Sarah Lim: Museum Notes

A Christmas Tradition

Golden Valley High School Cardinal Regime at 86th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade, Los Angeles, November 26, 2017. The Cardinal Regime Marching Band and Color Guard is under the director of Michael Vasquez. (Courthouse Museum Collection)
Golden Valley High School Cardinal Regime at 86th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade, Los Angeles, November 26, 2017. The Cardinal Regime Marching Band and Color Guard is under the director of Michael Vasquez. (Courthouse Museum Collection)

The Hollywood Christmas Parade is an annual tradition in Los Angeles that dates back to the 1920s. Featuring celebrities, beautiful floats, and wonderful music, the parade takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving and will be broadcast different dates before Christmas. This year, one of the celebrated participants was the Golden Valley High School Cardinal Regime —The Pride of Merced.

As I witnessed them marching on Hollywood Boulevard, I was able to enjoy the showmanship and musical performance of Merced youth who represent our community well. Now you will have a chance to see them too because GV Cardinal Regime will take part in Merced’s 23rd annual Hometown Christmas Parade today.

From parades, caroling, church services, to gift-giving and tamale making, it is our shared traditions that unite us. Just like the Hollywood and Merced parades, the Courthouse Museum will celebrate this holiday season with our own tradition: The 33rd annual Christmas Tree Exhibit and Open House.

When this tree exhibit debuted in 1984, a few trees were displayed in the Recorder’s Office. Today, over 75 trees deck the halls and pack the rooms of the old Courthouse and transform our beautiful old building into a winter forest ringing with Christmas joy. The joyful laughter and the angelic music will fill the old Courtroom for hours and be heard throughout the building during the Open House tomorrow from 1 to 4 p.m. by the following performers: Central Presbyterian Church Handbell Choir, Merced Shakes’ Bennett and Hicks, Harmony Valley Chorus, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School Christmas Choir, Caitlin’s Suzuki Violin Studio, and Cruickshank Middle School Jazz Band.

In addition to the joyful music, the uniquely designed Christmas trees each tell an interesting story. Just the other day, when Winton VFW came to decorate their tree, they were sharing with me a fact that astonished me. Winton VFW members have been decorating their tree for the annual display for more than 20 years!

One of its members stated when she got involved with Winton VFW in the early 1990s, she was quickly promoted from a junior position to senior member, taking over many responsibilities including decorating the museum Christmas tree. She and her fellow members expressed the joy of maintaining this tradition to share the legacy while paying tribute to our veterans. They were appreciative of the ground floor location this year because they were a little apprehensive about carrying the tree upstairs.

While Winton VFW may have been one of the earliest participants of our tree exhibit, Merced Branch of ICF’s pasta tree is definitely the oldest tree at the same location. Since I first became part of preparing for the Christmas Open House in 2002, the ICF tree has always been in the Victorian Room on the top floor. According to ICF members Stephanie Lucich and Nettie Descalso-Del Nero, "A hit each year, a pasta decorated Christmas tree is set up for the Courthouse Museum’s annual holiday gathering under the artful guidance of Maryellen Mazzei. At November’s dinner meeting, Maryellen instructs young and old alike in making their individual pasta ornament.” So, an old tradition with new ornaments is like bringing a little of the old world to the new world, honoring what the Italian immigrants have accomplished and what their children and grandchildren continue to celebrate.

Remembering one’s roots is a shared theme of many of our tree participants. Several 4-H trees pay tribute to the founding principles of the organization while Carolyn Vara’s Hmong tree showcases the paj ntau art of our Southeast Asian community.

This is the fourth year of this paj ntau art tree from Carolyn’s collection; however, a paj ntau-themed tree was part of the Courthouse Museum tree exhibit in the late 1980s. The late Maureen Bultena who was instrumental in starting this Christmas tree exhibit once shared some photos of the early tree exhibits. One of them was of a paj ntau art tree. Paj ntau, story cloths, were not only a delicate art that tells the story of Hmong folklore and struggle, but also a main source of income for these southeast Asian refugees when they first settled in the United States.

One of these early refugees was Palee Moua. On May 13, 1975, her family fled from Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to the United States in June 1976. After a brief stay in Richmond, Virginia, her family moved to California and found work at a migrant camp in Planada. Palee remembers her first job working at a day care center for farm workers’ children. “I took care of the children from very early in the day while their parents were out working in the fields. There were 10 or 11 Hmong families living in separate camps.” Many refugees like Palee eventually found other kinds of work, saved enough money to buy land, and made Merced their permanent home.

The paj ntau art tree is also an important tribute to the life and work of the newest members of our community with this shared tradition. So, in this holiday season, while there are plenty of ways to celebrate, don’t forget to check out our Christmas tree exhibit. Maybe, you will find Harry Potter and catch a glimpse of his magic wand in the Winton Middle School Christmas tree. The Christmas Tree exhibit will open on Dec. 3 and run through Dec. 30.

Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at