How Californians Celebrate The Holidays

Downtown Palm Springs, Image via Planetware


— The holiday season is upon us.

On a recent visit to this desert retreat, I walked a main drag decked out with giant inflatable Santas, bauble-covered Christmas trees and twinkling lights draped over just about everything. Palm Springs had become a winter wonderland, but a distinctly California one.

Under awnings decorated with mistletoe, diners sat outside enjoying the 70 degree weather. Palm trees towered over tinsel-wrapped lampposts. And the entire festive scene was amid a backdrop of massive brown mountains and cloudless blue skies.

For most Californians, winter doesn’t usually resemble a snowy paradise. But, as you well know, we savor the holiday season nonetheless.

You’ve been writing to me about how you mark this time of year, whether with a chilly walk by the beach, a batch of tamales or stargazing in the desert. Here’s some of what you shared, lightly edited:

“My friends and I have been baking together every holiday season for the past 25 years. We call it the annual ‘bake-a-thon.’ The bakers consist of my girlfriends, who are now in their 70s — we’ve been friends since kindergarten at Carthay Center Elementary School — as well as their daughters and granddaughters.

The host is our dear friend Suzy, who opens her Culver City home and kitchen to us every year. Each person brings their favorite cookie recipe and we bake together. Another friend travels from Ojai with our favorite coffee cake, which is made from the recipe we grew up with from the L.A. Unified School District. After we bake, we put all the cookies out for display, fill tins and containers and share the bounty. Suzy makes a delicious homemade lunch and we leave her home full of good food and wonderful memories.” — Judith Penchansky, Culver City

“I come from a mixed family background, and luckily, both sides really center around food. Each year, we kick off the holiday season with a Hanukkah feast complete with latkes, brisket, kugel and challah — perhaps also some rugelach or mandel bread. Then, on Christmas Eve, after my brother has finished prepping sauces, meat and masa, we all get together to wrap tamales while my mom makes beans, rice and veggies. For us, it always comes back to latkes and tamales. Foods that bring comfort, joy and a sense of home.” — Leanne Greenberg, Mountain View

“Every year on Dec. 26, my husband, kids and I spend the day at the beach — no matter the weather. We bundle up with coats, beanies and blankets, paired with our flip flops. We make a stop at our favorite local coffee shop for some warm drinks to take with us. After all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, it’s such a relaxing breath of salty ocean air.” — Ashley Pansoy, San Jose

“My husband and I leave home a few days before the new year every December to spend time camping and hiking in one of California’s many desert parks. Though it gets dark some seven hours before midnight and it’s often a struggle to stay awake, we make it a point to ring in the new year while stargazing under the vast night sky. Bundled up, we look out at light emitted by celestial objects years ago, steeped in quiet reflection. This ritual serves as a reminder that being in touch with life’s timeless side is within reach.” — Edith de Guzman, Los Angeles