Happy Thanksgiving, the official start of the holiday shopping season.
Actually, festive press materials have been flowing in--like rum into eggnog--since Halloween. The colorful pile stacked on the corner of the desk contains pages of breathless prose imploring us to dress, decorate, cook, even child-proof our homes, in Holiday Style.
Which raises the question of what, exactly, is Holiday Style, and how do we achieve it, other than by donning antler hats and snowflake sweaters?
There is this tendency in the Western world to link the winter holidays with snow--a case of persistent collective amnesia over the origins of the religious lords and patriarchs we honor during this season.
Because the accepted Holiday Style model is rooted in a German winter, it makes things easy for Americans to the east of us. By now they have already dragged out the heavy fabrics, cranked up the heat, and sent the kids out to throw a hat with earflaps on the snowman. In fact, pretty much anything people in cold climates do just to stay warm and alive looks pretty stylish during the holiday season.
But here in Ventura County, the sun shines all winter long, and the nights, while chilly, rarely reach such frigid depths that we need go looking for the mufflers, parkas and fur-collared coats. And it's a good thing, too, as many of us don't own mufflers, parkas and fur-collared coats.
So, how do we manifest our expected allotment of Holiday Style? Sure, we can do the obvious things, like hanging lights and dressing the little ones in expensive velvet dresses and jackets.
And someone will inevitably drink too much spiked eggnog and actually don the antler hat. But how do we get into the spirit of the season in a way that is meaningful to us?
And how do we achieve a sense of style that is true to our own Mediterranean, T-shirted regional identity?
To find our Style, we must first search out our Identity, so we go looking for those things that say Ventura County to us.
We start with a mall.
On the day we arrive at The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks, the Christmas trees have been taken out of their boxes but haven't been fully fluffed or positioned.
But the department stores are completely and traditionally flocked, stocked and tinseled. The Seasonal Concepts shop bursts with angels. So does Victoria's Secret--only its angels are Dream Angels, a line of bras.
They are being promoted via video monitor by high-dollar models who would look gorgeous rolled in dirt and stuffed into paper bags. Their sense of Holiday Style is impeccable, if you enjoy lounging around under the yule tree in your underwear.
Inside Macy's, Sweeney's restaurant is planning a couple of breakfasts with Santa. But let's face it, he isn't particularly Stylish in that garish suit and motorcycle boots.
Upon leaving the mall, we get our first hint of the sort of holiday feeling we have been searching for.
It isn't the mall or the decorations, it's the trees. Thanks to the cold nights, the deciduous leafed trees ringing the mall have already made a rather dramatic change. The colors are spectacular. This is it--a holiday moment, Ventura County Style.
Back at the office, a call proves us wrong. The trees are eastern maples. "Not local," says Catherine Saunders, public affairs spokeswoman with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
But we may be on to something. What could be more Ventura County, or more inherently Stylish for that matter, than the outdoors, especially considering how much of it we have, compared with other places?
If we are looking for something local, lovely and holiday-related, Saunders says, look no farther than the Santa Monica Mountains, where we find a plant that is indigenous to the area and a holiday event that goes with it.
"On Christmas Day, at 11 a.m. at the Cold Creek Canyon Preserve," Saunders says, "we have our annual toyon trek." The toyon, it turns out, is a plant.
"It has white flowers and it bears fruit, which is like a red berry, in wintertime. That's why we do the hike on Christmas," Saunders says.
"The only problem is that Cold Creek isn't in Ventura County; it's in L.A. County. But the plant grows all over the Santa Monica Mountains."
We'll take it.
Feeling giddy with success, we look for another source of regional holiday inspiration and find it right on top of the pile of press releases on the desk: the San Buenaventura Mission.
Mervyn's department stores, it seems, are offering painted porcelain replicas of the California missions, including ours. In addition to the replicas (handmade and hand-painted collectibles, according to the brochure) are separate figurine sets of padres, Native Americans, even palm trees and bougainvillea (sold separately, of course).
Any parent of a grade-schooler knows this is a tableau with value well past the holiday season. It echoes the dreaded California Mission Project, required of fourth-graders, and the bane of every one of their parents.
We have real local holiday synergy going now. After malls, missions, local plants and the great outdoors, what is left that really screams Ventura County at us?
We call George Christie Jr., local leader of the Hells Angels and owner of the Ink House, a tattoo parlor in Ventura.
Do customers at the parlor look for special tattoos this time of year, say an elf or a menorah? Maybe Santa on the back of a Harley?
"Not really," he says, "but the day after Christmas is generally the busiest day of the year. The parlor sells a lot of gift certificates, and the people who receive them all seem to come in the next day." Sure, it's the gift that keeps on giving.
What about bikers? Is there some sort of fashion statement they like to make during the holiday season?
"The holidays don't impact the Hells Angels much," Christie said. "Only in the sense that we put on our long underwear during the season."
OUT AND ABOUT
Horns and teddy bears for the children. B8