Believe in Santa…

I have been thinking recently about the person responsible for leaving treats in stockings and gifts by the tree on Christmas morning. Who munches on cookies washed down with warm milk by the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree? I believe it may be Santa Claus.

Do I think a jolly old man slithers down my chimney on Dec 24? Hmm…I’m not really sure. Although I do leave the cookies just in case. I think Santa Claus is alive in the spirit that ties us all together. At Christmas time, music is gentle and kind, people are generous and thoughtful, and the world around me twinkles with merriment and joy. Neighbors call out holiday greetings, children giggle and toss snow, families come together. It is in the dark hours of late December that we seek goodness between each other and share the bounty of our lives.

Last Christmas was a hard one for our family – our first to be separated into two homes. But it was alive with the spirit of Santa Claus. A friend surprised us with a card at the Christmas Tree Farm saying that our tree was her gift to us. A neighbor came by to help decorate it and brought us shiny new ornaments that sparkled in the colored lights while another came by with her massage table to give us Christmas massages. Throughout the month, we found gifts from a secret Santa peppering our home in unexpected places. Four days before Christmas, I got a call that my dad and step-mom were going to surprise us with a holiday visit from Indiana, and for the first time in over 25 years, I had all of my parents under the same roof for Christmas Eve and woke with them and my children on Christmas morning.

But even more was happening outside my home. In the weeks before Christmas, a good friend survived a dangerous surgery. Another friend’s husband found an amazing job that would allow her to stay home with their young daughters full-time. A woman I know who was afraid her cancer wouldn’t allow her to live through Thanksgiving found liberation from her pain enough to host Christmas Eve with extended family. My neighbor’s daughter healed from a surgery that she had to undergo three days before Christmas. With enough thought, everyone could remember something wonderful that happened around the time of year when Santa Claus makes his appearance. I found a few more pennies on the ground, I had good interactions at difficult meetings, I heard favorite songs and noticed the clock turn 11:11 more frequently (an enchanted wishing time). I magically found a sense of calm in the middle of an emotionally stormy time. It’s like that every year during the Christmas season.

Is it miraculous? Is it religious? I don’t think so. I think Santa Claus is simply the energy between us – the tie that binds us. At Christmas time in our culture, we peel off some of our cynicism and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to the kindness of others. Maybe there is a jolly old man in a wooly red suit sitting in the frozen tundra of the North Pole helping us to find this freedom to give and show the respect and love that we should show each other year-round. Maybe there isn’t. But instead of a bumper sticker asking what would Wellstone, Jesus or John Lennon do, what about a bumper sticker asking what would Santa do? WWSD?

Surely he wouldn’t pack away his good will with Christmas ornaments into a box in the garage on New Year’s Day. I can’t imagine him lying, honking and shouting unkind words to someone who doesn’t notice the light has changed or underhandedly trying to manipulate documents or situations to benefit himself. No, Santa would find the good in any situation. He would smile and open the door for the person next to him – of any age. He would donate what he could and would share his time and effort if he couldn’t give money or things. He would think before he spoke and wouldn’t lash out in hostility to innocent people because he was having a bad day. He would offer ten positives for every creatively constructed negative bit of information, and he would look for opportunities to share sparkly magic. He would compliment a pretty hat, he would notice bright earrings, he would be interested to meet a new friend. He would listen to friends’ concerns, remember their important days, light candles or pray to send energy to people having important events in their lives. And in so doing, he would bolster and grow his own stockpile of love and happiness because it would come back to him tenfold. How else could he share his magic with so many people around the world?

How can I not believe in Santa Claus? I live with the hope that I can somehow emulate what I think he stands for. I strive to share his magic with the people around me by being open, honest, loving, kind, fair and thoughtful. I donate my time. I try to treat people with respect –even when they aren’t returning the favor. I try to see where help is needed and offer a hand whether it’s picking up a dropped earring or raising funds for field trips. I’m human, and I don’t always succeed in these endeavors, but when in doubt, I try to live up to Santa’s example and tap into his spirit – at any time of the year.

