Hansen: Sun shines on Montage holiday event

There are sunsets and then there are Montage sunsets.

I'm beginning to wonder if Montage means epic.

But let me back up.

It started at 4:30 Monday afternoon when Montage Laguna Beach held its fourth annual Tree Lighting Ceremony and Community Open House, attended by about 5,000 people — a record.

Everyone who knows about this event knows to get there early. If you want to have a chance at the goodies — tasty risotto, tender short ribs, tacos, tortilla soup, pumpkin soup, bite-sized cheeses or desserts — you don't show up late.

And it was clear everyone got the memo. It was packed by sunset.

But then a funny thing happened.

A glow started to envelop the area. It was not hard to see that one of Laguna's famous sunsets was taking shape.

The carolers stopped singing. People left food lines and started migrating toward the beach side of Montage, pulling out cell phone cameras.

Suddenly the whole place just stood still and stared for about 15 minutes.

Everywhere people were raving, "Look at that … beautiful … oh my gosh … spectacular."

It was as if everyone was being personally rewarded.

"Can you believe that?" said one person. "It is so breathtaking."

It really could not have been more scripted for the type of event that Montage throws every year: elegant, tasteful and rare.

In many ways, the Montage event is like the signature appetizer before the more traditional Hospitality Night main meal in downtown.

Catering to both adults and families, the event included holiday photos with Santa, snow machines and a six-foot homemade gingerbread house by assistant pastry chef Kristin Davison.

For adults, there were winter-themed cocktails and music by Steve Siu and David Alan Baker.

In a touching conclusion, Montage General Manager Todd Orlich presented donations of $5,000 each to the Friendship Shelter and the Fallen Heroes Memorial.

It was the Fallen Heroes Memorial — specifically citing the recent death of police officer Jon Coutchie — that made the ceremony most poignant.

Orlich said afterward that the Laguna Beach Police Department is instrumental in the success of the event and is "the best at what they do."

He said the resort has had a "truly outstanding relationship with them for the past 11 years," so he felt moved to do whatever he could to support their department and efforts to raise money.

In addition to honoring the work of the Fallen Heroes Memorial and the Friendship Shelter, the Montage also partnered once again with the Laguna Food Pantry and collected more than 500 cans of food to donate to those in need throughout Orange County.

We are pulled in a lot of directions during the holidays. Obligations and demands seem to occupy most of our time. There are a lot of holiday events, ceremonies, charities and other activities that fill up everyone's calendars.

But when things slow down and the planets seemingly align, we get to take a breath and enjoy the view.

If only for a few minutes, we forget about the chaos of the year and remember what it feels like to be uplifted.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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