Camellia Festival Memories
By Helen Plenert
It’s almost time for the annual Sacramento Camilla Festival. Just last week I stopped by my parent’s house and my 85 year old father had laid out old photos of the many festivals he had worked on through the years. We sorted out more than 40 years of buttons he had accumulated as well.
The Festival was a huge part of my parent’s lives and as a result became a huge part of my childhood. I know it was about the flowers but that part is sort of a blur to me. I do have memories of the long tables of flowers with ribbons in the basement of the Memorial Auditorium. The folks, young and old, dressed in native costumes from around the world practicing for their upcoming performance in the hall ways was always more interesting. The event was free back in those days.
I usually took my seat with my Aunt, cousin, and sisters somewhere upstairs and waited for the festivities to begin. You could hear it beginning from a block away. The bagpipers would always start the show with a thundering hum. I never could figure out how that simple instrument could become so loud in the auditorium. We kids loved it.
The festival honored a different ethnic group every year. When the curtains would open to a stage set to this year’s theme it was always a huge treat for me. My dad and his ‘folk dance’ buddies created the huge stage pieces in our driveway in Carmichael. One year they honored Italians and they created a 16 foot Leaning Tower of Pisa. When Germans were honored it was a castle on a 20 foot mountain top. In 1976, for the bi-centennial, he had created a liberty bell with an eagle whose wing span was 20 foot. Every year was a new theme and a new huge stage design. My nice still has the castle, sans the mountain, hanging in her bedroom. The eagle is still in my dad’s garage begging for a huge wall.
The local Folk Dance groups have hosted the festival every year since the 60’s and invited groups from everywhere to participate. My parents belonged and danced regularly with at least 3 dance clubs in Sacramento. It was these Folk Dance groups who arranged everything at no charge to the city. In the bi-centennial year my parents finally got to actually do an exhibition dance on the main floor. The costumes were 1776 period and the dance was the Minuet. Their hand-made costumes, made by my mom, still hang in their closet.
Just like the Jazz Festival now attracts from around the nation and world, so did the Camilla Festival in the 60’s and 70’s. As a child I would always marvel at the beauty of the costumes, the expertise of the dancers and how far they had traveled to be a part of this Festival. I especially loved seeing the children’s groups who were every bit as polished as the adults. My parents immigrated to USA just before I was born. Watching them do the traditional dances just brought me a little bit closer to my ancestors. When Memorial Auditorium closed for renovations years ago it left the festival without a venue for a time. Even though the festival is now located in the CSUS Theater it’s just not the same as having it in the grand Memorial Auditorium in down town Sacramento.