And so, I’ll always leave out carrots for reindeer and look out at bedtime on Christmas Eve to see if Rudolph is dashing through the park outside or flying overhead in the starry, cold sky. And on Christmas morning, I’ll always look to see if the cookies are eaten – just in case. I don’t need gifts. I have plenty. I have two beautiful daughters that I love and of whom I am utterly proud, my mom has moved to Eau Claire, my brother and dad are healthy and having good lives. I have friends that surround me in my darkest days with hugs, love and support that I would never have imagined. My cup overflows. No, I don’t need things. I just wish we could all remember to keep out the spirit of Santa Claus when we pack away our ornaments and decorations. I wish we could continue treating each other with the love and respect he inspires in December. I see that devotion come out every year, I hear stories of unexpected kindness, and I find unexplained magic in my daily life. Is it a jolly man, a spirit, an energy? I don’t know, but I feel it and I see it shine when Santa Claus is near. And because of that, I believe.

Christmas Gifts

With the holidays fast approaching, people are trying to find the perfect gifts to give.  Some want to give a sentimental gift, others want to show their humorous side.  For many people this will be a chance to show how they feel about someone, and for others the gift they give will stylishly fulfill an obligation.  In any case, everyone wants to come up with a gift that will convey just the message they want to send.

Sometimes the memory of a perfect gift outlasts the given item.  The thoughtfulness or creativity that was woven into it inspires a happy feeling for years to come.  I recently asked a few women around the Chippewa Valley if they had any such gift memories to share.  Some had ones that warm the heart, and others had funny memories.  Here’s what they said:

Jan – One year when my sister didn’t have much money, I came downstairs Christmas morning, and her sewing machine cabinet was there by the tree. She wanted to give it to me for my gift, as she knew I loved to sew and didn’t have one. I protested, saying it was too much, but she insisted, a little teary-eyed. That was pretty cool.

Barbara – I grew up in a family where money was tight, and my mother made my clothes.  One year I begged for a robe I’d seen in the Sears catalog – it was beautiful. To my delight it was under the tree on Christmas morning, my first store-bought item, and I wore it until it was threadbare.  After my mother died many years later I was going through her things and found the pattern and some material from that robe.  She had secretly sewn it herself – complete with a borrowed Sears tag – so that I would have my dream come true.

Amanda – When I was a senior in high school, my boyfriend of 18 months worked with – and probably begged – my mom to allow him to get me a kitten for a gift.  She was a sweet little orange kitty who lasted quite a bit longer in my life than my boyfriend.  He went on to date my best friend four months later, and now she’s his wife.

Ann – My sweetest Christmas gifts came from my husband.  Three weeks after we met in October 1991, he went to Texas for work and was already thinking of being with me at Christmas.  My gifts came from that trip – a stuffed armadillo and a Texas longhorn sweatshirt.  And yes, I still have them.

Glenda – One of the best Christmas gifts I ever received arrived under the tree the year my daughter was 11. It was in a huge box, and I couldn’t imagine what a child her age could afford with her small weekly allowance. On Christmas morning she could hardly wait until I opened the big package and then several inside it, each one smaller than the last, each individually wrapped. At last I came to a small ring box, and inside was a gold ring set with a tiny ruby — my birthstone. She had spotted it in the jewelry store window and saved every penny she had to buy it for me. The little girl is now 40, and the ring remains one of my most treasured possessions.

Pat -  My Aunt Pepper was known for giving meaningful gifts, but one year she shook things up.  She gave me a crazy brown and white purse made of fake fur.  Its strap was a chain.  I was grateful for the gift that had been chosen and given with love, but I wasn’t about to take it out of its hiding spot in the back of my closet.  A year later, I found it again and realized that my hip aunt had been incredibly fashion-forward and given me something that was indeed very cool.  It became my favorite purse.

