Christmastime in the San Fernando Valley may not be exactly the white Christmas of Vermont or the big city hustle bustle of New York, but there are still lots of ways to get into the holiday spirit out here. As a native Angelino and Burbankian, I know all the best places to go for good old fashioned Christmas cheer. So stick with me now as I share with you the holiday season in and around my hometown.
At our house the season kicks off with The Hollywood Santa Claus Lane Parade on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. The parade (telecast live) begins with Gene Autry’s song, “Here Comes Santa Claus Right Down Santa Claus Lane,” and it is hosted by Bill Welsh. Bill is right there on the ground running after the cars and shoving the microphone into the faces of the stars, who smile, look into the camera, and wish everyone at home a Happy Thanksgiving. The parade concludes with the appearance of Santa himself. The Christmas season has officially begun!
Christmas tree shopping is always done after dinner, when we hop in the back seat of the car, bundled up in our car coats and Dad drives to several Christmas tree lots in search of the perfect tree. Our first stop will be Hume’s Sporting Goods on Victory Boulevard. Hume’s always looks festive this time of year and they have loads of Christmas trees for sale. If we can’t find a good one at Hume’s, there are plenty of other lots around. The tree we wind up with always seems to have one side that’s not so nice, but that’s okay because that’s the side that will face the wall.
On another evening after dinner, we drive out to Panorama City to pose for photos with Santa and see his real live reindeer. The night is cold and the line to visit with Santa is long, but it’s all great because Christmas music is playing through the outside speakers and the excitement of the season is all around us. It’s magic.
So much of what we will do this time of year seems to happen in the evenings after dinner. On another chilly night we drive out to The Tail O’ the Cock in Sherman Oaks where Santa sits on the rooftop of the restaurant. We climb the stairs up to his throne and tell him what we’d like for Christmas. Before the season is over we will have visited with Santa at least one or two more times at the department stores. Santa really gets around, and I guess he doesn’t have a very good memory since he’s always asking us what we want each time we see him. But he always gives us a candy cane as a parting gift.
After that we drive through the streets behind the Tail O’ the Cock where the entire neighborhood has decorated their homes for Christmas. Each street has its own theme and each house plays a part within that theme; Candy Cane Lane, or Disney, or Rudolph, or Frosty the Snowman. Music plays from each house as we slowly make our way up and down every street. We join the lineup of cars and no one is in any rush because there’s so much to see at each house, you just don’t want to miss anything.
The city of Burbank does the classic Christmas decorations; you know the kind, the strings of garland with wreaths and colored electric lights that are strewn across the street on wires. The decorations usually start at the intersection of Magnolia and Hollywood Way (where Albin’s Drug Store is located) and goes all the way down eastward towards The California Theater.
The May Co. on Laurel Canyon in North Hollywood always puts up an enormous Santa Claus on the outside of the store, on the inside they have a pretty good toy department on the third floor. And if you’re in the mood to explore department stores in other parts of town, don’t miss I. Magnin on Wilshire Boulevard to catch the carolers who rove around the store. Just down the street is Bullocks Wilshire, which is especially beautiful this time of year. Have lunch in the Tea Room and you might be lucky enough to see a fashion show as you dine.
Speaking of lunch, don’t forget to drop in to the many watering holes in and around Burbank and Toluca Lake this season, they’re all dressed up for the holidays and you’ll find everyone inside to be in that wonderful happy, holiday spirit. The Blarney Stone, Sorrentino’s, Alfonse’s, and The King’s Arms are just a few of the spots that you’ll be sure to find comfortable and inviting. Go in, sit at the bar, and have a Tom and Jerry on me. Or an eggnog if you’d rather.
Of course the place I’ve shared with you this week is long gone, decades long gone. It’s the Christmas of my childhood and young adulthood. But the point of it all is to remind you that the magic of Christmastime isn’t really any one place or any one time. The spirit of Christmas is as timeless as a mother’s kiss or a warming fire on a cold December night. It is a state of mind that can make any place magical and happy … if you let it. Enjoy the season.