A Midwesterner’s Guide to Christmas in L.A.

by Nate St. Pierre on December 18, 2011

I feel like I’ve been robbed of the Christmas season this year.

Overly dramatic? Perhaps. All I know is that I’ve tried to get into the spirit of the season for these past two weeks, but have fallen well short. Since I’ve never had a problem in the past, I’m going to place the blame squarely on the fact that I’m living in L.A. now.

It’s time for a little comparison between Christmas in the Midwest (specifically Wisconsin, where I’m from) and Christmas in Los Angeles. Haters and Los Angelicans(?), you may commence your hating. Midwesterners, lemme drop a lil’ knowledge on ya…

1. Snow and General Coziness Level

You know how children’s books and traditional portrayals of Christmas always have imagery of soft blankets of snow covering all the familiar landmarks, softening the usually harsh world into a wonderfully quaint and cozy scene? People from Wisconsin don’t find this to be a novel concept. It’s a natural part of life in the wintertime, and gently falling snow, apart from the shoveling it implies, certainly does make everything more beautiful.

This is what Christmas has always looked like for me – a beautiful blanket of snow over everything, including the backyard fort I designed and built myself (with generous doses of help from uncle and brothers).

Awww, so nice, right?

Here’s a picture I took today in L.A. Passing by this house, I let out an “awwww…” that was half encouraging and half sad. Go ahead, click on that pic and take a closer look at the turned-up “snow” blanket thing, and of course the ever-present traffic obtrusiveness (I hit 17 mph running past one of those things on a flat surface once).

They’re trying, and God love ’em for that, but you can see what I’m working with here. And this is the best I found today. Sigh. When it’s 68 and sunny for the entire month of December, it’s tough to set your seasonal radar, you know? Except when it’s 55 and rainy, and your commute home turns to 2hrs 38min because people here don’t understand that the rain won’t damage your car or cause you to . . . nevermind. I digress. Sorry about that. I’m really not that bitter about traffic. :-/

[p.s. I will admit that while the snow is beautiful, it certainly does make life interesting as winter progresses. For a glimpse at the less-than-fun effects of all the snow, check out some vids from a blizzard earlier this year (the first three I shot, and the last one is a special treat from Chicago): alley | parking | blowing | Chicago]

2. Love and Relationships

Back at home we have this tradition, simply called Friday Night, where 10-30 of our family members and/or friends gather at my grandparents’ house on Friday from 7:00pm – 10:00pm to hang out, tell stories, eat, drink, and generally be merry. We’ve been doing this together every Friday for well over 30 years, and we now have four generations enjoying time together every week. You can see how awesome it is from this one pic of me and my brother. Yes!

For us, getting together on Christmas is pretty much the same as any other Friday night, except we give gifts and wear sweaters. The point is, it’s all about the love and the relationships, not just at Christmas, but all year round.

Contrast that with a video I saw for the first time yesterday, just released two weeks ago. It has over 12 million views already. It’s a remix of one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, “All I Want for Christmas [is You]” by Mariah Carey. This year she re-released it, making it into a duet with Justin Bieber.

Now I’m no Bieber hater – I think the kid’s got mad talent, so I started watching. And what I saw almost perfectly summed how I experience Christmas through the lens of Los Angeles. It made me feel extremely disappointed and vaguely dirty. Check it out:

I could write a point-by-point treatise on everything that’s wrong with this video, but someone from NPR has already skewered the vid here here – I won’t bore you by doing it again. I will simply say that it is painfully, painfully obvious that they are demonstrating the exact opposite of the message of the song: promoting commercialism and consumerism while ignoring love and relationships. I hate to sound like an elitist on this one, but it’s incredibly crass. And the sad thing is that few people even noticed.

I work in downtown Santa Monica, just off the 3rd Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place. I walk through both of those areas every day as part of my job, and all day long, every single day, I am inundated with high-end stores and boutiques, along with every national chain store you can imagine, pushing their products. The only way that Christmas feels different here is that the marketing materials change. It truly makes me sad. And I know this isn’t only L.A.; it happens all over. But it’s definitely more pronounced here.

3. You Know What, Skip It

I was gonna keep going, but honestly, I’m starting to get too depressed. So instead, I’m going to focus on the good news, which is that I fly out of here on Wednesday.

Hey Milwaukee, I’m coming home for Christmas. I’ll see you soon.

  • Nate, i completely agree with your first point. After growing up in the Midwest, I moved to South Carolina for a few years. It just never seemed right having it be t-shirt weather on Christmas morning.

