Christmas officially came to North Georgia on Saturday when BabyLand General Hospital kicked off its 36th annual Appalachian Christmas Celebration.
This year, more than 75 trees decorate this year’s Christmas wonderland, which for the first time includes Milk and Cookies with Mrs. Claus.
The celebration that drew in crowds from all over the world began Saturday morning with a pancake breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus, featured prize drawings throughout the day, wandering carolers in Victorian dress and pictures with Santa, all leading up to the lighting of BabyLand at the end of the day.
“When we first started, we had the medical clinic in the center of town, built in 1919, but this BabyLand was built in 2007 and had its grand opening in 2010,” said Margaret H. McLean, Cabbage Patch Kids director of corporate communications. “We went from a 14,000-square-foot facility to a 70,000-square-foot facility. Some of the collectors and people were worried about how you are going to be able to keep the antiquity and the feeling of that medical facility.”
As you walk into the entrance, it’s set up to mimic the fathers’ waiting area; the black and white tiles on the floor add a nostalgic feel to the room littered with chairs and displays of some of the first in the Cabbage Patch and Little People collections.Xavier Roberts, who hand-stitched his first fabric sculpture in the late 1970s, took these unique traits from the first medical clinic and applied them to the new building.
Walking through the departments, you notice every doll is unique and different.
“Our original name is Original Appalachian Artwork, so Xavier was truly a folk artist in the beginning. So this is art so we continue to the artwork in the front, like in the original medical clinic,” McLean said.
This season is special for BabyLand as it marks the return of Bruce Ashley, who will join the permanent archives. First featured on The Wall Street Journal in August 1981, Bruce Ashley was born 36 years ago and is one of less than 1,000 hand-stitched sculptures that were part of the “Helen Blue” edition.
Bruce Ashley arrived at Babyland in style via a 1923 Seagrave boat tail speedster, owned by Jerry Singer of Cleveland, and a 1933 Buick Model 57, owned by Bernie Blakney of Cleveland.
“We chauffeured him, a nurse and a doctor in today,” Blakney said. “McLean calls us, we get our old cars out, and come up here and play.”
The dolls themselves continue to evolve, new “babies” born every day. With each delivery, participants gathered around to witness the “birth” help decide everything from picking the gender to the name of the newborn, who gets his or her checkup before being introduced to the loving crowd to hold.
“It’s a kind of art you can love, so in a sense Xavier Roberts has taught a new generation to love old art,” McLean said.
It’s in that spirit that BabyLand is attempting another first: Keeping the status of the people who love Cabbage Patch Kids in mind.
“We actually created a little area where people that have Secret Santas or have Angels, or do the Angel trees can come,” McLean said. “We did some very, very, nice adoption fees so that people can give something special. It’s something we feel that’s going to be very important this time of year.”