LOS ANGELES—A cold coming they had of it, T. S. Eliot’s wise men did. I think of that line on crisp, clear December nights in Los Angeles, when the towering, century-old palm trees make our neighborhood seem as if it could pass for the Fertile Crescent, or at least the close-by Paramount Studios backlot where White Christmas was filmed.
Christmas in the Mediterranean climate of Southern California is a surprisingly festive and moving setting for a son of the frozen Midwest. There are no drifting white flakes (unless in the fuzzy form of ash from the devastating seasonal wildfires), but there is a bracing, almost horizontal winter sunlight streaming through the windows.
At the first light of dawn—at dog-walking and kids’ carpool time—the mercury has dipped to the low 40s, and natives are bundled up as if for Nome, while transplants like me parade around in khaki shorts. By noon, the clichés of outdoor living are simple realities, and by dark, a fire is in order in the living-room hearth—abetted by that great California tradition, not a gas log but a gas rod fireplace starter for lighting seasoned oak and pine.
In nearby Beverly Hills, the trunks of the palm trees are wrapped to their chins in miniature white lights, as if they were pearls on the necks in a Modigliani portrait or a debutante’s long white gloves. The Christmas trees for sale on the corner lots—fresh from the Sierras or Oregon—are as green and fragrant as any New England fir. In Marina del Rey, the glittering nighttime boat parade is as enchanting as a Vermont sleigh ride. And, really, where else on Earth could you surf at breakfast, ski at lunch, and still be chilled enough to feel like caroling after dark?