A Christmas wish: Get back to basics

The holiday season in L.A. may spill over with packed malls and big Hollywood spectacles, but good tidings can be best in excess.

Juliette Borda Illustration

Juliette Borda Illustration (Juliette Borda / For the Times / December 19, 2008)

It's not even Christmas yet, and I've already gained 5 pounds, most of it on my face (see dotted sketch). Five pounds doesn't sound like a lot, unless it's all in your jowls. Besides, I have been gaining 5 pounds every Christmas for about 20 years now, which adds up to 100 pounds in my face alone. Christmas in your face. Is there any other way?

Meanwhile, round and round the parking garage I go, like John the Baptist, looking for a place to park. As with so many of the saints, I spot things in the future that no one else really sees. So when the brake lights of a Lexus turn crimson, I am waiting patiently for the eternity it takes the driver to actually back out.

I like a lot about an American Christmas. I like the way the kitchen windows steam when there's a roast in the oven. I like the way Nat King Cole croons, "Dressed up like Esk-EEE-mos . . . ." I even like the smiling polar bears on a 12-pack of Coca-Cola and the way Amy Grant looks in a sweater.

But most of all, I like getting a parking space within a mile of the mall entrance.

Into the mall we go, two of the kids and I, looking for a more sensible holiday. For all the obvious reasons, this is supposed to be a smaller Christmas, a more spiritual, reasonable Christmas, a retro celebration in which we return to basics.

Fat (fa-la-la-la) chance. The mall looks like a Trump wedding, or the ascension of an Egyptian king. This is what Christmas would look like if Bethlehem had been located on the Vegas Strip.

Oh, the zoomanity.

Yet, despite the crush, the chaos, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute.

The kids and I hurry into Barneys New York -- a $199 T-shirt? -- then scramble to the Martin & Osa next door -- yes, a $39 blouse!

We dance the "Nutcracker" through Anthropologie, then stutter-step like Kobe Bryant into the humongous Barnes & Noble, which is crammed with folks who look like they're buying their very first book (at age 40).

I promise you, dear God, let me out of this place alive and I will never come to another mall again. I'll never make any more jokes about the way you designed giraffes or question any of your strangest decisions -- like giving Tyra Banks her own show.

Just let me escape this insane parking garage with my two kids, ease out onto the busy boulevard and creep contentedly and safely to my modest fortress in the foothills. In return, I will lead a more virtuous life, drop a fiver in the charity kettle, even cry at Karen Carpenter songs.

Please let me out of this place -- where Christmas is measured in megapixels and $500 purses.

Lord, we need a little Christmas. Right this very minute.


I'll never forget the moment we arrived in California. We crossed the state line, and a sign said:

"Welcome to California" (Clothing optional)

I knew right then we'd picked an excellent place to raise a family. I knew right then we'd have some very memorable holidays.

Eighteen years later, we are still happy with our decision, particularly during the holidays. We buy Christmas trees from Oregon, sweaters from Bangladesh, bourbon from Kentucky.