Why do we love Teddy Bears?

Tomorrow, 10thJuly, is Teddy Bears’ Picnic Day, mainly celebrated in America, Canada and Australia to encourage a fun day for children to take out their teddy bears and stuffed toys.

What is it about Teddy Bears that we love?

  • They are timeless
  • They are a symbol of innocence
  • A reminder of our own childhood
  • A reminder of a time when we were loved and cared for.
  • Being furry, they are generally cuddly and good to hug
  • They provide a comfort and friend to talk to.

Psychologically, are they more than Teddy Bears? 

Psychologist, D.W. Winnicott first coined the phrase, ‘transitional object’ in 1951, as “a designation for any material to which an infant attribute a special value and by means of which the child is able to make the necessary shift form the earliest oral relationship with mother to genuine object-relationships.” These transitional objects are chosen completely by the child. Things like a blanket, teddy bear or pacifier. The objects soothe and comfort the child, lessening the stress of separation. 

If this is true, that these objects are a representation of a stable and predictable world, then it’s not surprising that these same objects continue through our lives as ‘sacred keepsakes’. They return us to a ‘place and time’ and a memory of our childhood, a time when we may have felt safe, secure and fully loved.

40% of Brits have held onto their teddies and dolls from their childhood.

Teddy Bears in our culture

There are many books that include or are about bears that we have grown up with; Rupert, Paddington, Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends; Baloo from “Jungle Book”, Yogi bear, and Iorek Byrnison from “His Dark Materials.”

A famous bear in adult fiction is Aloysius who appears in “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh. Aloysius is the teddy bear the main character Sebastian carries around with him whilst a student at Oxford.  The teddy bear symbolises Sebastian’s youth and his reluctance to grow up.

In the film A.I: Artificial Intelligence, directed by Spielberg, and initially by Kubrick, David is a highly advanced robotic boy.  He has an A.I Teddy. During the story, his foster mother who David is desperate to have recognise and love him as a human child, takes both him and his teddy to the woods to abandon them.

At this point in the film, I nearly had to walk out of the cinema. That image of both the boy and bear, holding hands, walking away, caused me to dissolve into tears.  And not quiet tears. I was sobbing, and ended up holding my hand over my mouth to remain quiet, so I could stay in the cinema.

It is that image of innocence, and childhood, and this one scene of the film captured the poignancy of them that being rejected and lost. 

Recently during the Corona Virus, lockdown, teddy bears have been appearing in windows of houses on streets all around the globe.  Based on Michael Rosen’s book, “Were going on a bear hunt”, this started as a fun idea to engage children whilst socially distancing.  

Bears haven’t lost their allure in the 21stcentury, and remain one the best-selling presents to give to a new baby. 

Why I still love my Teddy Bear

I fully understand this. I don’t know about you, but I still have my teddy bear. 

As a child, my teddy bear was almost like my best friend. An only child, I had friends I played with, but at home I confided in my bear.  When I left home, he went to college with me, was with me in my first marriage, and is with me now in my second. He even had a good mention in my memoir.

My bear is called Ding-a-Ling.  I’ve had him since birth, so he’s as old as me – 68 years. He permanently sits on my desk, watching me work.

Ding-a-Ling is so named because he has a bell inside his stomach which rings when you shake him. Due to this, he isn’t as soft and cuddly as some bears, but he was, and remains cuddly enough for me. 

He stands around eleven inches high. At the age he is now, not surprisingly, he is gradually losing his hair. When I was in my late teens, he had to have the soles of his feet, and the palms of his paws recovered, which my dad did with black silk material. 

However, these days he is sporting a pair of fur booties. They were sold as Christmas Tree decorations, but they fit him perfectly. 

When I met my second husband, Ding-a-Ling caused much amusement. Not because I still had him, because although my husband doesn’t still have his teddy Joe, he could tell me all about him.  

The reason for the amusement was, that Ding-a-Ling was dressed in a knitted red dress. My Grandma had knitted it for him, years ago. I was never keen on dolls, but I did quite like to dress Ding-a-Ling.  

He has always been a boy, but he just happened to wear a dress. I didn’t have a problem with that. 

However, my husband, who also doesn’t have problem with people’s genders, wasn’t happy with Ding-a-Ling wearing a dress. At the time, I also had a cuddly rabbit, who wore dungarees. We put these on Ding-a-Ling.  He didn’t look right, and remained in the dress, much to husband’s dismay.

Eventually I bought a new bear for a baby, and the bear happened to be wearing a lovely blue sweatshirt. Ding-a-Ling now wears that, and looks very smart in it. The baby will never know that his bear should have been clothed…

Thinking about Teddy Bears Picnic

In the early 1950’s on the radio I used to hear the song, “When you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise,” the recording by Henry Hall and His Orchestra (recorded in 1932).   I loved that song, and used to sing along with it.

I was a toddler when my parents took me on a picnic in some woods.  Knowing of my love for this song, Dad started to sing it thinking I’d love to see some bears.  

I screamed the place down, and they had to take me home. I obviously believed there would be real bears!

When I worked in music education, probably about thirty years ago, one of the small primary schools had a Teddy Bears picnic for their reception class.  As a visitor to the school, I, and teachers, all took along our teddies, and sat with the children, singing as many songs about Teddy Bears we could think of. All of us had to make the actions; teddy bears included! It was one of the best afternoons I spent.

Do you still have your teddy bear?

“If it could only be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper…” 

Evelyn Waugh “Brideshead Revisited”