Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The holiday season can last from the beginning of December to January 6 depending on the ethnic group. Whether you are looking for festivities that follow your family’s heritage or you want to learn about other traditions, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Christmas in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties. Here is how some ethnic groups celebrate Christmas with a sampling of events, feasts and places to visit:
A red candle flickering in a window is an Irish tradition symbolizing hospitality to travelers seeking a warm place to stay like Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve. Catholics in Ireland were denied many civil liberties and freedoms up until the nineteenth century as a result they practiced their faith in secrecy. On December 25, devout Catholics placed a red candle in their window to signal to passing priests that the home was safe to visit and in exchange, a Christmas mass was held at the house. The Irish on Christmas Eve like to eat mincemeat pies, goose, plum pudding or fruitcake made with whisky.
Saturday, Dec. 17 8:00 p.m.
Ken O’Malley’s “Ireland and the Christmas Star”
Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City
Memories of Dublin’s winter nights and the warmth of an Irish Christmas will come to life through song and story in “Ken O’Malley’s Ireland and the Christmas Star” a solo musical performance
In this captivating show, the Dublin born singer-songwriter will transport his audience to his beloved Ireland with his rich, resonant voice and engaging stage presence accompanied by his remarkable talent on guitar and mandolin.
Admission: $18.00 regular admission or $25.00 VIP seating.
Los Posadas is a cherished Mexican Catholic tradition. It commemorates the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and their search for a warm place to stay.
The event begins with children walking in a line carrying lit candles. The first two children carry figures of the Holy Family (Mary and Joseph) and walk down the street approaching homes in search of shelter. As they approach each home, they are turned away until they arrive at a replica of the stable in Bethlehem. Once the children arrive at the stable, they arrange the figures of the Holy Family. Traditionally, Christmas gifts are not exchanged on December 25 but on January 6, a day called “Day of the Wise Men.” Mexican children put their shoes out for the wise men (not Santa Claus) to fill with toys.
Friday, December 16 – Saturday, December 24
Since the 1930s, small business owners on Olvera Street have celebrated with a nightly procession that takes place over nine nights. Participants walk from store to store singing hymns in English and Spanish while seeking shelter. The procession of carolers are turned down at each store until the doors at their final stop, a church swing open and a priest welcomes everyone to a feast of pan dulce (sweet bread) and champurrado (a hot Mexican beverage). Children will also be treated to a festive breaking of a piñata.
Time: 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Noel means Christmas in French. In France Noel is a time for family reunions and generosity by giving gifts and candy for children, loved ones and the poor. Attending Midnight Mass and le Réveillon a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ’s birth and is a culinary high point of the season. The French serve late night feasts on December 24 and an early morning feast on December 25. Those who celebrate in grand style have oysters, caviar, foie gras or turkey and goose. Dessert is a bûche de Noël, which is a type of cake in a log shape, or chocolate. A Christmas feast will also have a few good bottles of French wine.
Maison Richard Restaurant & French Bakery
Maison Richard has been serving the Los Angeles community for 30 years. The French restaurant and bakery offers all the croissants, tarts, country bread rounds, baguettes, quiches, petits fours you can imagine. They also have a full lunch and dinner menu with catering services for those looking to serve as a Christmas feast with a French flare.
Monday-Saturday: 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Greater Los Angeles has the one of the largest communities of Korean immigrants outside of Asia. Many Koreans have turned toward the Christian faith and celebrate Christmas in the United States. At Christmas, young children wait for the arrival of Santa Haraboji, or Santa Grandfather, on Christmas Eve. A holiday dinner is also popular where friends and family come together and feast on dishes loaded with sweet potato noodles, rice cake soup, barbecued beef (bulgogi), and spicy pickled cabbage (gimchi).
Koreatown Los Angeles
For those looking for authentic Korean cuisine, drinks or gifts this holiday season they must visit Koreatown in Los Angeles. Koreatown is rich in its traditional heritage with authentic food, noraebang also known as karaoke studios, shopping and distinct Korean signage but at the same time, it blends in the American modern era with lofts and savvy restaurants that appeal to the non-Korean population.
The tamalada, or tamale-making party is a staple meal for Latino families on Christmas Eve. The Tamalada serves as a social gathering where members of the extended family get together and prepare food catch up with each other and enjoy the company.
Saturday December 17th
The 7th Annual MANA de Orange County Community Tamalada and Christmas Mercado
St. Anne's Church Campbell Hall
The public is invited to help make tamales and afterwards shop for unique and one-of-a-kind items. The $20 ticket includes tamale-making lessons, one dozen tamales to take home, coffee, orange juice and pan dulce. (Enter parking lot from Sycamore Street)
Time: 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM. Tamale-making begins at 11:00 AM.