No matter what the gift or who the giver, there are thoughtful and funny gifts that pepper our memories.  Maybe it’s a piece of special jewelry or a traditional gift that passes between family members. It could be a child’s hand-made treasure or a gift certificate for romantic dance lessons meant to rekindle a flame.  In any case, remembering these gifts recalls the affection we shared and inspires us to keep the tradition alive.

My own memory involved a gift that didn’t cost much but is worth its weight in gold.  My brother works in Los Angeles and knows that my favorite Christmas movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  Several years ago, a book came through his publicity office about the making of the movie.  He called Jimmy Stewart’s publicist and thoughtfully arranged to have it autographed to me.  In the movie, the actor’s tender character ultimately realizes how incredibly important each of our tightly interconnected lives is – a lesson worth revisiting at least once each year.  In my book he wrote:  “To Lesley – I send you all my best wishes and have a merry Christmas,  James Stewart.”  I wish the same for everyone.  Happy Holidays.

 

Why December 25?

Carols ring from in-store speakers, twinkly lights sparkle on rooftops, menus are being planned and families are poised to gather.  Christmas is near, and people all over the world are counting down the days until December 25.  Some do it in a purely secular spirit and look forward to holiday parties and Santa’s treasures.  Others take a more religious view to the holiday and focus on the celebration of Jesus’ birth – but not a birthday.

Scholars agree that biblical clues indicate that Jesus was not born on December 25 but that the day has been widely agreed upon as a celebration of his birth.

Why not celebrate Jesus on his actual birthday?  Records do not exist for that specific date, and biblical clues are conflicting.  One thing is certain, though, he wasn’t born in December. Bethlehem is chilly and often rainy in December, and the shepherds are not in the field.

The bible suggests that Mary and Joseph were headed to Bethlehem in order to register for a census and pay taxes in the city of Joseph’s origin.  Because farmers were done with their harvests in the fall of the year, that would have been the most logical time for such a census and taxation to take place – when the farmers were flush and finished with work.

Fall is also a time of harvest festivals and celebrations, and it’s a time when Israelites would make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem for Sukkot, a week-long celebration that follows Yom Kippur.  This would be a time when homes and inns would be overflowing with family and friends gathering to honor the harvest and join in their religious ceremonies.  It would be a time when a too-full inn might offer a stable as lodging to a young expectant couple.

Two other festivals encourage Israelites to gather in Jerusalem: Passover and Shavu’ot. These happen in the spring of the year and inspire some thought that Jesus was a spring baby. This theory would coincide with the shepherds tending their flock in the fields at night because spring lambing would require around-the-clock observation.

There are more detailed clues, too, that are given in the bible’s book of Luke. Here, the pregnancy of Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, is detailed. Luke writes that Mary conceives during her cousin’s sixth month of pregnancy and that her son is born six months after Elizabeth’s.  Through a complicated exploration of biblical clues, the date of Elizabeth’s conception can be narrowed down to June, Mary’s to December, and the ultimate birth of Jesus to September.

If it’s possible that Jesus was an autumn baby, why do we celebrate his birth in the darkest days of winter?  According to Reverend Julianne Lepp, a Unitarian Minister educated at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, it has ties to pagan traditions.

“The early beginnings of Christmas, in fact, have direct roots in the winter solstice celebration that took place at Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture,” Lepp explains.  “When Christianity was introduced to the Roman Empire in the early 4th Century, the church allowed the Saturnalia tradition to continue, but concluded the week-long festival with a day dedicated to the birth of Christ, or Christ Mass, better known today as Christmas.”

In fact, Emperor Constantine was a Christian convert who sought to combine pagan worship and Christianity. Mithraism and other pagan religions honored the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice, and it married well with the Christian birth of the holy son.  Rome first celebrated the birth of Jesus on December 25 in 336AD, and Pope Julius I made it official in 350AD.

