T he holidays are a time of sociability, parties and camaraderie with friends, relatives and co-workers. They are also a time when Southern Californians have an opportunity to join in community celebrations, both solemn and frivolous, that capture the meaning and joy of the season. Festivities range from living re-enactments of the Christmas story to historical re-creations of the holiday parties of yesteryear.
Most events make use of sensory symbols--lights, colors, sounds and tastes--to capture the essence of the holiday season.
Many community events are free. A few charge a nominal amount to cover expenses or raise money for a worthwhile cause. These 10 events are a sampling of the variety of activities available throughout Southern California.
Downtown Los Angeles--Noontime Entertainment in Arco Plaza, 505 S. Flower St., between 5th and 6th streets, (213) 625-2132.
Holiday music and folkloric dancing provide shoppers and office workers with a respite weekdays, noon-1:30 p.m., until Christmas Eve. Imaginative decorations in the underground shopping mall have transformed the central court into a winter woodland with animated bears and two flowing ponds. Among the groups scheduled by the Arco Plaza Merchants Assn. are a ballet folklorico, Wednesday; Cal State Chamber Singers, Friday and Dec. 24; Holiday Bells, Dec. 19, and Yuletide Singers, an a cappella quartet, Dec. 23. Park at 400 S. Flower and stop by the Merchants Assn. office on level C for validated 3 hours' free parking. Free.
Inglewood--Luminarias at the Centinela Adobe Complex, 7634 Midfield Ave., recorded information (213) 649-6272.
Step back a century and a half into the era of Spanish California at the annual open house sponsored by the Historical Society of Centinela Valley on Dec. 28, 6-8 p.m. About 250 luminarias will illuminate the adobe complex, which includes a ranch house built in 1834, Daniel Freeman's land office built in 1887 and the Centinela Valley Heritage and Research Center. Some refreshments provided, and holiday music will be by the New Sounds of Hawthorne. Free.
Compton--Sharing the Spirit of Compton at Christmastime, Compton City Hall, 205 S. Willowbrook Ave., (213) 605-5521.
Not to be outdone by the White House, the city of Compton also kicks off the holiday season with the lighting of a Christmas tree. For Compton, the festivities begin when Mayor Walter R. Tucker throws the switch to illuminate a 20-foot tree of light atop City Hall on Friday between 5:15 and 6:30 p.m.
The trees of Civic Center Plaza are also illuminated, making downtown Compton a radiant city of light. The public ceremony includes Christmas carols sung by several local church choirs, holiday selections performed by musicians from Compton High School and candy canes for the children, along with the appearance of Santa. Ample parking. Free.
Arcadia--Victorian Christmas at Fantasy Island, Los Angeles State and County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., (818) 446-8251.
On Sunday, the Queen Anne Cottage, an ornately embellished house used on the "Fantasy Island" television series, will be open for public tours. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors can see firsthand the elaborate furnishings usually visible only through cottage windows.
Antique Christmas cards and ornaments will festoon the parlor tree. A smaller tree surrounded by antique toys will delight children, and a third tree will decorate the music room.
Docents lead free tours through Santa Anita Depot, which is furnished in antiques circa 1890.
Admission to the arboretum is $1.50 for adults; 75 cents for seniors 62 and older, children 5-17 and students with ID. The narrated tour of Queen Anne's Cottage costs $1 and benefits the Arboretum Historical Preservation Fund.
Kern County, Bakersfield--Fourth Annual Christmas Candlelight Tour of the Kern County Museum, 3801 Chester Ave. (off California 99 at 24th Street, drive east to Chester Avenue, turn left), (805) 861-2132.
View more than two dozen historic buildings by candlelight in the Pioneer Village on Friday and Saturday, 6-9 p.m. The buildings span a period from the 1880s to 1920 and reflect the early days of Kern County. A brass quartet, bell choir and choral groups will perform.
Costumed guides at Weller Ranch and Howell House will interpret the history of Bakersfield. Tickets at $3 for adults, $1 for children may be purchased in advance at the museum. A limited number of tickets for a tour of Howell House are available at $5 for adults, $4 for seniors age 60 and older, $2 for children ages 6-12, 5 and under free.
Van Nuys--Jingle Bell Jubilee, sponsored by Variety Club for Project Six, 13130 Burbank Blvd., (818) 787-1410.
A Santa's Corner, celebrities, petting zoo, pony rides, holiday characters, magician, carnival games and food will highlight a family extravaganza that benefits Project Six, which assists emotionally and behaviorly disabled children.