During an Armenian Christmas Season, the major events celebrated are the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem and his baptism in the River Jordan. The Armenian Christmas, is a culmination of events related to Christ’s incarnation. Theophany or Epiphany, which means “revelation of God,” is the central theme of the season in the Armenian Church. The day of the major feast is January 6th where the “Blessing of Water” is conducted to commemorate Christ’s Baptism.
The Christmas seasonal table, though meatless, is full of wonderful dishes, along with a wide variety of dried and fresh fruits, cheeses, oil cured olives, nuts and seeds. Dinners are topped off with delicate Paklavas, Boeregs and Kurabia, as well as a special Christmas pudding known as Anushabour.
Saint Mary Armenian Church
Visit St Mary’s and meet Fr. Moushegh who serves the parish of St. Mary Armenian church of Costa Mesa with love, humility and dedication. He visits his parishioners constantly. His beliefs embrace a joyous approach toward his fellow men and especially the Armenian youth, whom he counsels and guides.
Additional locations in Tustin, Irvine, and Newport Coast
If you are looking to add a dish with an Armenian flare to your holiday celebrations and would like your event catered or have a party platter to pick up. Zov’s is rated as one of the best restaurants in Orange County by the Zagat survey for over twenty years. There are three locations in Orange County, Zov’s Bistro, Bakery & Café, and Zov’s Café, Bakery & Bar, serves Mediterranean-inspired cuisine in an upscale yet family-friendly environment.
Christmas is a time for family reunions, and generosity by giving gifts and candy for children, loved ones and the poor. Attending Midnight Mass, and le Réveillon a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ’s birth and is the culinary high point of the season. A traditional Christmas French menu includes dishes like goose, chicken, capon, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, oysters, and boudin blanc (similar to white pudding).
Children place their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (aka Papa Noël) will fill them with gifts. Candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys will also be hung on the tree overnight.
C'est La Vie French / Bakery Restaurant
If you are looking for pastries and desserts for your Christmas feast C’est la Vie has an authentic French menu from which to pick. Their ocean front location also offers a unique dining experience in Laguna Beach. C’est la Vie is centrally located on Pacific Coast Highway in the heart of Laguna Beach.
Asian Garden Mall
Little Saigon during the Christmas season has the East meets West culture. The community, which bridges Westminster and Garden Grove primarily, practices Buddhism with the influence of Saigon, Cambodia, Thailand and Korean cultures. However many in Westminster in Orange County are combining their Buddhist culture with western Christian traditions in their own way which can be seen on Bolsa Avenue in Westminster and at the Asian Garden Mall.
10:00 AM – 7:00 PM daily
San Bernardino County
In Switzerland, which includes a German, French and Italian population, Advent is a Christmas tradition that starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve. Children create an Advent Calendar with 25 little flaps opening onto windows with images within a Christmas scene.
Children in Catholic areas believe in “Christkind” or “Le petit Jésus” as the bringer of their presents. On Dec 6 children leave their shoes or boots outside for St. Nicolas to fill with mandarin oranges, nuts and cookies.
Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa
Leave your passport at home and experience a snowy mountain holiday during the Advent Season at Lake Arrowhead a small village with charming Swiss chalets and modern amenities only an hour and half from LAX. One can easily feel like they are in the Swiss Alps when it snows. A great place to slow down and relax is at The Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa. The coveted four diamond AAA rated resort just completed a $17 million redesign to create a world-class luxury mountain resort. Visitors should check road conditions before heading up the mountain to see if chains are required.
Greece is a country made up of many ethnic and religious groups creating diverse Christmas traditions. Some traditions for the Greeks include attending mass and then coming home to feast on delectable Greek pastries like Kataifi and Baklava, made with phyllo dough, honey and nuts, Diples a deep-fried Greek pastry, Christopsomo also known as Christ’s bread and the traditional roast lamb served with potatoes. Greeks also sprinkle a mixture of holy water and basil in every room of the house to keep away the sprites, or “killantzarin.” These sprites like to slide down the chimney between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6) to play mischievous pranks.
Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church
Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church is believed to be the first Orthodox Church in the Inland Empire. Do not let the word Greek fool you. The English-speaking parish is made up of Orthodox Christians who are Greek, Russian, Serbian, Latino, German and many others. All are welcome to worship and learn more about the Orthodox Church.
The Fat Greek
Look no further for your Christmas Greek party platters. After church The Fat Greek can cater your get together with all the spanakopita, moussaka, dolmades, marinated olives, lamb and Baklava you desire.
Hours: 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM seven days a week
Michelle Mears-Gerst is a writer in San Bernardino County.