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.

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