I grew up in Pennsylvania. We always wanted a white Christmas, though I can only remember one Christmas when it snowed. In fact, it was more likely to snow on Easter than on Christmas. Usually Christmas was in the 40s and rainy and grey. If it wasn't such a special day, it would have been dismal. Nevertheless, a white Christmas was the standard of proper Christmas weather.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 14, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
One time when I was a child, I remember my mom saying that if would be nice if it was warm on Christmas so that kids could play outside with their new bicycles and other outdoor toys. This must have struck a chord with me. If it won't snow on Christmas, then how about a warm Christmas? I was open to the idea long before living in a warm climate was even a remote possibility in my mind. Where I live now, there is virtually no possibility of snow for Christmas. Maybe it is because of my snowless childhood, but I don't feel like I am missing anything. It is still possible to get into the spirit without snow, or without 43F and rain, for that matter. You might think it strange to have Christmas with mild weather and wonder how a person can get into the mood, but actually the nice weather can be used to enhance the festivities.
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Deck the halls My mom always decorated the inside of the house extensively for Christmas and I do, too. I may have been the only 20-something to move across the country with boxes of Christmas decorations, including an artificial tree. However, outdoor decorations were at a minimum at my parents house. All they had was a red spotlight illuminating the decorations on the front door. I suppose my dad thought it was unique way to get out of stringing lights on a two-story house. I thought it was boring. It has to be a must more pleasant experience - at least weatherwise - putting up outdoor decorations here. You might still have tangled strings of lights, but at least you won't freeze your fingers while struggling with them.
Oh, Christmas tree Scent is said to be the sense most closely linked to memory. A live Christmas tree is not part of my heritage, but for many people, pine scent is an important part of Christmas. Live Christmas trees are available all over the country, including here. If you cannot have one, there are substitutes. You can get pine essential oil, pine-scented spray, and there are some very good pine-scented candles available. Other favorite Christmas scents are cinnamon, cloves, and peppermint. Take a whiff and see what memories come.
Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful Around here, it would be more appropriate to say, "the fire outside is frightful, but the weather is delightful". The wildfire season is pretty much over circa January 1. Usually there has been enough rain by then to get the moisture content of plants up to a safer level. This is not associated with the seasonal festivities, but it has got be be a gift to people living in risky areas.
It's Christmas time in the city Residents put up decorations, of course. People have the same old standbys as you do - icicle lights, light up snowmen, plastic Santas on the roof - you name it, you'll find it in someone's yard. There are even whole streets where all residents decorate to the extreme. Visiting them has become a tradition for many families. It's said to be a better viewing experience in a convertible with the top down. One undoubtedly has to be a special person to live on "Candy Cane Lane". Candy Cane Lane sounds a bit hectic for me, but I do like Christmas Tree Lane. This is a stretch of residential street in Altadena that is lined with illuminated deodar cedars. The effect is magical. House museums often decorate for Christmas, often with some period-appropriate decor. For example, the photo at the right shows a table set for a Victorian dinner party. The ribbons that end at each plate go up into the chandelier and then into jumble of gifts in a bowl in the center of the table. No one knows which ribbon is attached to which gifts. The guest pulls on the ribbon at his place setting, and the attached package is his gift. Doesn't that sound like fun?
I saw three ships Start your own traditions for Christmas. Do something that cannot be done in a colder climate. We often go to the beach. It isn't swimming weather, but it is usually warm and pleasant enough for walking. After opening presents, what do you do, sit around and eat all day? The kids might want to stay inside and play with their new video games, but it's nice to have option of going outside if you want. You might try a Christmas bike ride or a Christmas round of golf or a family softball game. A family picnic might be nice for apartment or condo dwellers. Before you know it, these outdoor activities can become venerable family traditions. If you do not have happy childhood memories of Christmas, it's never too late to start new and happy traditions.
The holly and the ivy I rarely see true holly around here, but there are many other plants with the red and green combination at Christmas time. Christmas favorites like poinsettia and Christmas cactus will grow outdoors here and bloom at the right time. I really recommend getting a Christmas plant like a Christmas cactus, amaryllis, kalanchoe, or poinsettia. These will survive outside for years, like the poinsettias by the house in the photo. I don't recall my family having live Christmas plants, but my new tradition is to get at least one poinsettia and one amaryllis every year.
Over the river and through the woods It's so much easier to travel when the weather is decent. Where is the charm in shoveling the driveway, sliding on ice, or navigating slush?
Walking in a winter wonderland Botanic gardens do not close in the winter. In fact, they often decorate for Christmas. For example, the Queen Anne House at the Los Angeles Arboretum has a decorated tree in every room. We like to go to Descanso Gardens around Christmas time because the decorations add to the pleasure. This is also a good time to go hiking in the wild. The weather is usually mild to warm but not hot. Often it is sunny. There are not many rainy days. If you really must have some snow, if the weather has been cooperative, you can drive a couple hours to the upper elevations of the San Gabriel Mountains or Mount Pinos for skiing or snow play, but no one is going to force snow upon you.
Oh, little town of Bethlehem No one knows for sure at what time of year Jesus was born. A lot of scholars think it may actually have been in the spring or fall. Even if it had been in the winter, it is not very likely that it snowed for that first Christmas. Bethlehem has a mediterranean climate, the same as where I live. What could be more authentic than that?
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding Fig trees grow here like weeds. They are deciduous and dormant at Christmas, but I can't look at one without thinking of the words to "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Also, this one of the homes of that old-fashioned staple, the Christmas orange. Oranges on the tree coloring up remind me that Christmas is near.
And heaven and nature sing For me, along with the anticipation of Christmas comes the anticipation of spring - yes, spring. In this crazy climate where summer is winter, winter is also spring. In a way, December is actually a combination of fall, winter, and spring all at once. Some deciduous trees can be late to turn color and the red of sweetgum and gold of Chinese pistache or ginkgo against the green of evergreens adds a subtle Christmas palette. In the wild, toyon berries and wild rose hips add some Christmas red. Other plants, both wild and domestic, go dormant for the winter. As for the spring, after a long dry summer and most of the fall, by December there usually has been some rain and some wild plants are actually starting to grow. It will be a couple months before wildflower season gets started, but I look forward to it just as I look forward to Christmas.
I believe that ultimately, the Christmas spirit comes from inside a person. Outside circumstances just provide cues. One could muster up the Christmas spirit in an empty, grey prison cell. To the believer, the true meaning of Christmas - the birth of Christ - is independent of climate, time, or place. The auxiliary meanings of Christmas - peace, love, giving, and family - should also be celebrated all year.
Tidings of comfort and joy!
Photos from top to bottom:
Christmas succulent wreath;
Victorian dining room;
Pismo Beach Pier;
Decorations, Descanso Gardens;
Wild rose hips.
Photos property of Kelli Kallenborn but you can feel free to use any for noncommercial purposes.
About Kelli Kallenborn
I have lived in California for 20 years and really enjoy the climate and all of the varied natural ecosystems.