“In seeking the return of the light we seek to restore balance,” says Lepp. “It is an age old quest of restoring our tired hearts and rekindling joy in the darkest of nights. It is the real hope of the season.”

This hope is reflected in the Christian and pagan traditions that remain dear at Christmas time.  Yule logs burn brightly under mantles festooned in holly – both customs that come from the Scandinavian celebration of solstice.  Candles burn as they have since Saturnalia festivals when they were given as gifts to chase away darkness. Wreathes, pagan symbols of life everlasting, decorate front doors.  Colorful decorations on evergreen trees recall the original fruits, nuts and cookies that were hung reverently on trees that showed power over winter demons by maintaining their color throughout the winter months.

Even more recent Christmas traditions can be traced to the rebirth of light at the winter solstice.  Santa’s sleigh may stem from a Norse myth of Freya who rewarded good deeds with gifts in the days following the winter solstice that she doled out from her stag-drawn chariot.  And Santa himself is a warm and shining light that emerges in the darkest days of the year to bring joy around the world – just as the sun is beginning its reemergence into the northern hemisphere’s coldest days.

 

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Christmas Cupid Takes Aim

You’ve made your list and checked it twice. Aunt Joan is getting slippers, and your brother is getting golf gloves. But the spot next to your sweetheart’s name remains blank. The pressure to find the perfect gift can be overwhelming, but if you tap into your sense of romance and ingenuity, you might find that you have just the thing to elicit a delighted kiss from your sweetie on Christmas morning. Here are some ideas that will help get your creative juices flowing.

Customize Your Affection – Anita Thompson <www.anitajewelry.com> , who creates kiln-fired glass jewelry, suggests custom baubles for a tender gift idea.

“If you don’t know her favorite color,” directs Thompson, “choose jewelry that complements the color of her eyes.”

Paintings, pottery or other artisan designs can also be created with your partner’s taste in mind.

Fulfill a Dream – How many times has he said that “someday” he’s going to own a hot Corvette convertible? Make him a king for a weekend and arrange to rent his dream car. Find a miniature model or ornament of it to wrap and tuck under the tree. When he opens it, explain that you plan to zoom away for a weekend of his choice in the wheels he’s always wanted. Avis and Hertz both offer Corvettes in limited cities, but some local, non-chain agencies provide this car, too.  If a fancy sports car isn’t possible in your town, a limo stocked with a bottle of bubbly for a night on the town with you may be just the thing to make him smile.

Enhance Knowledge – Expand your partner’s mind by giving the gift of education. Contact a Spanish tutor and purchase five lessons. Wrap the gift certificate with a beginning Spanish book and a coupon to a local Mexican restaurant. Or plan to learn together. Contact your local dance studio for a beginner’s package. In no time, your one moment of romance will blossom into many opportunities to hold each other close and relive the intimacy of the holidays.

Geocasche Your Love – Give your sweetheart a treasure hunt in the form of a pocket GPS. Visit different points around town and program them into the unit. Purchase small gift cards at each place and tuck them into numbered envelopes that correspond with the numbered points in the GPS. Wrap them all together to slip under the tree.  When your holiday honey successfully tracks down a point, he or she can open an envelope and be treated to another surprise.

Craft Some Coupons – Pick up a package of colorful index cards at your local office supply store and get creative. Draw a picture of the fridge for a free kitchen cleaning, a picnic basket for a free “I’ll cook,” or a pair of feet to suggest a foot rub. Cut tabs across the bottom for six free “I’m sorrys” to really win your love over. Whatever your Christmas Cupid likes, make it into a coupon.

Take Flight – Sweep your love off her feet in an airplane or a hot air balloon.

“Flight has many appeals: freedom, nostalgia, romance, scenery, science,” explains John H. Campbell, Chief Glider Pilot at Mile High Gliding in Boulder, Colo., <www.milehighskyride.com>. “Our glider flying provides silence, more viewing area than that available in a typical small airplane and is available to the public with no prior experience, training or physical prowess.”

