Christmas on this mountain has a character unique in Southern California. It is different because of Idyllwild’s tiny town ambience, its charming inns, homespun shops and restaurants, its village architecture preserved from an older time, and snow-covered roofs with chimneys lofting the smell of burning pine and cedar. And bracing alpine cold, yes, the kind of cold that causes one to wrap warmly in winter clothes — scarves, sweaters, hats and parkas — winter temperatures so cold you can see your breath and your cheeks grow rosy red. Christmas on this mountain is simple, old-fashioned and traditional.
An Idyllwild Christmas is not the kind one experiences in Beverly Hills or Palm Springs with palm trees swaying, sunshine splaying, and high-fashion stores and expensively attired shoppers. That perpetually sunny and glitzy Southern California Christmas is not the Currier and Ives Christmas celebrated here.
Here we have the forest that surrounds us, our iconic peaks, our hiking trails and our spectacular sequoia, dusted with snow and strung with extraordinarily beautiful Christmas lights, towering over our town square.
If you want the “White Christmas” Bing Crosby sang about in 1942, you have to come to Idyllwild.
It’s a place where residents know most if not all of their neighbors, where villagers take time to visit and where the spirit of Christmas — one of kindness and helping others — prevails throughout the year.
Often tourists ask, “What do you do there?” There are no box stores, no shopping malls, no multiplexes, skating rinks or ski slopes. But there is tranquility, a quiet peace and a friendly populace. For that you have to come to Idyllwild.
Christmas is foremost a religious commemoration. Local churches celebrate the birth of Jesus with Christmas Eve candlelight services. At press time, Christmas Eve service times were available for the following churches: Queen of Angels Catholic Church at 4 p.m.; St. Hugh’s Episcopal at 6 p.m. with lessons, carols and Holy Communion; Cross Road 243 Church (formerly Chapel in the Pines) for a 5:30 p.m. candlelight service.
Pastor Tim Westcott called to say Idyllwild Bible Church will hold two candle lighting Christmas Eve services, one at 4:30 p.m. and the second at 6 p.m. Call the Idyllwild Community Presbyterian (659-2935) for service schedules. Check with the church of your choice for service times throughout the Christmas weekend.
Make restaurant reservations early. Christmas, falling as it does this year on a Friday, makes the entire weekend a time to celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas in Idyllwild. Visit shops, galleries, restaurants and wine purveyors, and experience live music throughout the village.
And given that Christmas is a holiday and festival celebrated throughout the world, it has many traditions developed over the millennia since it was first celebrated by decree. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on Dec. 25 was in 336 A.D., during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared Dec. 25 as the day to celebrate Christ’s birth.
As you settle into the quiet of the Christmas season in Idyllwild, see if you know how and where many Christmas traditions and rituals originated: Advent, Epiphany (the Feast of the Three Kings or Los Reyes Magos in Spanish-speaking countries), the 12 Days of Christmas, Boxing Day in the former British Commonwealth, Twelfth Night, St. Nicholas, Christmas trees, Christmas candy canes, mistletoe and poinsettias. All are rich elements of worldwide celebrations, with stories and traditions associated with each.
In Idyllwild and throughout the world, Christmas is a time to remember and celebrate the Christian gospel of inclusion, forgiveness, kindness and charity to all. The cornerstone of the message of Jesus was love. “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44).