Glowing Away for the Holidays : Tradition alights culturally diverse fests in the West

Christmas in Los Angeles may seem exotic to some but not to Angelenos. We know the drill: shirt sleeves in December, twinkle lights in the palm trees, Beverly Hills going all out with its Wilshire Boulevard light fest, fake snow everywhere.

Been there, done that.

But 120 miles away in San Diego we can watch a Swedish Santa Lucia celebration; a 450-mile drive to Nevada City yields a Victorian Christmas complete with roasted chestnuts and hot cider; and in Seattle, just 2 1/2 hours away by plane, we can watch the annual flotilla of lighted boats cruising Puget Sound. All of this illustrating, of course, that in the West, the holiday season is a reflection of our mixed cultures, as well as our collective imaginations. Here are some of the highlights:

Arizona

Prescott--Prescott takes its annual Christmas parade seriously. And this year the theme will be Charles Dickens. The parade will begin at 1 p.m. Dec. 7 with 80 entries, including bands and floats--many decorated to coincide with the traditional English Christmas theme. Stick around for the courthouse lighting ceremony at 6 p.m., when hundreds of people will gather to sing carols. For more information, contact Prescott Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 1147, Prescott, AZ 86302; telephone (800) 266-7534.

Tucson--At the newly refurbished Mission San Xavier del Bac, 10 miles south of Tucson, the Arizona Repertory Singers will perform sacred Renaissance music at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13. Seating is limited and no reservations are taken, so arriving early is essential. For more information, contact Mission San Xavier del Bac, 1950 San Xavier Road, Tucson, AZ 85746; tel. (520) 294-2624.

On Dec. 14, Fiesta Navidad, a mariachi concert of Mexican Christmas music, will be performed at Celebration Hall in Tucson. Shows are at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Between shows, mariachi groups will gather outside the hall for an informal, free show. Reservations are recommended. For more information, contact Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85719; tel. (520) 621-3341.

California

Coronado--Santa Claus will arrive by ferry at Ferry Landing Marketplace at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 6 to kick off the evening's parade along the island's main thoroughfare, Orange Avenue. There will be holiday music and entertainment at the Marketplace; fireworks will cap off the festivities at 8:30 p.m. For more information, contact Coronado Visitors Bureau, 1047 B Ave., Coronado, CA 92118; tel. (800) 622-8300.

Nevada City--On Dec. 4, 11 and 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. and Dec. 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. this Sierra foothills town will host a Victorian Christmas, closing its historic downtown area to cars and opening it to holiday celebrants sampling the foods of local restaurants, as well as roasted chestnuts and hot cider. Adding to the Victorian charm will be costumed vendors, strolling carolers, brass bands and hay rides. For more information, contact Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, 132 Main St., Nevada City, CA 95959; tel. (916) 265-2692.

Oakland--On Dec. 7 from 3 to 7 p.m., thousands of spectators crowd Jack London Square to admire the 100 illuminated vessels--from rowboats to yachts--that sail by in Oakland Estuary. There will be food vendors, arts and crafts booths, children's activities and, to end the event, a fireworks show. For more information, contact Oakland Convention & Visitors Bureau, 550 10th St., Suite 214, Oakland, CA 94607; tel. (510) 839-9000.

Oceanside--A Coast Guard cutter festooned with lights will lead the 20th annual Parade of Lights at 8 p.m. Dec. 14. Fifty boats of all sizes will follow it around the harbor. Boat owners compete for prizes for such things as funniest boat and boat with the most lights. Best viewing spots are on the pier and at Oceanside Yacht Club, which will open its doors to the public that night. For more information, contact Oceanside Yacht Club, 1950 Harbor Drive N., Oceanside, CA 92054; tel. (619) 722-5751.

San Diego--During Christmas on the Prado in Balboa Park, 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7, the park will be lined with vendors selling ethnic foods and crafts; choirs, ethnic dancers and carolers will perform, and museums will be open free to the public. At 8 p.m. both nights at the Organ Pavilion, the Living Christmas Story Tree will tell the Christmas tale through choral music. Another highlight of the event will be the Swedish Santa Lucia celebration, at 6 and 8 p.m., featuring a procession of 20 girls dressed in white led by Santa Lucia wearing a crown of candles. The procession will begin in front of the Museum of Man. Swedish foods for sale will include meatballs, open-face sandwiches and the hot spiced wine called glogg. For more information, contact Museum of Man, 1350 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101; tel. (619) 239-2001.

A posada procession through Old Town San Diego State Historic Park will begin at 7 p.m. Dec. 11. The traditional Mexican observance re-creates the Christmas Eve search for lodging by Mary and Joseph. Beginning at Heritage Park, the procession, complete with children's choruses and a live donkey, will wind through the Old Town streets and end with a pin~ata-breaking for kids at Old Town Plaza.

