Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What the heck is the Bracebridge?

Sister, Sister-in-Law and I packed our bags and headed east Tuesday morning. Brother-in-Law would follow later, after seeing to the next step in the construction of the dream garage. It was darned cold at home, hovering around freezing. We were heading into the mountains, where it might or might not have rained or snowed overnight, a watch-for-black-ice-on-the-road kind of day, with clear blue skies that held in not a smidgen of heat.

The morning sun was in my eyes, the highway shaded by tall trees and its being on the face of the rising mountain away from the sun. Sanded bands at road side and center were a clue to known ice patches, but you never know when you might hit a slick spot around a curve. I kept an eye on the outside temperature, watching it go down as we went up the shady side, rising as to approached the summit of our route, getting into the low 40s, then trending down again as we headed down.

"It'll be 25° by the time we get there," I prognosticated. That's pretty cold for California clothes, at least for those of us not into outdoor-sports-appropriate outer wear. (Actually, I love the jackets but not the outdoor sports.)

It was about 28° when I hopped out of the car to take a picture of the towering rock wall spotlighted by the sun rising above the south wall of the Valley.

Then I swiveled around to capture Bridalveil Fall, a thin ribbon of water dropping past ice splayed against its rock wall.

I watched the thermometer tick down, degree by degree as we drove into the parking lot at the Yosemite Lodge. Twenty-four degrees. Even lower than my prediction. We hustled into the lobby to see about checking in. We were six hours early for the official check-in hour but SIL has a great knack for uncovering an already-prepared room in the building we wanted, with an adjacent room awaiting housekeeping, which, of course, she managed to get bumped to ASAP.

After offloading our luggage into the already-available room, we headed over to the Ahwahnee Hotel to check in for Tuesday night's Bracebridge Dinner. We got our table assignment and dinner wine ordered, then were off to inspect the holiday decor, this tree in the "Winter Club" being admired by SIL and Sister.

By early evening we were all decked out in our fancy duds, and climbed aboard a specially designated shuttle bus to transport us in style from the front door of the Lodge to the front door of the Ahwahnee, so marvelously convenient, and sheltered, should the weather turn bad. (It didn't, unless you count really cold, and having to go out in dresses and heels and little jackets. I cheated. I have a long down coat, wore semi-dress boots with cozy sox hidden inside, and a silk long-john shirt under my good shirt.) I'd been "forced" to buy appropriate jewelery in the Ahwahnee gift shop, since most of my seldom-used pieces at home are generally artsy products of craft fairs. When do I ever dress up?

Although there is something on the order of 300 dinner guests of Squire Bracebridge and a huge cast and crew, it's a quiet time of year in Yosemite and a convivial atmosphere prevails. It's easy to make new acquaintances and it's also surprising that you subsequently keep running into them, much like living in a small town.

So what the heck is the Bracebridge? If you haven't been hanging out in California for many years, you may never have heard of it. Or if you have heard of it, you remember that it's so difficult to get into that you must enter a ticket lottery and see whether you're name comes up. You may have heard it's really expensive. That one is true, although "expensive" is relative. It's an event worthy of saving up your money for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As a California native, I'd heard of it for years, of course, and believed all of the above. I'd put it in the nice-to-see-someday category, something which is good for you, like reading the classics.

For starters, the lottery thing is history. Over the years, performances have been added to the schedule, eight in all these days, with a few days of concerts scattered in between performances for those who want a two-night package. SIL and I attended last year, our once-in-a-lifetime, staying for one night in the Ahwahnee. Yes, it was expensive. Yes, with my habit of staying up half the night, I was afraid I'd fall asleep as this big and edifying performance took place. But what I, what we, found out was that not only is it beautifully produced and performed, it is FUN. Really fun. Not something you ought to do for the good of your soul or your education or because it's the thing to do. It's beautiful and FUN.

Which is why, when a special became available, we persuaded Sister and Brother-in-Law to make it a foursome this year.

I still haven't really answered the question of what the Bracebridge is. Quoting from the website:

Each December, The Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite National Park provides the perfect backdrop for The Bracebridge Dinner at Yosemite, a unique American holiday tradition. It’s a captivating blend of world-class musical theatre and cuisine, inspired by Washington Irving’s tales about a 17th-century Old English Yuletide, all set in the majestic natural beauty of Yosemite in winter. 

Since it began in 1927, The Bracebridge Dinner at Yosemite has earned an unrivaled reputation for reconnecting each guest with the spirit and enchantment of the holidays.  As a result, it is recognized as one of the most sought-after holiday events in the U.S. In 2006, The Wall Street Journal reported, “Bracebridge is, without much doubt, the country's, if not the world's, premier Christmas dinner.”. . .

The Dining Room of The Ahwahnee, its tables aglow with candlelight, is filled with the warmth and spirit of this special time of year. The evening abounds with a profusion of food and the ringing sound of voices. The cathedral windows look out onto the beauty of Yosemite Valley, and the spirit of all things beautiful cannot help but be felt, as one is enveloped in the joy of the season.
It's a seven-course meal, served over a period of four hours, so arrive ready to eat and enjoy at the table. Here's the signature photo for the event.

"Bracebridge Dinner" is a registered trademark of Delaware North Parks and Resorts at Yosemite. Delaware North Parks and Resorts at Yosemite is an authorized National Park Service Concessioner.
Website © 2004 Andrea Fulton Choral                   Web design and hosting by eLocution DesignU
Tickets are available for performances only, or with lodging options at the Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and Curry Village. There are also packages with accommodations at the Wawona Hotel with transportation to and from the performance at the Ahwahnee. It's a good idea, if possible, to stay overnight, as this is winter in the mountains and travel conditions may not favor driving after the performance. And you may want to have a bottle or two of wine with the meal!

The holiday season is upon us and I'm having a little trouble finding blogging time, but I'll be seeing you when I can.

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