Wonder in Winterland

One of the few things I dislike about living in the Bay Area is that Christmas time never really seems to have quite the same punch and magic here as is described by non-classical Christmas songs. Perhaps it is the preponderance of Godless heathens clustered together or maybe it’s just age and an accompanying cynicism puncturing the delight of innocent, youthful greed but honestly I think it boils down to the lack of relatively inclement weather. With the relatively mild winter of coastal California, there seems to be less of an obvious requirement to stay indoors, avoid roads and thus dedicate time to cozy firesides and spiked nogs and craft projects.

Or whatever that means. I don’t know why craft projects remind me of Christmas spirit, but there you are. The point is it seems like the—at worst—inconvenient annoyance of Bay Area December weather isn’t sufficient to prevent the season from descending into commercialized excess of gaudy strip malls and Black Friday sales. So I was feeling kind of glum about the season in general, wishing impotently that I could demonstrate to my 16-month old daughter that Christmas was more than just counting boxes under the tree.

Then Nik somehow heard about this event in downtown San Jose called Christmas in the Park, held in the small public space between the Tech Museum, the Art Museum and tons of high-rise office buildings and even higher-priced restaurants. The plan was to pick me up from work and grab some dinner before we took Callie over there. As I tend to do when Nik suggests family activities I shrugged and said, “Sure, sounds fun.” I’m trying to make these words mean something other than “Okay: I probably won’t hate it,” although I do better some days with that than others.

We actually tried to go earlier when a work issue resulted in me having to stay later than usual and miss my shuttle so Nik drove out to pick me up and we thought we might go after that, but by the time I was done and Nik had a chance to make it to my office and we fought through rush hour traffic on 101 South it was approaching 6:30. Given an hour for dinner and we’d be arriving when Callie’s bedtime routine typically begins and it seemed like less than responsible parenting to keep her up hours just to take advantage of an unexpected car trip. So we made arrangements to do as we originally intended and went on Thursday after I got off work (at the normal time). We had dinner at a retro themed diner which I thought was excellent but Nik was quite unimpressed by and then crossed the street again to check out the spread which we had only seen in passing on our way in.

The marvelous thing about Christmas in the Park is that it’s donation-run so admission is completely free. The bulk of the set up is a series of donated Christmas trees decorated by local groups. As you might predict a huge number of these end up being Boy and Girl Scout troops, but that’s actually fine and many of them were very cleverly put together. Around the perimeter of the park are a series of dioramas, some fairly elaborate with mechanical bits and musical accompaniment, which depict whimsical scenes that are very kid-friendly: Silly elves, friendly looking woodland creatures and so forth.  Because Nik didn’t care for dinner she stopped and got a snack to munch on while we perused the aisles of trees and displays.

Throughout this initial sequence Calliope seemed a little overwhelmed: Her eyes were as big and round as saucers but she didn’t seem to react much to anything. I’m not sure if the lights were too much or if it was packed too tightly into the space for her little mind to process, but while I wouldn’t describe her as having anything but a good time it was as if she didn’t quite know what to make of it all.

By the time we reached the center of the park where they had erected a huge display tree out of light strings Callie seemed to be appreciating what was going on a little more. She got excited about a teddy bear statue that was under the tree and offered to share bites of her gummy churro with passing strangers. Just to one side of the big tree they has set up a gazeebo and stage with some benches in front and a horn ensemble was playing brassy renditions of popular Christmas tunes. For the first time that I can recall, despite being exposed almost daily to a variety of musical stylings via iPod and radio, she lit up about the band and got this huge grin on her face as they bleated their way through “Frosty the Snowman” and “Carol of the Bells” and others. We sat and watched them play through three or four songs and then moved on to keep Callie from getting bored.

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