Thursday, December 25, 2008


Growing up, my Jewish family always celebrated both Hanukah and Christmas. As much as I liked getting a present eight nights in a row for Hanukah, like most kids sold on Santa Claus, the holidays really were about my Christmas stocking and finding presents under the tree.

My Mom grew up in Chicago, so her holiday tradition had always been stuffing the stocking with oranges and walnuts (with a few toys thrown in for good measure). Considering oranges were about as common in L.A. as cars and we had several walnut trees on our property, I didn't learn the significance of this fruits 'n nuts combo 'til I was an adult. As a first generation Los Angeleno used to warm winters I didn't realize that during my Mom's Midwest upbringing, having oranges and walnuts in December was a special treat.

Since my Mom passed away six years ago, my ex has picked up the torch with her own twist on this holiday family tradition - a Christmas stocking filled to the brim with walnuts and Satsuma tangerines, a rare seasonal treat.

One of my favorite childhood holiday memories was getting to see my first Hollywood Christmas Parade when I was thirteen, but my view was quite different from all the spectators lining Hollywood Boulevard - I experienced the parade perched high atop the Childhelp USA float standing alongside Olympic ice skaters Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner and child horror princess Heather O'Rourke. I went to junior high with the girl whose mom co-founded Childhelp USA and became part of their youth group Wings. Being parts of Wings was kind of like being a Girl Scout but without wearing the cool green uniforms. We did art projects, assisted with fundraisers, and had social gatherings. One day I showed up for a meeting and got the nice surprise of learning I had won a spot on their Hollywood Christmas parade float because I was the only Wings member with perfect attendance.

For my TV debut I was given the special uniform of a white sweatsuit embroidered with Childhelp's blue Dove logo across the heart. I'm sure I probably looked like a chubby snowball but I was proud to wear the outfit. Considering this was 1983, getting to be on a float with America's Sweethearts Tai and Randy and the star of "Poltergeist" who captured America's attention with that famous line, "They're here," was beyond cool. The float had moved barely a block, just past the T.V. cameras, when it came to a grinding halt. I don't remember what the problem was (a busted tire?) but we were all whisked away to a private V.I.P. tent for the remainder of the parade. While I thought getting to be in the parade would be a highlight of my life, honestly it was extremely cold on Hollywood Blvd (yes even in my glamorous sweatsuit) and the V.I.P. tent turned out to be warm, stocked with a gourmet buffet, and filled with every major television star of the era. The float breaking down was the best thing that could have ever happened to me! I spent my night going from table to table meeting all my T.V. idols, getting autographs from stars like Denver Pyle (Uncle Jesse on "Dukes of Hazzard"), Ted Lange ("The Love Boat"), cuties Greg Evigan ("BJ and the Bear"), Ted McGinley ("Happy Days") and Jeff Conaway ("Taxi" and “Grease”), and then Vic Tayback ("Alice") even wrote, "Lydia, Stow It!! Love, Vic Tayback 'Mel'." I've never been back to the Hollywood Christmas Parade since that star-filled night, really, how could any subsequent parade ever live up.

Sure L.A. doesn't have distinct seasons like the Midwest and East Coast (I mean it’s December and the leaves are just turning), but there's plenty of ways to get into the holiday spirit even while living in lalaland. My favorites are making the drives through the Valley’s own “Candy Cane Lane” and visiting the DWP Holiday Light Festival (kind of like LITE BRITE on steroids). Add a little hot chocolate and it's always a perfect night.

Where To Go For A SoCal Holiday Experience:

DWP Holiday Light Festival: This free light display was designed to "symbolize" the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's "proud history and shared legacy of service to the people of the city."

The display, now in its 13th year, is probably the only time of year L.A. denizens will feel all warm and fuzzy when thinking about the DWP. Not only does the festival highlight DWP achievements (like the "Cascades" and William Mulholland, the man who brought water to the desert of L.A.)

but really it's the one place in the vast city of Los Angeles that salutes our major landmarks like City Hall, the Hollywood Sign and the film business of "Hollywood", LAX and the space age Encounter building,

Griffith Observatory,

and Hollywood Bowl.

The Holiday Light Festival runs along a one-mile segment of Crystal Springs Drive (in Griffith Park near the L.A. Zoo) with two lanes for cars, a single lane for free shuttle buses (parking is at the L.A. Zoo), and a sidewalk for people willing to brave the cold to see it on foot. Enhancing your experience as you pass by the display, holiday tunes supplied by KOST FM whisper through the air. This year the DWP added a pedestrian only “vehicle free” week to demonstrate their continuing commitment to a “greener” L.A. I went on one of these nights and seeing so many people on foot checking out the light displays truly felt like more of an East Coast experience – the only thing missing was some faux (or real) snow. This nightly light show stars at twilight (5pm) and ends at 10pm. The festival runs through December 30, 2008.

Candy Cane Lane:
Since the early 1950's, neighbors in an ordinarily sedate section of Woodland Hills (in the "Valley") have been trying to one up each other with over the top holiday lighting displays. The main drag of "Candy Cane Lane" is Lubao, but a few surrounding streets also evoke holiday themes that feature candlelight, jingle bells, and Santa Claus.

Despite being a residential neighborhood, local entrepreneurs have been known to sell mistletoe, hot chocolate, and even funnel cakes (yum). Residents request that visitors drive by no later than 10pm on weeknights, 11pm on weekends.

Directions: 101 N/S exit Winnetka, head North, immediate right Martha, left Lubao “AKA” Candy Cane Lane.

- Lydia Marcus

(1st photo - Hanukah 1972 - pictured L-R: Grandma Belle, Mom, Me @ 2, Dad, Uncle Fritz, Aunt Lisa)
(2nd photo - Christmas 1974 - Santa Claus & Lydia, age 4)

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