On Dec. 13 and 14, costumed docents will lead visitors on Holiday in the Park, a candlelight walking tour of Old Town historic homes that will be festively decorated for the holidays. Cost: adults, $10; children 6 to 16, $5; under 5, free. Tours are 5:30 to 7 p.m. Reservations are essential for this tour. For more information, contact Old Town State Historic Park, 4002 Wallace St., San Diego, CA 92110; tel. (619) 220-5422.

San Francisco--The holiday season will be kicked off in Union Square with the traditional Macy's Tree Lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. Nov. 29. At the same time, a huge Christmas tree will be lighted in Ghirardelli Square, where Santa Claus will make a special appearance. Or head for Hyde Street Pier where the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park will host Christmas at Sea, a celebration observed through caroling, storytelling, food and drinks Dec. 8 and 14 at 2 p.m. aboard the historic vessel the S/V Balcutha. For more information, contact San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 429097, San Francisco, CA 94142-9097; tel. (415) 391-2000.

San Jose--This city's Mexican posada is a little different. The day will begin at noon Dec. 7 with mariachi music, folk dancing and food, followed by a procession through downtown, beginning at 5 p.m. Nontraditional elements will include an appearance by Poncho Claus. The streets will be busy the next day with the 15th Holiday Parade. For more information, contact San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau, 333 W. San Carlos St., Suite 1000, San Jose, CA 95110; tel. (408) 295-9600.

Woodside--During Christmas at Filoli, the famed 43-room mansion just 35 miles south of San Francisco (remember those aerial shots of the home on TV's "Dynasty"?) will be lavishly decorated with half a million dollars' worth of ornaments. From Dec. 2 to 7, the rooms will be transformed into a holiday bazaar selling such items as flavored vinegars, stuffed animals and holiday wreaths, and there will be daily teas and brunches. Carolers and choral groups will perform for guests. Admission to the bazaar will be $10 per person and an additional $15 per person for teas or brunches, which book up fast. For more information, contact Friends of Filoli, Canada Road, Woodside, CA 94062; tel. (415) 366-4640.

Colorado

Denver--On Dec. 6 though 31, Denver's neoclassical city and county building will dazzle thousands of visitors each night with a massive Christmas lights display. More than 40,000 multicolored floodlights will be focused on the building's facade. To aid photography, Bannock Street, in front of the building, will be closed to traffic Dec. 10, 13 and 27 and Jan. 17 so that pictures can be taken without the intrusion of car headlights. Illumination hours are 6 to 10 nightly; to midnight on Dec. 24. For more information, contact Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1666 California St., Suite 300, Denver, CO 80202; tel. (303) 892-1112.

New Mexico

Albuquerque--On Christmas Eve, homes all over the city will be lighted with traditional southwest luminarias (candle-illuminated sand-filled bags), which will line walkways and rooftops. A 1 1/2-hour bus tour (offered by the Sun Tran bus line; $6 per person plus service charge, tel. [505] 884-0999 for tickets) will begin at dusk, taking visitors through neighborhoods with the most extravagant displays. For more information, contact Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, 20 First Plaza, Suite 601, Albuquerque, NM 87102; tel. (800) 284-2282.

Santa Fe--On Christmas Eve, head for Canyon Road to walk the picturesque historic area lighted in typical Southwest fashion with luminarias that will line the streets and rooftops. Professional singers will perform Christmas carols, and there will be a posada procession at dusk on Dec. 15 at the Palace of the Governors. The lights are on from dusk to about 10 p.m. For more information, contact Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 909, Santa Fe, NM 87504; tel. (505) 984-6760.

Oregon

Portland--This is the 25th year of the Wooden Toy Show, Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 at the World Forestry Center. Master toy makers from all over the Pacific Northwest offer special holiday gifts for sale, all made of wood, all handmade. Toys include miniature doll furniture, rubber band guns, blocks, trucks, trains, rocking horses and pieces fashioned of exotic woods. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, contact World Forestry Center, 4033 S.W. Canyon Road, Portland, OR 97221; tel. (503) 228-1367.

Texas

San Antonio--Luminarias will light up San Antonio's famous River Walk from Dec. 6 through 8, 13 through 15 and 20 through 22. On most of those evenings, visitors can also stroll to the nearby Rivercenter and see the Christmas story portrayed on San Antonio river barges in the lagoon. For more information, contact San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, 317 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205; tel. (210) 270-8700.

Washington

Seattle--The Spirit of Seattle sightseeing vessel will lead the 47th Christmas Ship Festival through Puget Sound Dec. 2 through 5, Dec. 8 through 12 and Dec. 15 through 23. The ship will be lighted for the holidays and followed by a flotilla of other decorated and lighted ships, some commercial and some private, stopping at a different town each night. A choir on board will serenade the townspeople on shore, who will build bonfires to welcome them. Reservations are essential. The cost is $22.50 for adults and $15 for children ages 5 to 12 for a two- to 2 1/2-hour cruise. For more information, contact Argosy Cruises, Pier 55, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98101; tel. (206) 623-1445.

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