You know the lyrics. You can’t escape the song in December. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Sure it is — unless you harbor thoughts of suicide, a state of mind that’s apparently on the docket for all too many during the winter holiday season. Not that I want to be a downer. Perish the thought … so to speak.
In fact, I relish all of the celebrations from Halloween to Valentine’s Day, even if my mood during the latter depends on my romantic status at the time. Still, Christmas is the biggie. When you throw in Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, then New Year’s Eve, a majority of the world joins the jubilation, be it secular or sacred. As a holder of de facto dual citizenship, I can say with few reservations that the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles are delightful places to enjoy Christmas or any of those other holidays. True, Christmas in New York City might be the quintessence of urban Yuletide. London has a particularly Dickensian feel, minus the Scrooge-y sneers. New Orleans is somehow merrier and more festive than usual (barring Mardi Gras). And Paris is a wonderland when Père Noël rolls around with his bag full of croissants and foie gras. But I find a great deal of joy in a Cali Christmas.
Over the past few years, circumstances have dictated that I spend most of the winter months in Los Angeles, where one can encounter a multitude of fantastic sound-and-light displays in front of obscenely fabulous mansions; dancing fountain waters and a prefab Santa’s Workshop at the Grove outdoor mall in the Fairfax district; LED reindeers drawing an LED sleigh on the divider along Sunset Plaza; and strings of Christmas lights approximating the form of a tree at the top of the landmark Capitol Records tower. Not that San Francisco during the holidays isn’t quite lovely. Just head over to Union Square with its tall, star-bedecked pine and menorah, or check out the Embarcadero, Coit Tower and the Ferry Building — all decorated with the colors of the season. It’s a symphony in red and green.
Of course, there’s such a thing as overkill. The merchants aren’t so much jumping the gun earlier and earlier as they’re grabbing the gun, throwing it away and running the race before anyone’s in the starting block. On Oct. 15, I walked into Bloomingdale’s basement at the Westfield Centre in downtown San Francisco on my way to the food court, prior to a screening at the cinema upstairs, and was greeted with a row of brightly bedecked artificial Christmas trees, shelf upon shelf of fancy ornaments, a grinning Santa Claus statue, and a pyramid of cute little Santa dolls. On Oct.15! Somewhere a jack o’ lantern, a black cat, a ghost, and a witch were bitching — and looking for a better P.R. company.
Now, finally, the true winter of our hoped-for content is upon us. And the countless twinkling lights particularly hearten me, whether dangling from that spire on the Capitol Records building in Hollywood or brightening my hometown by the bay. I know, too, that they’re wrapped around the glorious tree at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, and sparkling on wreaths at Oxford Circus in London, and adorning balconies in the upscale residential end of the French Quarter in New Orleans, and strung across the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
I guess it’s the power of that whole illuminating-the-darkness thing as the Winter Solstice arrives. The hope that the earth will renew itself, that spring will bloom, that we’ll all glow with the love and the life force within us.
Whether I’m getting together with my San Francisco crew for dinner at Izzy’s in the Marina in what has been an irregular yet longstanding Christmas Eve tradition or downing some grog and doing a gift exchange with my Los Angeles friends at a Christmas Day house party, the warmth, kindness and positivity are palpable.
There’s truly something about the end of the year and the attendant festivities that must soften the surliness like an emotional emollient and sweeten the spirit like honey for the soul. So I roll with it. Wherever I am, north or south, I make sure to embrace my loved ones and count my blessings. Although it may only be a Christmas vacation from tedium, struggle and heartbreak, it’s a trip worth taking.