When you live in a place with more palms than snow, stereotypical images of Christmas just don’t work. It’s awfully hard to go on a sleigh ride at the beach, after all. But Californians, being an imaginative lot, have come up with a whole batch of variations on Christmas traditions and some new ones of their own, too.
- Harbor Christmas Parades: Take an old-fashioned Christmas parade down to the nearest marina or harbor, substitute decorated and lighted boats for floats, and you’ve got a California-style Christmas parade. Locations featuring these festive delights include San Diego Harbor’s Parade of Lights, and the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade andOakland/Alameda Estuary Lighted Yacht Parade of more than 100 lighted pleasure craft. If you’d rather be in a boat than watching one pass by, the Huntington Harbor Cruise of Lights is a charming trip through the harbor’s waterways past houses decorated with enough lights to make Las Vegas jealous.
- Christmas “Training”: Near Santa Cruz, Roaring Camp Railroad runs a special Holiday Lights Train, leaving from the boardwalk, an especially festive, old-fashioned affair with live music and a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus. You can take a special Polar Express trip in Sacramento, but plan ahead – this event sells out in early October. Santa also takes a ride with his friends at Railtown 1897 State Park, November through December.
- Christmas Concerts: The a capella group Chanticleer is a San Francisco area favorite, performing Gregorian chants and popular tunes in some of the area’s prettiest venues, including historic Spanish missions. They also perform once every holiday season in at the Disney Concert Hall in LA.
- Disneyland at Christmas: Disneyland gets gussied up all over, with special parades. The Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World get extra decorations, too.
- Bracebridge Dinners: Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel dining room transforms into a 17th- century English manor for a three-hour pageant of classic carols, Renaissance rituals, music and food with the Squire and his family, their servants, the Lord of Misrule, minstrels and other characters. We think it’s one of the most fun ways to celebrate the holidays that you’ll find anywhere in the state.
- Surfin’ Santa: In most places, Santa arrives in a sleigh. In Capitola, just south of Santa Cruz and down at Seaport Village in San Diego, he arrives on a surfboard instead. Decked out in a red wetsuit with all the white trimmings, the Surfin’ Santa usually comes ashore on Thanksgiving1 weekend.
- Tractor Christmas Parade: Calistoga, the northernmost community in Napa Valley, hosts an annual Christmas parade with a twist. Their Tractor Christmas Parade is held the first Saturday in December.
- Outdoor Light Displays: Southern Californians get especially enthusiastic when it comes to outdoor light displays. Try the LA Zoo Lights, north of San Diego in Encinitas San Diego Botanic Garden. or take the Santa Barbara Trolley’s special lights tour, but plan ahead -this event sells out in early October. In Silicon Valley, Vasona Park near Los Gatos hosts the drive-thru Fantasy of Lights in Vasona Park. Well worth your time if you’re in the area of Gilroy, you can enjoy family-friendly rides and light displays at Gilroy Gardens.