A Family’s Fiesta Traditions

Recollections of Old Spanish Days

The theme for this year’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta is A Tribute to Tradition. The Old Spanish Days Web site claims this theme was inspired by the different ways we love to participate in the Fiesta celebration. The dictionary’s definition of a tradition is, “The passing down of any time-honored set of practices from generation to generation.” That got me thinking (which isn’t always easy when your brain is 68 years old!), and I realized that my family is steeped in Fiesta traditions.

Joan and Jeanice Newton (Lugo) dressed for Fiesta 1950.

I was two years old when my parents brought us to the beautiful city of Santa Barbara. One of the first traditions that I remember is dressing up in “Fiesta” outfits, me with a mantilla made of cardboard and lace. My mom, Edna Newton, assured me that I looked just like a Spanish se±orita, but my face in the photo from that time indicates I was not buying that story.

We lived on Newton Road, formerly known as “The Road to the County Bowl Parking Lot,” before my dad, Dr. J.W. Newton, purchased the property on both sides of the road. Our front deck looked right out over the Bowl. Our family would invite friends over to watch the Fiesta stage production every year. We could even hear the music, and I vividly remember the song “Rio Rita,” which was from the play of the same name that was performed at the Bowl during many Fiestas during my childhood.

The author's family has been involved in Fiesta for generations. Her daughters Laura and Debbie (far left) were decked out in 1971.
Courtesy Photo

The horses featured on this year’s Old Spanish Days poster remind me of the beautiful white horses with their pink-garbed riders, carefully parading down the steep hill above the Bowl, the narrow pathway lit in soft pink lights. It was a gorgeous sight, and one I will never forget.

When I was around 11 years old, my mom (who was the founder of La Vista Club for the Blind and Handicapped) obtained a permit for the club to have a concession stand at the Courthouse during Fiesta. We set it up to the right of the big arch as you look up from the Sunken Gardens. I would be there helping out every year until I left for college, making hot dogs and popcorn and serving drinks.

I can vividly remember how I felt as I snuck out of the booth to watch the Spirit of Fiesta perform her intricate and beautiful dances. I was jealous of the lithe, talented young lady and I wished I could be her. I would never be up there entertaining the crowd, but maybe someday, after I married, one of my daughters would.

Her grandchildren Nico Haas and Marissa Urzua get ready for the festivities.
Courtesy Photo

I did get married and had three beautiful daughters. And I, just like my mom did for us, dressed them in elaborate ruffles and lace-trimmed Fiesta outfits and paraded them up and down State Street for all to admire. My daughter Laura decided, at age 9, that she wanted to learn flamenco dance. It was difficult financially, as my husband and I had divorced, but somehow I managed for her to take lessons with Antoinette Lopez. I was working four jobs at the time, but the memory of those lovely Spirits of Fiesta whom I saw at the Courthouse years ago was firmly entrenched in my mind, and I was determined to somehow get Laura’s lessons paid for.

When Laura declared, at 16, that she wanted to try out for Spirit, my heart fell. The other girls had years and years of extensive training not only in flamenco, but in other dance forms as well. Still, Laura tried out, even though she had to try out in a borrowed dress. She didn’t make it the first time, but in 1986, she was chosen Spirit of Fiesta, and I was one proud mama! Laura had just one white dress to last through the weeklong festivities, but nothing could dampen her smile or her spirit-then or now.

Marissa, 2003's Junior Spirit, with Laura, 1986's Spirit, are pictured together in a photo from earlier this year.
Courtesy Photo

My daughter, Laura Garcia, opened her own flamenco dance studio in 1997 in Lompoc and now has more than 120 students. They participate in Fiesta every year, and for the past seven years, it’s been my job to see that they have a float in El Desfile Historical, although, sadly, they won’t have one this year. In keeping with our newest tradition, my granddaughter, Marissa Urzua, was chosen Junior Spirit of Fiesta in 2003 and is striving for the Spirit title.

Another Fiesta family tradition started about 25 years ago. We all go to Joe’s Cafe on Thursday night of Fiesta week. Relatives and friends come to town, and we usually have a table of about 25 people. When my granddaughter Marissa was old enough to join our dinners, she would come to life when the mariachis passed by our table. From the age of three until the “age of embarrassment,” she would do a little dance in the aisles to entertain us. You can ask the waitresses at Joe’s and they will tell you they remember this tradition. We still go there on Thursday of Fiesta week, but there is no little dancer entertaining. Instead, Marissa sits there, urging us to hurry up so she and Laura can get to the Courthouse in time to perform at Las Noches de Ronda.

I hear lots of people say they “get outta town” when Fiesta rolls around, but not me. Fiesta is a tradition that is in my bones and in my heart, and hopefully, someday, I will be sitting at Joe’s, watching my great-granddaughter entertain us with a little dance.


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