Holiday Traditions in the Golden State

An ice-cold plunge in the Pacific, In-N-Out for Christmas dinner and other ways that Californians celebrate the season.,

An ice-cold plunge in the Pacific, In-N-Out for Christmas dinner and other ways that Californians celebrate the season.

ImageIn Los Angeles, Claudia Serrato and her family making tamal de chile rojo, blue corn tamales filled with bison braised in red chiles and tomato, wrapped in a dried corn husk. Serrato makes these every year leading up to the holidays.
In Los Angeles, Claudia Serrato and her family making tamal de chile rojo, blue corn tamales filled with bison braised in red chiles and tomato, wrapped in a dried corn husk. Serrato makes these every year leading up to the holidays.Credit…Jessica Pons for The New York Times

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the United States is at the very least unsettling, if not outright bleak.

Covid-19 hospitalizations are already spiking in California, with the highly contagious variant likely to cause “exponential growth in cases over the next few weeks,” Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County public health director, said during a news briefing on Thursday.

So, as our collective anxiety begins to swell, I’m offering something of an antidote: winter cheer, California-style.

Over the past few weeks, you have been writing to me about your Golden State holiday traditions, which included eating In-N-Out for Christmas dinner or taking an ice-cold plunge in the Pacific on New Year’s Day.

Reading these brought me joy. I hope they help you too.

“I am a junior at Smith College but I was born and raised in Oakland. I can be home for my New Year’s Day birthday because it falls during winter break, so every year my family, some very good friends and I wake up at 5 a.m. on the first day of the new year to drive to the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge and walk across as the sun rises! This year I will be turning 21 so it’s gonna be a (chilly) party.” — Adrienne Wander, Northampton, Mass.

“Christmas Day is for family. Even Christmas Eve is for family. But Christmas Eve EVE? Dec. 23? That is the day reserved for time with my best friend from high school and our annual tradition of making dinner together and going to see a light show, usually the Enchanted Forest of Light at Descanso Gardens in La Ca?ada, which is exceptionally beautiful.

Rain or shine, we go, bringing or dragging all variety of family members along with us, laughing all the way (laughing hardest on the times when it has poured down rain).” — Gabrielle Pascoe, Hollywood

“Every year my husband and I, along with 50 to 100 other folks, take the New Year’s Day ‘polar plunge’ at La Jolla Shores beach, 8 a.m.

It is a bracing metaphor for the start of a new year, and was so especially last New Year’s Day, when we were still all so dumbstruck by Covid, riots, looting, violence and the economic, political and social disintegration we seemed to be experiencing on all sides. At first it’s shockingly painful, but soon you’re numb and begin laughing hysterically.” — Mary Allen, San Diego

“Every Christmas my family gets together for our tamaleada. We get about 100 pounds of masa and make six different kinds of tamales. It’s a treasured and cherished tradition that began with my late grandmother, Mama Nena, and lives on through us. We took a hiatus last year because of the pandemic but with everyone fully vaccinated this year we will be back at it this weekend. I can’t wait!” — Ericka Moreno, San Francisco


Revelers waved from a Christmas-themed boat parading past a ship stacked with shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles during the Los Angeles Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade.Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

“Some years I have traveled east for Christmas, but any year that I am in town, I go to a beach (with fire rings, of course) for a small evening fire. The first few times, I figured that if I was going to be away from ‘home’ on Christmas, I would enjoy something that I couldn’t do anywhere else I’d lived. And it has just stuck. It’s always quiet and peaceful, and is an easy way to send a general invitation out to anyone who wants to drop by without having to worry about space and accommodations and ‘when will the food be ready?'” — CT Turney-Lewis, Long Beach

“Our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables always include plenty of cold cracked local Dungeness crab served with a sweet-and-sour sauce (my grandma’s recipe) and steamed rice with black mushrooms and Chinese sausage wrapped in lotus leaves. Sometimes my mom fries up lotus root chips. And one time my sister baked a Blum’s-recipe coffee crunch cake. (Hint, hint, Stephanie!)” — Audrey Yee, San Francisco

“For the past several years, I have participated in a timed run on New Year’s Eve at Crissy Field in San Francisco. The goal is to complete as many miles as you can while running or walking for six, 12 or 24 hours around a one-mile loop, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts on each lap. There’s often champagne at midnight, and if the night is clear you might see fireworks over the bay.” — Jennifer O’Connor, Walnut Creek

“Although we always had big family Christmas dinners at home when I was young, when my mother hit her 80s she longed for something quieter. She had read somewhere that Walter Brennan and his wife just went out for a hamburger on Christmas Day.

So we started having a quiet drive-through dinner at the most Californian of all burger places: In-n-Out.

We kept it up every year until her death at 93. Even now, my favorite part of Christmas is a double-double, animal style.” — Shelly Ingram, Gridley

For more:


Jason Wu, a clinical psychologist in the Bay Area.Credit…Cayce Clifford for The New York Times

Why 1,320 therapists are worried about mental health in America right now.


A tour of the Cal State University Northridge campus for transfer students in their first semester.Credit…Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


  • Hotel resurgence: In October and November, hotel bookings in Los Angeles returned to 100 percent of their prepandemic levels, considerably higher than the national average, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Power company penalized: Southern California Edison will be fined more than half a billion dollars for its role in five major wildfires between 2017 and 2018, The Associated Press reports.


  • Groundwater sustainability: Despite a groundwater law passed seven years ago, a frenzy of well drilling has continued on large farms across the San Joaquin Valley, The Los Angeles Times reports.



Credit…Christopher Simpson for The New York Times

Ina Garten’s cacio e pepe cheese puffs.


Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Today’s travel tip comes from Cathy Steffen, who recommends San Mateo’s Central Park, where she volunteers:

“This city park has a long history dating back over 100 years. The park has its own aquifer so it has not had to face water shortages common to California parks. The San Mateo Arboretum Society in San Mateo’s Central Park is worth a visit on weekends from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when many of the same types of plants seen in the park can be purchased to enhance the local communities’ horticultural beauty.

S.M.A.S. was founded in the early 1970s and restored the Kohl Pumphouse, which has continued to house the pump that feeds water to the park from the aquifer. The society is run entirely by volunteers (most of us love to play in the dirt gardening) who help to support the park’s many gardens through their care of the plants and fund-raising efforts. The park has a beautiful rose garden and a hummingbird and butterfly garden, as well as playgrounds, a free summer concert series, a working children’s-size train and a Japanese tea garden.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

The best TV shows of 2021.


Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.Credit…Jake Michaels for The New York Times

California has more than a dozen children’s hospitals. But children with cancer, congenital heart defects and other serious illnesses often need medical care for the rest of their lives.

On Thursday, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center announced a $100 million program, based on a record donation, to expand pediatric beds, underwrite physician training and research, and offer specialized medical treatment that will follow children beyond childhood.

The renovation’s opening is scheduled for the spring.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Watercraft with a palindromic name (5 letters).

Shawn Hubler, Jack Kramer, Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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