If you're looking for a calmer, gentler Christmas season for your children, there are a few excursions that will soften some of the holiday glitz and provide some meaningful fun.
Two displays of antique toys are going up for the holidays. If children think toys and batteries have always gone together, they will find out how yesterday's children managed to do without whiz-bang gadgetry.
Another option is a ranch-style Christmas festival, complete with a hayride.
The toy exhibit at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art opens Dec. 3. One of the most intriguing items is a pair of roller skates dating back to the 1890s. The skates were carved from wood with leather straps around the toes and heels. Each skate has four little wooden wheels inset in the bottom.
"There were no sidewalks back then, so we don't know where they were used," said Jeanne Brown, a museum docent who is setting up the exhibit. "Maybe they used them in the house."
Most of the toys have been donated to the museum over the years by area residents. Brown is setting them up around a seasonal theme, with Christmas stockings hanging from a fireplace mantle. Life-size boy and girl mannequins will be wearing Victorian-era holiday clothes.
Some of the toys are elegant. An ornate picture book about Cinderella comes with a set of puzzle blocks that can be put together six ways, corresponding to the pictures in the book. In their day, probably in the 1870s, they sold for 25 cents.
A Victorian doll sits majestically in an upholstered wicker doll carriage decorated with elaborate scrollwork. Another doll, made in Germany at the turn of the century, has a leather body with knees constructed to bend and real hair on her head.
Some toys reflect everyday home life. A miniature cast iron stove sold in the early 1900s is displayed with cast iron kettles, pots and a skillet on its six burners. A miniature working sewing machine also will be shown. The six-inch metal machine was made in California about 1920.
There's much more--cowboy and Indian figures, an old Uncle Wiggly board game, marbles, a game of Old Maid with cards showing the old maid at home alone sipping tea and Henry Holler getting a licking with a switch.
At the Albinger Archeological Museum, children will see more of a hands-on exhibit. Opening Dec. 2, the display includes old phonographs--one from 1906 and an 1878 replica. They will see working antique music boxes dating back to 1880 and 1895, and a replica of an 1860 zoetrope, an early motion picture machine.
A collection of Victorian dolls, including some from France, will be on display. Children also will see handmade folk toys.
Some of the toys are from private collections in the area, and some are on loan from local merchants.
For some outdoor fun, businessman Mel Cummings is again hosting his Cummings Ranch Christmas Festival to benefit the community outreach program at St. John's Regional Medical Center.
The festival will be Dec. 1 and 2, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the ranch, three miles up Wheeler Canyon Road, which is off Foothill Road near Santa Paula. Last year about 750 people attended the fund raiser for the program.
Children can take a hayride around the ranch and see cows, horses, pigs, sheep and fields of oats. Christmas ornaments and handmade crafts will be on sale, along with homemade pies, jelly and other snacks.
WHERE AND WHEN
* The toy exhibit at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art, 100 E. Main St., Ventura, opens Dec. 3. and will be in place until New Years. Admission is $2 for adults, 50 cents for children 6 to 12 years. Admission is free for children under 6. The museum is free Tuesday. The hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For information, call (805) 653-0323.
* At the Albinger Archeological Museum, 113 E. Main St., Ventura, the toy display opens Dec. 2. and will run through New Years. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free. For information, call (805) 648-5823.
* The Cummings Ranch Christmas Festival will be held Dec. 1 and 2 at the ranch, three miles up Wheeler Canyon Road near Santa Paula. The charge is $1 per person. The money will be donated to the community outreach program, which benefits hungry and homeless people.