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Here are the merry and bright traditions Sunset editors are upholding this holiday season

Sunset Staff  – December 9, 2019 | Updated December 10, 2019

Bringing Santa Back

Courtesy of Amazon

Every year, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I dust off my NSYNC Christmas CD (yes, I said CD) and hit repeat on track 4, “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.” I listen to it nonstop until December 25. Needless to say, my fiancé dreads the holidays now. If you want to drive your family crazy too, you can pick up a copy for yourself. —Jasmin Perez, digital strategy director

Home for Christmas, $6.54 from Amazon
   

 

Getting Crafty

Thomas J. Story

My holiday is way too crazy with a new baby and lots of family reunions, so I’m starting a new tradition this year with my friends to help us slow down and savor the season: crafting a holiday wreath together. I just want my closest friends to forget their to-do lists, to sit down together and get lost in chatting and laughing over a fun crafty activity. Lots of us have pretty evergreens and vines in our yards in L.A. that make for beautiful ornamental fodder, or we can forage easily in the mountains. The process is simple: Use a grapevine, tough firs, and flexible branches or strong wire to create the wreath base (or you can purchase a wreath frame). Use green floral wire (or whatever you’ve got—twist ties will work in a pinch if you can hide them or spray-paint them green) to attach leaves and branches first, then lovely-smelling herbs (white sage from our backyard), fruit (unripe mandarins, oranges, and persimmons from our trees), and flowers (the bougainvillea that climbs the side of our house). Twist and tie with the wire, getting creative and fanciful. Check out our guide or this vid if you need help—you can even make a wreath with succulents if you don’t have any branches. —Dakota Kim, staff writer

Divine Divinity

 

Heather Arndt Anderson

I know it’s a bit treacly, but my best childhood memories of the holidays always involve my grandmother Laverne. That woman was as close to an actual Mrs. Claus as I’ve ever known. I was the first grandchild and the first girl born in the family for a full generation (my grandparents had five boys before giving up on a daughter), so I was especially doted upon until my brother and cousins came along. Laverne sewed the two of us matching aprons for baking together, and I loved getting to stay the night at her house to decorate Christmas cookies with frosting, sprinkles, and those little squeezy-tubes of Cake Mate icing. She’d bake pumpkin and Christmas pie (a coconut cream dream), make tons of fluffy divinity, chocolate peanut butter balls, the creamiest fudge, and just mountains and mountains of cookies, even though she was a lifelong diabetic and couldn’t eat any of it. (A saint, I’m telling you!) After she died, inheriting her little binder of neatly typed recipes was my birthright, and baking remains the only holiday tradition I truly care about. —Heather Arndt Anderson, garden editor

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus: Holigays Are Here

JP Lor

True confession: For many, many years, I had a strong aversion to Christmas music. That is, until I attended the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’ annual holiday concert. Featuring holiday tunes new and old, with unique vocal arrangements and saucy interpretations, the City by the Bay’s premier men’s choir puts on a gorgeous and super-fun show that can have you in stitches for one song and reaching for the tissues during another. Every year the show outdoes the previous year’s, and 2019’s Holigays Are Here: Ring Them Bells will be no exception, with the Velocity Handbell Ensemble on the bill to bring a unique musical bell performance into the mix. While the concerts are held on selected dates in a variety of Bay Area locations, from the East Bay to Sonoma County, as far as I’m concerned the only time and place to see them perform is at their closing night of Christmas Eve, at the historic Castro Theater located in the heart of San Francisco. —Jessica Mordo, associate digital director

Tickets starting from $25 from SFGMC
   

O Christmas Trees

Courtesy of Terrain

My mother is obsessed with Christmas trees. More accurately, she’s obsessed with Christmas ornaments—so much so, in fact, that growing up, we often had five or six trees in our house to maximize her display opportunities. There was the main event, of course—an eight-foot beauty we carted home from the local farm, laden with crafty ornaments I made in art class and vintage baubles from my mother’s own childhood. In the kitchen was the food tree—a two-foot conifer covered in ornaments shaped like all things edible. In the family room, the ski tree (snowsport-related ornaments only) and animal tree (self-explanatory) vied for attention, while the music tree sat at the center of our dining room table, twinkling with glitter-covered trumpets and frosted French horns (and if I remember correctly, a saw, which my dad was allowed to hang on a technicality). The supporting trees were always small, and as the years went on, fake. After I left for college, the big tree tradition was retired, and these days, there are years when only one or two themed trees make an appearance. But I’ll never forget the importance I placed on picking out just the right ornaments to gift to my mom (which I still do every year) and plotting which tree they’d live on (I liked to complicate things: a dog on skis, a wedge of Swiss cheese with a tiny mouse peeking out from one of its holes). And I’ll always be grateful to have a mother who goes a little crazy for Christmas cheer. —Kate Wertheimer, travel editor

Christmas Rapping

My Christmas traditions differ from year to year depending on the alignment of the stars in the shifting constellation that is my family. The one constant is that whatever I do, it has to be done to the soundtrack of my holiday playlist. This list may not have every great holiday song on it. (It does have the greatest, though: The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York.” Fight me.) But all of these are songs have resonated with me for one reason or another over the years, and I still find that whatever kind of holiday I’m having, it’s got me covered. Some years, there are arguments. Some years, you feel like you’ve been mugged outside a department store. Sometimes you just want to find a river and skate away. But if you’re lucky, there’s generosity, and transcendence, and you get just what you wanted. (And if you’re really lucky, you catch A Charlie Brown Christmas more than once.) —Nicole Clausing, digital producer

Everybody Hikes in L.A.  

Creative Commons photo by half pint is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Despite the old nobody walks in L.A. cliché, if you’ve ever hit the trails of Griffith Park, Runyon Canyon, or Lake Hollywood on a weekend, it can seem like everybody hikes. As an East-Sider, I’m a Griffith Park regular: jogging up to the Observatory, strolling the fire roads above Hollywood Forever Cemetery, trail running under the eucalyptus groves high above the L.A. River. But come holiday break, when kids aren’t in school, the crowds thin on the weekdays, and the weather cools, we drive to a new trail outside of our regular orbit and marvel at the way nature and the city bump against each other throughout this sprawling metropolis: In years past we’ve hit Temescal Canyon, with its waterfall and insane southerly views of the coast, and we’ve driven up to Ojai where we’ve spotted burly mountain lion tracks on muddy trails that yield panoramic views of the verdant agricultural valley below. Locals know all the good spots and visitors would do well to seek them out. Hikespeak offers expert reviews of over 175 L.A. hikes ranging from expert to easy fun and I’m looking forward to checking a few new ones off the list this winter break. —Hugh Garvey, executive editor

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas  

There’s no question I’m among the biggest holiday junkies in my friend group. Or the world, maybe. But there’s one perennial in my viewing queue that tops all others for sheer sentimentality: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band ChristmasThe 1977 Jim Henson project is just about the most endearing riff on giving and selflessness you’ll find on TV—except you probably won’t find it on TV. It’s a deep cut, to be sure, but the story of a widowed otter and her son trying to make ends meet—while sharing what little they have with each other—is worth seeking out. I own a copy on DVD, and watch it with my folks each holiday. For animation nerds, the cinematic pans, multiple planes of action, and immersive puppetry on display represented a breakthrough more than 40 years ago. Oh, and if the retro aspect ratio gives you pause, have faith: Earlier this fall, it was announced that Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie would be adapting the classic for an upcoming film release—with the blessing, and help, of the Henson company. And that’s one Hollywood remake I’ve got no trouble lining up for. —Matt Bean, editor in chief