The Psychology of a California Christmas

surfing santaOur local California native Troy Campbell discusses the reason, rational or not, Californians come to love their sunny type of  holidays.

As a Southern Californian native, nonnatives always assume I must be sad every time Christmas rolls around and it’s not white. They tell me that I must feel blue because something “essentially Christmas” or “properly winter” is missing.

Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. While the world assumes Californians are sad on Christmas day, many Californians are actually quite happy as we stroll along the beach and enjoy the unique concept of a Southern California Christmas.

As the Southern Californian band Jack’s Mannequin sings: “It’s Christmas in California and it’s hard to ignore that it feels like summer all the time, but I’ll take a West Coast Winter … It’s good to be alive.”

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If you moved here you would probably hate this “always summer” vibe. You would probably miss the snow and the cold. But we don’t. We don’t dwell on how we are missing out on the typical winter traditions, because winter does not mean the same things to us that it does to you.

 For us, winter means putting on a long-sleeve T-shirt and sharing a peppermint flavored frozen yogurt on a sunny patio; or taking a late-night walk on a decorated pier, possibly after a Christmas Eve service with the people we love; or strolling down Disneyland’s Main Street under the artificial (but quite awesome) snow. Experiences gain value through memories and localized meanings not just global meanings.

If Southern Californians wanted to, we could drive inland and be in the snow in a few hours or less and enjoy the global stereotypes of Christmas. But we don’t all migrate inland for the winter. Why? Because that’s not who we are and that’s not what winter or Christmas means to us.

In the winter season, many Californians often even develop what social scientists call an “oppositional identity.” We choose to swim or surf on Christmas Day and we proudly (and sometimes annoyingly) post photos of how beautiful and completely unmiserable it truly is here. In Southern California and the West Coast at large, we develop traditions in opposition to traditional winter norms.

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In general, the world is often jealous of our generally perfect weather. So it is understandable that the world would like to think that for one season or just one Christmas Day, Southern Californians are jealous of others’ weather. But the truth is, were are not jealous. Maybe we’re missing something. Maybe we should be jealous of those enjoying a White Christmas. But because of who we are and the way we have grown up, we will never be convinced that anything is missing from our West Coast Winter.

When West Coasters are on the beach, with a new pair of Rainbow sandals fresh from the San Clemente outlet, a board in their hand, and In-N-Out Burger in their other hand, watching a pelican fly over the Christmas lights on the pier, it doesn’t feel like the moment is missing anything! In fact, for a Southern Californian native, a moment like this could not feel any more complete.

So let me wish everyone everywhere a happy holidays, whether you are somewhere as beautiful as California or as miserable as where you are. Sorry, couldn’t resist. But it is likely that wherever you are, you’ve come to love your type of Christmas or holidays. It’s just how the mind works, and whether that is irrational or not,  it is in this case quite fantastic for us all.

By Troy Campbell