Airports around the country are home to small companies that will happily participate in your Kris Kringle creativity by offering a flight of fancy for about $200. Look in your local phone book under “aircraft charter, rental or leasing” to find an airplane ride, or search under “balloons – hot air” to silently lift off under a brightly colored orb.

Be Insightful – Show your Mr. or Mrs. Claus that you’ve been listening to those little desires all year. Notice that he’s wanted a new tool belt and give him one filled with the little tools he can’t ever find at his fingertips. Remember that she wished for a deviled-egg plate, water ski gloves or a massage at the local spa.  Small things that are only mentioned one time in passing can seem very significant when wrapped and tucked under the tree. They show that you listened, cared and tried to find a sweet way to please.

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10-12 years.” — Robert Parker 91-93

Gingerbread Houses

 

Icicles hang from a snowy rooftop, brightly colored bulbs shimmer from frosty eaves and candy cane decorations line a curving sidewalk. This isn’t a scene from a holiday greeting card — it’s what you can create with a good gingerbread recipe and a touch of creativity.

MADE FROM SCRATCH

For centuries European bakeries have turned out gingerbread houses using molds created by master craftsmen. In France, a special guild was formed for these bakers of “pain d’epices,” and an annual fair ran for 800 years to celebrate their special breads. But it was the Grimm Brothers’ story of Hansel and Gretel that earned these sweet houses their spot in history.

“They were very popular in Switzerland, where I grew up,” explains Guido Landoldt, the executive pastry chef at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. “We used beautiful molds that were hundreds and hundreds of years old and carved into hard wood.”

Those antique molds are no longer available, but don’t let that stifle your creativity. There are many other ways to make this tasty seasonal centerpiece.

The most traditional way is first to bake the gingerbread that will become the walls, doors, chimney and roof. After the gingerbread cools, decorate the exterior walls while they are flat on a work surface, but be sure to frost the interior as well as exterior corners for added strength when you assemble the cottage.

Landoldt suggests royal frosting as the best glue and claims it’s stronger than liquid nails. Mix three egg whites, 1 pound powdered sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar together gently.

“Use a paddle instead of a whisk and mix slowly for seven to 10 minutes to avoid incorporating any air molecules,” he suggests.

Cover your icing with a damp towel until you are ready to begin gluing and decorating your project. Be sure to have plenty of pastry bags and frosting tips on hand to create different textures.

 USE A KIT

If baking isn’t your forte, start with a kit. John and Janet D’Orsi have been making this possible since 1981 at the Gingerbread Construction Co. in New England <www.gingerbreadusa.com>. They ship undecorated kit houses as well as fully finished houses anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States.

Don Granger, a retired construction worker in New Auburn, Wis., appreciates the particulars of construction and enjoys building gingerbread kit houses with his grandchildren.

“Making a gingerbread house with youngsters gives them an experience they couldn’t have without an adult,” says Granger, “and at the same time it teaches them where things go and why.”

Granger’s experience has taught him that creativity in decoration is part of the fun. He has used green frosting on overturned ice cream cones for trees, cotton candy for smoke and jelly beans for festive lights. To create a landscape, he covers a board with foil and paints it with diluted royal frosting. A path of chocolate bars lined with candy canes finishes the scene.

MAKE THEM INTO COOKIES

Not up to building an entire house? Consider the Betty Crocker recipe for gingerbread cookies from <www.bettycrocker.com>. These take less time and are delicious to eat. Frosting can still drip from eaves, shredded wheat can line the roof and peppermints can adorn the front door.

 FOR THE YOUNGER CROWD

Very young children might not have the skills or patience to make a gingerbread house, but that doesn’t need to stop them. Beverly Cavanaugh, coordinator of the Early Childhood Center at Joliet (Ill.) Junior College offers this kid-friendly tip.

