Monday, January 10, 2011

Another Battle in the Epic War

There are many great rivalries in the world. The best thing about them is that no matter how hard each side argues, no matter how informed, how passionate, or how drunk, there will never ever be a definitive winner:

Joe Frasier vs. Muhammad Ali
Yankees vs. Red Sox
Edison vs. Tesla (duh, Tesla.)
Deep dish vs. traditional pizza

Notorious B.I.G. vs. Tupac Shakur

This last one is of particular interest to me because it has the potential to open up the door to perhaps the biggest and most heated unsolvable rivalry of them all:

Which coast is the best coast?

(You've probably already yelled your definitive answer at the computer screen.)

But I am here today not to rabidly support a side in the grand argument (East Coast) or begin a long response thread of debate, but to simply present a comparison:

Which coast boasts the better Christmas experience?

Now, before people get all huffy, let me just state that Biggie only got to be Santa because he looks more like him. And for the record, I think Tupac makes a wonderful elf.

Thus far, I have accumulated 30 Christmases under my loosened holiday belt: 28 in Northern New Jersey and 2 in Southern California. While my favoritism clearly lies with my... spirited... family in the Northeast, I will look at this matter objectively and consider three different criteria: holiday ambiance, the Christmas meal and extracurricular activities.

Just like getting into college.

One thing I will never ever in a million years get used to is this Christmas with palm trees thing. It just doesn't feel like Christmas. Of course it's absolutely gorgeous, but it just completely throws me off to look around and see beautiful tall palms with the sun sparkling off of the Pacific and little dots of surfers sprinkled on top. Bing Crosby never sang about a sunny Christmas, and I'm not really sure if anyone I know wants to have a sandball fight. To me California says "Sweet! I'm on vacation, bro!" not "Hey! Merry Christmas, buddy!"

Bing Crosby aside, the fact that I didn't ever need more than a sweater was pretty awesome. Sunglasses ended up being way more important than multiple layers. In fact, I didn't even bring a coat, which ended up making my trip to the airport in New York in the 6AM darkness pretty frigging frigid. Ah well. I've done stupider things.

My super awesome Christmas hat I picked up and the necessary sunglasses

And being a huuuge fan of driving with all the car windows down, I was elated that here I didn't have to wait until May to do it.
But the biggest benefit I see to a West Coast Christmas is being able to send nice pictures to your family who is back East battening down the hatches in preparation for 3 feet of snow:

"We're at the beach and you're not!"

However, the one blaring fact that made me a little depressed out there is that I saw so few houses decorated for Christmas. Too cool for Christmas lights? Too busy surfing to hang a wreath? With my family, every Christmas we take a drive around the area in a little outing we like to call "Gaudy House Hunting".

I'd say... a 7 out of 10.

Armed with a camera and plenty of coffee, we drive around until we get our fill of tack and plastic Santas. Luckily, in North Jersey there is no shortage of these houses (only electrical outlets), and the tour always ends with the grand finale: a trip to the Elvis impersonator's house, who happens to have quite the knack for Christmas decorating.

Truly The King

Too big for the blog! A panorama of the backyard, complete with huge pond

Clearly, I have high expectations when it comes to outward Christmas displays. But alas, in SoCal, the number of darkened houses far outnumbered those with jubilant Christmas spirit (and high electrical bills). On Christmas Eve, just when I thought all hope was lost, I mentioned my utter disappointment in California's decorations to Jon. We were leaving his aunt's house in Pasadena to drive down to his mom and her husband's house in San Diego.
"I never brought you to Christmas Tree Lane?" I perked up a bit. This sounded promising.
We took a small detour and ended up on a street where all of the tall pines lining the road were adorned in bright colored lights, creating a vibrant tunnel of Christmas-y-ness.

And I was happy. Now it felt like Christmas.

(photo by Michael Lynch)

So California sure scared me a bit there with it's surprising lack of flamboyance (although extra points are awarded to Jon's sister Devon's peculiar neighbor, whose house probably looks like that all year).

For complete over the top extravagance, a disregard for style and a big loud "up yours" if you don't like it, ambiance point: East Coast


However, to the state's merit, what it lacked in ambiance, it sure made up for in tasty things... tasty Mexican things to be exact.

La Estrella. Best. Fish. Tacos. EVER.

My Taco. Chile rellenos goodness

And speaking of good food, on Christmas Day, Jon and I set out to recreate the Robert Palmer turkey we made on Thanksgiving for dinner that evening.

As I stood in the kitchen preparing to cook, I looked out the kitchen windows and something told me this would be a bit different than my usual family holidays.

The view from the kitchen

Although both kitchens had sneaky pets patiently lurking around every corner, there was no real chaos.

