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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Folklorico dancers, August 1991
Kathy Cota Dancers wait to go on stage to perform Mexican folklorico  dances, August 1991 Photo: Santa Barbara News Press

Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara

This community festival, first held in 1924, celebrates the Rancho period (1830-1865) of Santa Barbara's history. Old Spanish Days Fiesta is Santa Barbara's largest civic celebration and is staged annually in the first week of August. It is a celebration of the community's history, which harkens back to a period when Santa Barbara was a remote rural area under the influence of Spanish, Mexican, and local Chumash Indian cultures. Fiesta celebrates a period of romance and hospitality through pageantry, music, costume, and cuisine.

The report is structured to demonstrate how customs, traditions, and pageantry preserved by Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara stem from ways of life during the California Rancho Period as remembered by old Santa Barbara families. The Rancho Period, following Spanish Colonial era and Mexican Period, spanned the time when Santa Barbara was under both Mexican (1822-1848) and American rule (1848+). Traditions of the California Rancho Period in the categories of hospitality, food, music, clothing, horses, dance, and the cattle industry are carried forward into modern times by public events featuring music and dancing, open-air marketplaces with traditional California/Mexican foods, Flower Girls who hand out hundreds of flowers, and four days of rodeo events. The historical significance of various Fiesta week events is described.

Project is documented with a spiral-bound 38-page written report of the event, as well as a clothing and costume history, and recipes; 34 photographs; a videotape entitled Dances of Early California in Santa Barbara; a proclamation by the Governor of California (August 2, 1999); a Resolution of the Board of Supervisors of Santa Barbara County celebrating the 75th anniversary of Old Spanish Days Fiesta; a Fiesta program guide and official program (August 1999); a booklet entitled La Fiesta at the Full of the Moon; and a booklet on How to Design and Make Fiesta Costumes.

Originally submitted by: Lois Capps, Representative (22nd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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