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Laguna Beach

 Volume 12, Issue 42  |  May 26, 2020

Colonial Days at El Morro Elementary remain a long-cherished tradition of the season


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

It takes a village to make a village – the “Colonial Village” – to be exact. A multitude of parent volunteers orchestrate the celebration of Colonial Days at El Morro Elementary on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving. This event honors the history of the Colonists and Native Americans and is 100 percent volunteer driven.

Colonial Days are a cherished tradition at El Morro. Twenty-nine or so years ago, a group of El Morro mothers went to Washington D.C., attended some educational programs, came back and said, “We need to bring this to the school.” Fortunately, they had experience in the theater and went about staging the celebration. 

All of El Morro’s 462 students, grades K through fifth, visit the village for a one-hour session on November 25 and 26. The kindergarteners begin the two-day observance, and the fifth graders are the last to visit on Tuesday. 

Colonial Days trio with dolls

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(L-R) Rachel Vanberg, Thomas Jensen, and Lupita Javier with their corn husk dolls

It truly is like entering a different world of long ago.

The village provides many activities, and each child does all of them: Candle Dipping, Corn Husk Doll Making, Gratitude Letters with Colonial Seals, Making Bead Necklaces, Dream Catchers, and Sewing & Cross Stitching. The multi-purpose room stage is set up with teepees for student interaction.

This year “the village” included a long table set with Thanksgiving decorations. At the food station, one mother made homemade tortillas, beans and fixings, and there were homemade baked goods donated by parents. The PTA funded the popcorn, cider, and beef jerky. Throughout the fifth grade session, groups of students periodically sat at the table to feast and then moved to the stations to participate in the activities.

Colonial Days table

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Harvest table 

Volunteer Sofia Sawitz said, “This celebration honors both the skills of the Pilgrims and Native Americans and their gratefulness for the harvest. Her daughter Iliana especially “loves the food and the dolls.”

How they put all this together is a highly organized and labor-intensive endeavor. The prep starts the first week in November with two crafting days (four hours each) in which parents get together and cut string for the dream catchers and fabric for the dolls (among other things).

President of the PTA Liz Black tells me, “Long before November, we unload the shed and inventory everything we have from the last year. For example, for the beading, each child needs 15 beads, so we order accordingly.”

“This year, construction volunteers donated time to cover the floor with paper and tape.”

Colonial Days weaving

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Volunteer Andrea Heins (on left) with student and PTA President Liz Black

The activities extend outside as well. At lunchtime students may participate in archery, hopscotch, leather tooling on bookmarks, face painting, and calligraphy in which they write letters of gratitude.

Physical Education teacher Everett Blanton even has colonial time activities for the students to participate in during PE – such as ring toss, carrying a wooden egg with spoon across the field, and rolling hoops.

Before attending Colonial Days

Educating the children about this time period begins even before they get to the village. In the days leading up to the celebration, the teachers provide PowerPoint presentations to the older students and read to the younger ones, so that they all are familiar with the history and the activities in which they will participate.

Colonial Days beef jerky

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Time to feast 

Liz’s daughter, fourth grader Ella, said, “My favorite activity is the dream catcher (god’s eyes). They were creative. And the pink and blue candles.”

Liz said, “One of my favorite activities is to see the kids go back in time to participate in these colonial days.”

Cherlin Kirby is serving her first year as chair of Colonial Days. She breaks down the number of volunteers that are needed to make these two days happen and again emphasizes that the endeavor is 100 percent parent driven. “There are seven stations [in the multi-purpose room], each takes four volunteers for each one hour session, which is approximately 90 volunteer slots each day and 16 during lunch outside.” 

Colonial Days tortillas

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More feasting on homemade tortillas and fixings

Michelle Foley, who volunteers every year along with her husband and has three children at the school, wears a beautiful Native American headdress that reaches the ground.

Cherlin elaborates on the activities, “Leading up to the Colonial Days, the students make pot holders and dip feathers in gold which are hung on classroom doors. Since feathers represent bravery, this leads to discussions about what they do to be brave.”

The students also roll sheets of beeswax into candles in the classrooms ahead of time.

“This celebration is unique to El Morro,” Cherlin adds.

Colonial Days corn husk dolls

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Volunteer Sofia Sawitz with students 

For Patty Tacklind, who has been volunteering for 13 years and co-chaired Colonial Days for approximately nine years, this will be her last year. “The people at the school hold this event close to their hearts,” she says. And it is constantly evolving. “Each year is different, another group adds things and takes them away.” 

Her daughter Lila is a fifth grader. “This will be her last time coming through.” 

This is a bittersweet time for the fifth graders. As they come in for their final Colonial Days, Satya Mansukhani with her friends Jordan and Ava stop at the table to making their dolls. Satya says, “I’m sad this is my last year.”

Once this class leaves the room, the volunteers begin tearing down the stations and packing them away for next year when the village will once again reappear for this wonderful celebration.


Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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