Cali stealing all the butter wrappers

My dad wasn't up to his usual shenanigans, like "washing the dishes".

My mom wasn't freaking out about something, like a harmless little fire.

Mandatory open flame, Christmas 2010, Bourbon gravy

And there definitely were a lot less tequila shots. Only one to be exact, in honor of the Danna family craziness Jon and I knew we were missing.

A Christmas toast across the country

The jet lag definitely did not make cooking any easier, and neither did the turkey that was mysteriously done 2 hours early, but we turned out a great holiday feast.

The Robert Palmer turkey with gravy, stuffing, cherry pomegranate compote, mashed potatoes (not low-fat), string beans with buerre blanc sauce, sauteed brussel sprouts with rosemary and bacon, macaroni and cheese and citrus glazed carrots.
Once again showing my expertise in plate clearing
Jon's mom giving me some competition
Wine. Lots of wine
There it is!
The carnage. Merry Christmas!

And even better than the actual Christmas meal? The leftovers! Forget those towering Thanksgiving paninis! Ladies and gents, shuffle your stomach, notch another hole in your belt and make room for leftover turkey pot pie!

Best compliment ever

You know I love a good Italian Christmas feast topped with family insanity, but because of the best leftovers meal ever with the added bonus of tacos – which I can't get home, food point: West Coast.


We all know that meals end. Bottles of wine run dry (although hopefully not). And now all that's left is spending some special leisurely time with the family.

Gathered around a fire in the living room perhaps, singing some Christmas carols.

We do our caroling before Christmas, in front of my mom's 4th grade class. Here, a rendition of "Dominick the Christmas Donkey", hence the fedoras

Or maybe taking a nice family photo to frame and remember the occasion.

It took grandma 6 hours to get back up and me 3 years to recover from shock

At least he's wearing a tie

Or possibly... a choreographed routine to pass the time?

Spontaneous dance numbers are know to happen on occasion. Christmas Eve, 2006

You see, back East in snowy North Jersey, our Christmas holiday lasts for forty-eight straight hours, because Italians celebrate both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (I think it's just another excuse to eat extravagantly).

Twice the family!
Twice the food!
And twice the shenanigans!

That's right. I said times two.

Only so much time can be spent shoulder to shoulder around the dining room table feasting, so over the years, probably influenced by those large jugs of Carlo Rossi Chianti, we have found various unique ways of entertaining ourselves.

I know this seems somewhat strange and possibly scary to some of you out there. But to me, strange is being somewhere else on a holiday where the family never bursts out into fits of laughter, only one person talks at a time – with an appropriate inside volume – and there is never ever any swearing. Where's the spontaneous guitar singalongs? No costumes? AND WHY ARE THERE NO TEQUILA SHOTS?

I have a hard time feeling comfortable amidst a mild mannered family and it can be a big source of anxiety for me. I just don't know how to act. Lucky for this gal, Jon's family is not one of those. He wasn't lying the first time I took him to meet my family (and surprise! The WHOLE family happened to be there) and he just calmly said "Don't worry, I'm used to it." and poured himself a big glass of wine, turned to my uncle who was displaying his new handgun collection and jumped right into the conversation.

So I am quite comfy in SoCal. In fact, on Christmas Jon's family actually inspired me with a fantastic new after dinner activity:

a family game of JUST DANCE on Wii! Seriously! Nothing aids food along the digestive track quite like pretending you can dance like Tina Turner.

The game lasted well into the night and my gut hurt not only from the eating and the dancing, but from the amount of laughing I did.

The next morning, after dealing with my sore Wii arm and tweaked neck (apparently, I cannot move like Beyoncé) I immedately texted my sister and demanded she go out in the snowstorm and buy the game for my family.

A completely valiant effort by team West Coast – I am totally comfortable with Jon's family – sharing jokes, wisecracks, perhaps a few tears when I opened up a present (that just happened to be a sweet pasta attachment for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer... which meant I was getting a Kitchen Aid stand mixer from Jon when we got back to Jersey), but for consistency of entertainment value and uninhibited cheery chaos, extracurricular point; East Coast.


Well folks, it looks like we may have the concl– wait a minute... this just in...

Mandatory extra credit point for Jon shimmying in his Christmas sweater.


... let the battle rage on!


  1. Hey Sherry... send me that video of Jonathan... I have some blackmailing to do~

  2. Oh and you need to add future points for a West Coast Christmas when Uncle Tommy is around...he TOPS the Chaos- Crazy meter for sure!

  3. I believe, that a full-length feature film starring the Danna family is in order. I <3 your fam, Sherry. I believe we can get the funding and it will sell out!!!

  4. tommy says game on next year