Cold-hearted foreigners from places like Pittsburgh believe that it is impossible to celebrate Christmas in San Diego, where the idea of holiday tradition is putting a Santa hat on Shamu. Without piles of slush and snot-nosed kids wandering the streets singing olds songs, the true "holiday spirit" cannot exist, these people say, usually while picking icicles out of their ears.
The postcard images of the season now focus on sleigh bells and a reindeer with allergy problems. Wintry landscapes and little Greta skating on the frozen pond are all part of what makes the Christmas holiday real, or at least something a little more special than, say, Arbor Day.
The Christmas-Hanukah-Kwanzaa holidays are about the family gathering around the roaring fire, roasting chestnuts and all that crap.
Here in the Des Moines of the West, there doesn't seem to be much reason to turn on the wireless electric fireplace in the well-stuccoed living room of the pseudo-Mediterranean, attached, three-level condo simply because it's the holidays. Better to let the Yule log screensaver run for a couple days and use the time off to study for the real estate exam.
And nobody really wants to invite anyone over to eat because people are slobs and they might spill gravy on the new carpet, which would diminish the condo's resale value.
Or at least that is the popular image of the holidays in San Diego to outsiders, who believe this a vast wasteland of tradition.
Like most stereotypes-such as the one that says all San Diego State students are bong warriors who couldn't get into a real school-there is a grain of truth to San Diego's reputation as the antichrist of holiday cheer.
Very little about San Diego matches the usual postcard images of the season, unless it's one of those really great postcards with a picture of a girl in a thong and a patch of sand on her butt. Those postcards sure are cool, and they speak volumes about San Diego and its happy visitors.
But thong girl doesn't really cry out "Happy Holidays," at least in the traditional sense, even if she is wearing a Santa hat.
It's tough to invoke that elusive "spirit of Christmas" when the only noticeable change of the seasons are the full-body wetsuits worn by the surfers. The idea of strolling on the beach on Christmas day doesn't seem to fit with the whole ho-ho-ho groove.
Beyond snow, the East Coast has the one-up in the holiday-spirit department, thanks to years of in-breeding, which has produced remarkably tight communities where generations of traditions spill out into living rooms each year.
In San Diego, it can be a challenge to find that type of communal vibe in many neighborhoods, where telecommunications peons are paying $700,000 for tract homes, on the condition that the deal includes a 10-foot privacy fence.
Sure, the occasional fire of Biblical proportions may bring people together, but in general, San Diego is a conglomerate of transient gypsies who live in their rentals for 2.3 years before moving on up to a Tierrasanta starter home.
It's a land where people barely know their neighbors, afraid if they chat too much they might get invited over for an uncomfortable dinner or, maybe, wife swapping. It's better not to engage, unless you need a babysitter, in which case, the friendlier the better.
This atmosphere is not conducive to holiday cheer, no matter how many $12 Wal-Mart Christmas Light Sets they string on the fake guard tower next to the front gate. Finding the holiday groove in San Diego takes a little more effort and a willingness to chuck the old images and buy into a completely different set of holiday values.
Screw the sleigh rides. Screw Santa. Heck, screw the elves.
San Diego is a different type of holiday heartland, requiring a little bit more imagination to celebrate and appreciate the hot-spiced rum season, not to mention the birth of baby Jesus, if that floats your boat.
That means enjoying the calm of a quick, 25-minute drive to Carlsbad due to what the perky radio robot says is "light seasonal traffic." It means marking the change in the seasons with an eggnog latte and finding real joy in the Kid Rock Christmas special.
In San Diego, the holidays mean sucking up cynicism and snideness for at least 37.4 minutes to think that the politically correct Holiday-Event-Not-Affiliated-With-Any-Religion-or-Specific-Custom on the Prado is actually a fairly pretty sight.
There may not be snow, but the air is cool and crisp and the sunsets take on more vivid colors. Holiday displays may be slim compared to old towns of the East, but there is always the warm glow of the lights from the Del Mar Fairgrounds, home of the annual gun show.
That is all part of the complex web of emotions stirred up by the holidays in San Diego. You make your own traditions here, and if that means a walk on the beach on Christmas day, the East Coast snobs can roast their own chestnuts.
To many San Diegans, the holiday spirit might mean flipping a five-spot to a bum in Ocean Beach so he can buy his very own eggnog latte. It might not be the postcard image, but something there still makes it a special time of year.
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SDcitybeat.com.