mastermind behind this year's exhibit, and she says it consists of a lot of different parts that all fit together - like pieces of an Erector Set.
Components include a series of Christmas trees adorned with vintage ornaments and a motorized Santa and his sleigh flying around the perimeter of the room on a wire followed by Snoopy, Mighty Mouse and Superman.
The trees are especially beautiful, capturing the styles and imagination of each period.
"The 1890s tree is always decorated by the historical society, the 1930s tree was decorated by Roxanne Lindsey and friends, and the 1950s tree was decorated by Rick Moore and his daughter Natalie," Seyler explained.
All the vintage ornaments are owned by the museum, carefully packed away and stored for each year's exhibit. Seyler said they have been doing the Christmas Memories exhibit for more than nine years. The thing that's fun, she said, is trying to make it different each year.
"Each year we try to twist it a little bit," she said. "And we try to make it a bit more interactive, so instead of looking we like to give them something to do."
One trunk in the exhibit stands open to reveal carved wooden toys for the children to play with. On a recent Saturday during the farmers market, children streamed into the museum and, with that uncanny instinct that children possess, gravitated to that trunk. A stampede of wooden animals were pulled on strings around the display. Other kids swung a wooden dowel with a ring tied to it up into the air, trying to catch the ring on the stick.
Many engaged in this year's featured activity: a scavenger hunt, of sorts, around the museum based on two sets of memorable toys. For the girls, the clues revolved around the new exhibit of five American Girl dolls, and for the boys it was all about Matchbox cars.
Dolls and cars are hidden throughout the room, each with a card near it bearing a letter. Participants pick up a pencil and a card with 14 numbered blanks at the entrance, then as they scour the museum looking for dolls or cars, they fill in the blanks to reveal a secret message. When the message is revealed, the cards are turned in to be part of a drawing to take place in January. Girls will win an American Girl Family Album, while boys will win a Matchbox car.
Seyler said she is particularly pleased they were able to secure the American Girl dolls for the exhibit this year. "Some of the toys in the exhibit are in our permanent collection, but the American Girl dolls were loaned. What we like about having them is the stories about the dolls are historical. They teach young girls what life was like in those eras."
She said right from the start they were leaning toward using the dolls as part of the clue hunt, but it wasn't until they started discussing it that they decided to include the Matchbox cars as well. "When we would be in meetings all I'd hear is, 'All I hear about is dolls, what are you doing for the boys?'"
What was intended as an interactive challenge for children visiting the museum has become a family activity for many. "I saw a couple of kids doing it with their father and a grandfather. I heard the father say, 'I'm going to do it too.' And pretty soon the father and the grandfather both had cards and were hunting for the cars," Seyler enthused. "It was a fun family thing for them to do."
The museum is not a large building, but the sheer volume of displays makes it obvious there was a huge effort behind such an exhibit. "It is a collaborative effort," Seyler said. "I calculated almost 60 people participated and helped in this exhibit. It's very difficult listing off everyone who was involved."
Setup started in mid-November, after the Indian Life exhibit was taken down. "We worked that whole weekend," Seyler recalled. "It took an entire truck to bring all the artifacts in from storage. We had a group of men who volunteered to do that. It's really nice, they do this for every exhibit."
The plan was to open up the exhibit the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but the sheer volume of artifacts, ornaments, toys and set up made it a daunting task. Still Seyler said once they had things organized, she could see they'd make their deadline. "Once we got the boxes unloaded and out of there, you could see things more. You could see it would all come together."
Over the past two weeks, many people have come through the museum to experience the Christmas Memories. Seyler said that for the kids, it's about the train, the ferris wheel or hunting for the dolls and cars but for the adults it's something a bit different.
"They get to come in here and see the toys they got when they were small," she noted. "It's seeing their childhood Christmases all over again."