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Recapturing the Spirit of Holiday Seasons Past

December 24, 1989|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

A hilltop hike along a trail overlooking the Basilica of Nativity in Bethlehem.

A pilgrimage for scuba divers to a sculptured figure of Christ, 17 meters beneath the surface at the edge of Palancar Reef off Cozumel, Mexico.

A six-mile climb to the Mount of the Holy Cross, rising to more than 14,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies.

These are travel experiences that take on additional meaning at this time of year. There are others.

Seventy miles below the California border, my wife and I once hiked up to the Miramar Chapultapec Lookout above Ensenada, Mexico, then came down for the mariachi parade that celebrates Dec. 12, 1531, when a boy near Mexico City told of how Mary, mother of Jesus, appeared before him.

Another December, we hiked across the Bridge on the River Kwai in Thailand and went on to the Kanchanaburi memorial museum, maintained by Buddhist monks to honor Allied prisoners who died building the "Death Railroad" for Japanese troops in World War II.

On Fiji, we once came ashore after snorkeling over a coral reef to find children of Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths singing Christmas carols.

In Israel, a hike at any season of the year along the ridge of Hebron Road, between the Judean desert and the Mediterranean Sea, will take you into Bethlehem and offer memories to carry home.

One of our most memorable experiences was a day of hiking along the Sea of Galilee in the footsteps of Jesus.

We stopped once near the boundary at a Scandinavian church built of wood, without nails, in the style of a Viking ship. It rises out of the spruce forest close to the village of Hahnenklee-Bockswiese in West Germany.

We've hiked up to the 12th-Century Wartburg Castle, high on a wooded mountainside above Eisenach. Martin Luther was hidden in this castle while he translated the Bible from Latin into a new German literary language.

This holiday season in Poland will be more joyous than ever when we ski Pope John Paul II's favorite slalom slopes above Zakopane.

Trekking through the the Black Forest of West Germany, between Baden-Baden and Ruhestein, leads to a stone sculpture of Christ above a footpath within a cathedral of tall pines.

The sculptured Christ on Palancar Reef beneath the surface of the Caribbean was created by Enrique Miralda. By Christmastime four years ago, it had become an underwater sanctuary for divers.

The cross of snow on the Mount of the Holy Cross in Colorado was a beacon of hope for two Spanish padres in the middle of the 16th Century, when it suddenly appeared out of the blizzard in which they had lost their way.

The vertical bar rising out of deep ravines is about 1,400 feet long, and the horizontal bar is nearly 450 feet wide. June through August is the best time for viewing and photographing the cross from the sister peak of 13,000-foot Notch Mountain near Vail, Colo.

In Southern California, the Child Monument at Fig Tree Spring is a 14-mile hike up Coyote Canyon, from Borego Springs into Anza-Borrego State Park.

On Christmas Eve of 1775, the De Anza expedition was stopped there by a storm while en route from Mexico toward the founding of the city of San Francisco.

A boy was born that eve with the help of Father Pedro Font, chaplain of the expedition, who baptized him as Salvador Ignacio Linares. He was the first immigrant child born in California. The Child Monument made of stones was placed there in 1950 by the California Centennials Commission.

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