Use empty half-pint milk cartons to create a base for a graham cracker “gingerbread” house. Adhere crackers to the sides and top of the cleaned milk carton with royal frosting. Horizontally place graham cracker sticks for a log cabin effect, and make shingles from colorful gum or flat nuts.

To create a special gift, leave the spine of the container poking up between the graham cracker roof pieces.

“If you punch a hole in the ridge, you can hang it as an ornament,” suggests Cavanaugh. “Pipe more royal icing around the hole to look like snow on the roof.”

A picture slipped into the door or window can appear to peek out of the ornament which is easily preserved with a layer of shellac or a light wash of glue.

“After the frosting sets up, mix some craft glue and a few drops of water to make a thin wash for the child to paint onto the ornament,” directs Cavanaugh. “Embellish after the glue wash with iridescent sequins or other decorations for added sparkle.”

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Holiday Shopping Smiles

 

 

Be Nice

Everyone hopes to be on Santa’s “nice” list, but the mad rush of holiday shopping often brings out the naughty in people. Freeman Hall, author of the recently released “Retail Hell,” manages to put a funny spin on the torture sales associates sometimes experience, but in real life it’s not so funny.

Hall says shoppers should remember that during the holidays sales associates work crazy hours in stores that stay open late. Commutes are longer than usual because many stores require employees to park off-site, and they miss out on family events, parties and their own shopping time. They are tired, their feet hurt and they have been yelled at by 10 people before you ever arrive in their department. Take a breath, keep in mind that they are someone’s dad, sister or child, too, and be kind.

“The people who were nice always got the best from me,” says Hall.  “I didn’t care about the mean and nasty people – even though I was on commission.”

Here are some of Hall’s tips for maintaining sanity and keeping everyone smiling during the busiest shopping season of the year.

 

  • A smile and manners go a long way. Nothing ruins a sales associate’s day faster than a Scrooge on steroids. Greet him or her with a jolly smile, not a crabby scowl.
  • Misperception breeds contempt. When you greet a busy clerk who looks right through you, don’t be angry. She is likely working with a customer, answering a phone call, fixing a cash register and delivering a sweater to a dressing room – all at the same time. Don’t get angry, just try again later.
  • Make it fun. Humor is contagious and defuses tense situations.
  • Trust and respect your salesperson.  Don’t turn away great customer service by running away from someone you perceive as a pushy clerk.  They know what’s hot, new and might be tucked away in a stock-room drawer.  Don’t feel obligated to go with their suggestions, but their knowledge might save you valuable time.
  • Shop early in the day. That’s when sales associates are ready to give you their best service. If it’s closing time on a late night, they’re more interested in getting home than in helping you find just the right thing.
  • Let the sales associate know you care. If another customer is being obnoxious, make a funny face behind her back. Then tell his manager what a good job he did in fielding the hostility. His appreciation will inspire extra service for you.
  • Check your holiday diva at the door. Don’t have a tantrum about something over which the sales associate has no control. If the store has run out of boxes or a hot item, that’s the CEO’s issue. Buy your gift boxes at a discount store and shop for the item elsewhere.
  • Exercise patience. If the line is long, there’s a reason. Employees call in sick, people have complicated transactions, cash registers break. Go have a coffee, do another errand and come back later. If you must stay in line, pull a good book from your handbag and relax until it’s your turn.
  • Sales associates are not your servants. Overworked employees do not have time to pick up after you, so pitch in and help. If you can’t hang a dress on a hanger properly, neatly fold it and hand it to someone who can. Don’t leave it in a wad on the floor or shoved in a shoe rack.
  • If you must shop with children, bring books, hidden pictures or Game Boys. Play “Going on a Picnic” and list with them all of the things you’ll bring from A to Z. Everyone in the store will appreciate your effort, and you’ll wind up getting the best service in return.
  • Service matters. Shop at stores that take pride in their customer service and reward their employees for treating you well.
  • Spoil your helpers. Surprise an exhausted sales associate who has helped you regularly over the year with a latte or a chocolate bar. Your effort will make someone’s day, and you’ll probably get tips on hot sale items in the new year.

