The Bracebridge Dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel
Nov 30, 2019 11:00AM
By Kimberly Horg
'Tis Fabulous Feasting
Story by Kimberly Horg
Photos courtesy of Ahwahnee Hotel
IF WALLS could speak, the Ahwahnee Hotel would tell a magnificent story. The Ahwahnee was built in 1927 in the main valley of Yosemite National Park near the base of Half Dome and Glacier Point. The hotel is a National Historic Landmark with a rich history. For almost 100 years, royalty and celebrities alike have been escorted down the long red carpeted hallway, arched high with log beams and cobblestone walls leading to the lobby.
The Ahwahnee is the crown jewel of Yosemite hotels, given the “Premier Lodge” classification from National Park Reservations. Set in a beautiful national landmark, it is uniquely historic in its natural environment.
The Ahwahnee holds three well-known events throughout the year. The annual Vintner’s Holidays in November/December features sessions with vintners that include wine-tasting seminars, receptions and a five-course dinner with wine pairings. A Chef’s Holiday in January brings in top chefs from around the country; the longest-running event, the Bracebridge Dinner, has become a holiday tradition, originating on the first Christmas when the hotel opened. The seven-course Old England Christmas feast was served to guests, including the president of Yosemite Park and photographer Ansel Adams.
Yosemite Park and Curry Company President Donald Tresidder hired California pageant director Garnet Holme to create a holiday event. Tresidder and his wife, Mary Curry Tresidder, played the parts of Squire and Lady Bracebridge. The dinner was part of a performance with unique dishes presented with visual marvels to woo guests. Ansel Adams played the jester and 4-year-old Andrea Fulton acted alongside him.
“Ansel put me in the show as a kid,” she says. “He fit the part perfectly with his larger-than-life personality.”
Adams also played the lord of mistral, and at the request of Mary, he took over as director in 1927 after Holme’s death. In 1973 he retired and Andrea Fulton’s dad, Eugene Fulton, carried on his title. He acted and directed the show until 1978, when he died after a dress rehearsal in the hotel. That was when Andrea began to direct the show she knew so well.
Andrea grew up in music and theatre; her father was a well-known San Francisco choral conductor and his wife, Anna-Marie, was also a musician and became the accompanist for The Dinners and the Christmas choral concerts. Andrea majored in theatre in college and when she became director, she kept Adams’ lines and added to the script – his was 60 lines, and hers is more than three hours long. This year will be her 69th year acting in the dinner. She plays the housekeeper.
Although the original script was written by Holme, Adams added to it. It is a loose spinoff from “The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall” by 19th century American author Washington Irving.
The dinner is served theatrically. Guests travel back in time for the yuletide celebration. The dining room is transformed to a manor hall with 50-foot beamed ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to nature.
“It is more than just a holiday dinner and a show – it is an experience and a Christmas tradition,” says Lisa Cesaro, Aramark regional marketing director for Yosemite.
Prior to the dinner, people sing carols, an artist paints portraits and guests enjoy a champagne bar. Guests from all generations enjoy live entertainment during the seven-course dinners, and every year there is a beef course, a fish course, pork and a peacock pie. “The fish and peacock pie is a magnificent thing because the feather span is 11 feet across and 8 feet high,” Andrea says.
The show features 30 singers, 10 lead actors and children who play the forest folk.
“It is marvelous expression of what people find in Yosemite and the warmth and spirit of that time of year,” Andrea says. “It’s a play with warmth and spirit of a wonderful time of year, in which there’s a lot of music with a spiritual aspect of nature and comedy wrapped around it.”
The music is the most magical part for her because when her father took her, he changed the musical aspect, adding a men’s chorus. Now there is a mixed choir with performers from the San Francisco opera.
Andrea says it’s stunning in there, especially when it is snowing outside. Her favorite part of the show is the speech about peace. “I experience peace in that moment of sanctuary and never get tired of hearing it,” she says. “Bracebridge is a lifetime experience and I think everyone should come and see it.”
Andrea says she has a wonderful team who she will rely on more as she begins to scale back; she’ll continue to play the housekeeper and oversee production, but the days of
acting as the producer, musical/stage/artistic director and overall director will change as of this year.
“I think it is exciting; I brought new things and think they will make it much more satisfying and enjoyable for the audience,”
Dinners run from Dec. 11-21. The hotel starts taking reservations in December, and the show is recommended for children 10 and over. Dietary substitutions are available for those with restrictions. •
www.travelyosemite.com • (855) 304-8993
Ticket only and lodging packages available at The Ahwahnee; shuttle is free from
other nearby hotels
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Kimberly Horg earned her Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Humboldt State University. She is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Fresno State University. Kimberly has had hundreds of articles published throughout the country. To read more of her work, visit www.kimberlyhorg.com.