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It may not always feel like it in the bustle and noise of the holiday season, but midwinter is a season that celebrates hope and renewal. And from the dawn of human history, the celebrations at this time of the year have centered on light. The birth of the Christ child heralded by a bright star in the Christian tradition, the miraculous lights that burned for eight days and nights in the Jewish tradition of Hanukkah, the light of the sun returning at the solstice, the longest night of the year, all of these holy days bring the promise of hope, a promise that comes at the darkest, coldest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. That this message sometimes gets lost in the shuffle doesn’t mean that an essential current of something ancient and miraculous is not still present. Shakespeare describes this season as a time that is “hallowed and gracious,” a tranquil and inspiring idea to reflect on as we hurtle towards the end of another year, and continue to chart a course through a world that has been rearranged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some favorite holiday traditions and activities may not have survived the upheaval of life in the time of COVID or have emerged changed. It is the nature of holidays, no matter how entrenched traditions appear to be, to change with the times, but the essentials endure. Hanukkah begins on the evening of December 18 and ends December 26. The Solstice takes place on Wednesday, December 21, at 1:47pm. For those who feel rushed and overwhelmed as December 25 approaches, it might be helpful to remember that Christmas Day used to be only the first day of Christmas, followed by 12 days of celebration—French hens, turtle doves, golden rings, pipers, drummers, dancing lords and ladies and all—ending on January 5, “Twelfth Night.” 

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a partridge in a bare tree.” What could be more perfect for a California Christmas than a bare California sycamore tree with our  state bird, the California quail—a member of the same family as the European partridge, Odontophoridae—in its branches? This photo was taken at Peter Strauss Ranch, but the early cold weather has created perfect conditions for fall color throughout the Santa Monica Mountains—an early holiday gift from Mother Nature.

One much-loved local tradition is coming up on December 18: Topanga Snow Night returns to Pine Tree Circle, from 4pm to 8pm  The annual Malibu Woody Parade is back this year, too, on Sunday,  December 11, beginning at Paradise Cove in the morning, and ending up at Dreamland, across from the Malibu Pier around noon. We have more suggestions for a variety of family oriented holiday activities in this issue—if we missed something we should have included, please let us know at

We are delighted to introduce a new contributor in this issue, cultural historian Emmeline Summerton, who is bringing the amazing history she curates for her Lost Canyons LA Instagram to TNT, with a deep dive into the countercultural, creative, and crazy history of life in the canyons, from Laurel to Topanga.This issue also features TNT historian Jimmy P. Morgan’s annual holiday book gift guide, and the second installment of our original WWII-era Storyland serial, The Coastwatchers

This has been a challenging year for many of us, but whether we realize it or not, we have come far. We are four years from the catastrophic Woolsey Fire that burned half of the Santa Monica Mountains in 2018, and two years from the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic when the holidays were canceled for many. Last year, many of us spent the Thanksgiving holiday without electricity during a massive public safety shut off. This year, despite fierce winds, the lights stayed on for residents of the Santa Monica Mountains—a minor miracle of its own. Whatever this holiday season brings, we are ready to embrace its blessings and face the inevitable crises with equanimity and grace.

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

They carol, feast, give thanks,

And dearly love their friends,

And hope for peace.

And now so do we, here, now,

This year and every year.

Welcome, Yule!

—Susan Cooper, “The Shortest Day” 

Stay safe, be well. Happy December!

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