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San Diego Christmas

Toes at the Hotel Del Coronado in Coronado, Calif.

Toes at the Hotel Del Coronado in Coronado, Calif.

 

 

 

 

 

Deck the Del

with Boughs of Holly

 

 

 

The thought of San Diego evokes images of sand castles, sailboats, surfboards, – and Christmas?  Absolutely.

While Southern Californians might not have snowmen and frosty sleigh rides, the holiday spirit is alive and well.  Palm trees twinkle with lights, poinsettias bloom throughout the city and familiar carols are in the air.  Multicultural and deeply rooted historic traditions lend richness to the holidays as they meld with contemporary celebrations into the quintessential San Diego Christmas season.

Although the Kumeyaay people existed in the area we know as Southern California for 9000 years, the first people to celebrate Christmas in the San Diego area were Spanish explorers who founded the Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769.  This “Mother of Missions” changed the local customs and was the first of 21 missions that began the colonization of California.  The mission remains active and invites guests to join in long-established religious holiday celebrations.

By 1835, a village, El Pueblo de San Diego, had sprung up at the foot of the mission’s hill.  Its adobe walls and Mexican population were the seed from which the current shining metropolis sprang forth, and the area is now known as San Diego’s Old Town.  To enjoy the deeply traditional culture of San Diego, visit Christmas services at the original mission or have a lunch of tamales and margaritas on the patio of a Mexican restaurant where strolling mariachis sing in the season.

In 1904, the Hotel del Coronado boasted the first American electrically lighted outdoor Christmas tree that brought the city into a new era.  Now more than 60,000 lights sparkle on “The del’s” Winter Wonderland each night of the holidays, while “del elves” tuck in children after a day of cookie decorating, ice skating and holiday crafts.  In the lobby is a two-story tree whose annually changing decorations bring the hotel to life.

Light lunch on the terrace, a stroll on the beach and Victorian tea in the Palm Court mark a quintessential “SoCal” holiday experience and revive the glory days of the hotel.  Edward, Prince of Wales, abdicated his throne in 1936 after falling in love with Wallis Simpson, a Coronado housewife who frequented The Del.  Some say they met at a ball there in 1920, and their romance has brought glamour to the hotel.  Today you, too, can enjoy this holiday paradise where elegant surroundings, spa delights, and oceanfront dining make ice and snow melt into a distant memory.

Balboa Park comes brightly alive for the holidays with locally grown poinsettias.  The largest in the city, the park is the home of museums, theaters, lush gardens and the famed San Diego Zoo.  Many of the festively ornamented buildings owe their beauty and detail to the fact that they were built in the early 20th century for two expositions held in the park.  Balboa Park December Nights celebrates the season with free admission to participating museums and organizations along with music, live entertainment and food from around the world during the first weekend in December.

The Pacific Ocean has a cold-water upwelling off the California coast, so San Diego’s ocean temperature is chilly.  In December, water temperatures can be in the low 50s, making for cold toes.  Expert SCUBA divers can don dry suits and explore the kelp forests with the Diving Locker.  But to enjoy the largest ocean in the world from a dry seat, San Diego Harbor Excursions and Hornblower Cruises both offer tours to view the California gray whales as they begin their migration to Baja California just as the holidays unfold.

Mid-December will find San DiegoBay twinkling with lights as a merry flotilla of more than 100 boats sails by the city in the annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights.  Sip cocoa and watch the procession on the bay with San Diego Harbor Excursions or Hornblower Cruises or join them another evening for a holiday dinner aboard one of their decorated bay cruisers.  But if you prefer day tripping on the bay, you can’t beat a San Diego SEALs harbor tour. You will learn more San Diego facts than most locals as you drive to the point where you splash into the 14-mile harbor, and the education will continue as you get close to marine life and wave to sailors heading out to sea.