    • Yep – also, I get stares every day since I’m the only one wearing shorts out there when it’s 50 degrees. Lotta people wearing full-on coats and gloves at that temp. 😉

      Actually a little worried that I’ll get soft over time…

  • Peliroo Corrice

    I know the “not-quite-Christmas-cause-I’m-in-LA” feeling.  I just remarked the same to someone the other day.  Last Christmas my son and I made the road trip east to spend Christmas there. It snowed on Christmas day, and we made traditional Puerto Rican meal of “pasteles”(Dad is Puerto/NewYorican.) Rare family stuff for us.  It felt like a holiday, but I also felt like an outsider since I live here (LA) now.  
    My immediate family is scattered and we don’t do many things together.  And the LA weather makes this holiday less apparent until I see the decorations on the street lights on the PCH and then I’m reminded, “Oh yeah, it’s Christmas.”   If our family were as close as yours it would be very noticeable and distracting, I think. A few years back I decided to focus my attention on the military friends I had overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, and Africa.  I spent a Christmas in Korea alone one year when I was in Army, and the smallest things that came in the mail, like an ornament or garland, made that isolation during the holiday bearable.  I think now I like to focus on the people that have no one for the holidays. It feels like it’s filling voids, and the warm weather is nothing to think about anymore. :)I hope you document your family as much as you can while you’re in MKE. It helps the youngest generation remember all of your family when they get older, so they tell their kids when they get older.  (I was wise enough to do it when I was back east.  We lost 2 of my uncles that had been at that gathering last year.  The photos became really special, even if they weren’t that great. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/scorrice/sets/72157625661356223/)  Have fun, Nate!  Merry Christmas:)  

  • Emily Hornburg

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who is disturbed by that video. Of friend of mine had me watch it and we couldn’t get over how terrible it was – which is sad because that’s one of my favorite Christmas songs. (No joke, it’s my ringtone.)

    And I hear ya about Christmas being different than it is in the midwest. I’m in Missouri and while it hasn’t been as warm as it is in LA… it’s definitely not the same. We get frost every morning, but by the time I go  on my lunch break I’m hanging my coat up because it’s too warm. Although I haven’t seen the snow blankets on the lawn yet. (Praise the Lord.) 

    YAY for being back up north in a few days. I can’t wait- after the drop I’m heading home to Chicago. It’s going to be amazing.

    • Yeah, I love that song, and this season it’s a bit tarnished. Also the puppy at the end, what’s with that??? “We have Macy’s, two pop stars, and Nintendo DS. Throw in a puppy and the people won’t be able to resist!”


      See you Thursday – it’ll be nice to meet you IRL!

      • Emily Hornburg

        Seriously! The whole video is ridiculous and makes me feel like I need to take a shower because it’s so dirty. UGH. And I typically don’t get bothered by videos like that very often. And ditto about the random puppy at the end. Ridiculous.

        But anyways. Yeah, Thursday! The Drop is what’s getting me through the next couple days. I can’t wait!

  • CathyB

    Hi Nate… thanks for a well written and expressed article… I did not watch it, but want to be informed. Also read the article you suggest on NPR.  Again, thanks. Yes it is sad… But what has stuck with me… is the overall message you gave… that it is year-round love and relationships that count… Though we celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas, the main message IS love, hope, joy.. all the things that you stand up for Nate, in all the awareness you bring to people and encouragement to look beyond their own problems and be a source of strength for others. You continue to do that and bless all of us. Your posts are continually a reminder that just one person CAN make a difference.. This life isn’t a dress rehearsal… it’s a one way journey…and sometimes a very short one… thanks for encouraging each of us to try to be encouragers for others along the way… no matter our own pain and suffering.
     I am originally a Bostonian , having been blessed to travel the world, and now transplanted to the southeast usa… One thing about living here in the southeast, is that there are still many with an  awesome Christmas spirit , even though we don’t have the weather like both of us are accustomed to.  In Palm Beach County Florida, for example, they actually at least make snow in December ( with a techie ice machine) on weekends for the kids to play in, and a temp skating rink… yes, there is commercialism.. but there is also a loving spirit here not always found in other places.
    I also want to thank you for sharing about your Grams house on Friday nights.  When my gram was alive we all did the same thing, but on Saturdays or Sundays… (she had 12 children… can’t imagine that!)… As children we were so blessed to have these times together… sadly, after Gram passed, the families started moving away, and to their own lives… now no one does this anymore… I envy you that your family still does it, for as you said, there is nothing greater than having loving relationships and loving families!
    Have a wonderful and blessed Christmas Nate… enjoy every moment with your family and friends. Relax, regroup, re-energize, give and receive lots of hugs…. for this world needs your encouragement and know how.  You DO make a difference! Thank you for being you!
    Graciously-  Cathy B
    pbprojecthope at yahoo dot com

  • Kathrynjennex

    Really glad you’re going home for Christmas. Hopefully, it’ll all be great and you will get the Christmas spirit! Glad to be back in touch friend 🙂

  • It’s funny we seemed to have switched geographic regions for the holidays, well- in general.  California does holidays all weird- it is just awkward to see swag affixed with snowmen and snowflakes to look winterish when it’s clearly never winter for most of the state- I admit though, the warmth is nice if not at all Christmas-ish.  

    What I noticed this year- and I could be wrong, is that I noticed the kids in my Chicago neighborhood were still in school this week.  I always remember being out of class the week of Christmas in order to travel and be with family, I wonder why they were still in session. It feels like in general we have less time off with family and it’s more of a  season of constant shopping prep.

    I’m kind of over the Black Friday, the Cyber Monday and the constant buzz of holiday consumerism…and don’t get me wrong, I’m in retail marketing and to a point I love it but there’s a part of me that thinks we need to leave people alone to get in touch with what matters.  I love “stuff” as much as the next person but I find it never is enough- but people are.  

    Merry Christmas Nate- I hope you have an amazing last Drop 🙂

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