Farther inland, away from the ocean breezes, The San Diego Wild Animal Park  provides vast enclosures that allow many species of animals to cohabitate with others as they would in the wild.  Between Dec. 8-23 and 26-30, visitors can see lions, elephants, zebras and hippos mingle and lounge in their natural settings – after dark.  The park celebrates shorter days with a Festival of Lights when more than 100,000 holiday lights illuminate the park, which stays open late for visits from Santa, holiday carolers, children’s craft activities and a snowy hill for sliding.

A hot-air balloon ride is the best way to enjoy the vastness of the Pacific, the desert beauty of wild canyons and the serenity of the air.  Like Santa’s reindeer, you can fly high over Del Mar to watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean and neighborhood decorations blink on from the basket of a colorful hot-air balloon.  Southern  California’s oldest and most experienced balloon company, Skysurfer offers rides that last about an hour and include in-flight champagne.  Budget plenty of time to also enjoy the preflight set-up and a post-flight celebration. It is the perfect holiday gift to yourself or someone special.

Join jolly crowds of people who head downtown for a more recent holiday tradition in San Diego.  The Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade boasts bands, floats and as many as 30 balloons that march down Harbor Drive to culminate in a family festival on Broadway Pier prior to the college Pacific Life Holiday Bowl game at Qualcomm Stadium.  This year the festivities begin at10 a.m. on Dec. 28.

San Diego is a multifaceted city with something to please everyone, and in the holiday season, one secret part of its loveliness is exposed for a month or so to anyone who cares to slip southwest for a while. All over San Diego, kids watch for Santa, shoppers smile and wish happy greetings to one another, carols fill the air, and warm ocean breezes promise another lovely Christmas Day.

WHEN YOU GO

San Diego is an inviting Southwestern city with a mild climate.  Because the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much, a light jacket is all you need to bring along.  For more information about the activities available during the holidays and all through the year, explore the following Web sites:

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala www.missionsandiego.com

The Hotel Del Coronado www.hoteldel.com

Balboa Park  www.balboapark.org

The Diving Locker www.divinglocker.com

San Diego Harbor Excursions www.sdhe.com

Hornblower Cruises  www.hornblower.com

San Diego SEALs Harbor Tour www.sealtours.com

San Diego Wild Animal Park  www.sandiegozoo.org/wap/index.html

Skysurfer Balloon Company   www.sandiegohotairballoons.com

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl game and events  www.holidaybowl.com

San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau  www.sandiego.org/nav/Visitors

 

CUTLINES

Sand Castle Christmas Tree:  Sand castles to Santa Clause, San Diego knows how to
celebrate the season with style!  -Bill Robinson/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Hotel del Coronado in lights:  Victorian-era Hotel del Coronado sparkles with 60,000 lights and Christmas cheer.  –Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado circa 1904:  The first electrically lit outdoor Christmas tree in America was at San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado in 1904 where Christmas decor and warm holiday wishes continue to be a priority. – Hotel del Coronado

Wild Animal Park Lights:  Twinkling lights, holiday crafts and exotic animals await the holiday traveler at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.  –Zoological Society/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Poinsettia Star:  Native to Central America and brought to the Western world by Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1828, the poinsettia has become a symbol of the holidays.  Carlsbad Ranch/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Lighted Boats:  Sip hot cocoa and watch San Diego’s parade of lights on the bay as fully festooned boats sail two nights in December.   –Bob Yarbrough/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Balboa Park December Nights: Crowds gather to experience art, music, food and the warmth of the season at Balboa Park December Nights in San Diego’s largest park.  Joanne Dibona/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

Poinsettia Market:  The Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, Calif., provides 80 percent of
all poinsettias to the world.  Michael Leonard/San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau