Thanksgiving Traditions in California

When military governor General Bennett Riley proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in November 1849 during the turmoil of the Gold Rush, California was not yet a state. In September 1863, President Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Before that declaration, the celebration was sporadically held, mainly in the New England states, as a day of feasting and merriment after the autumnal harvests.

Californians have their own unique twist they put on the food of the day. Brined, grilled turkey is the centerpiece to the meal. Chunks of mellow sourdough are the foundation for stuffing. Brussels sprouts have a place, shoving aside the green bean casserole so popular elsewhere. The meal may very well be completed with a pumpkin cheesecake or an autumn fruit tart rather than the traditional pumpkin or pecan pie.

With four NFL teams across the state, chances are a football game or two will be on the TV before or after the meal. The tradition of football on Thanksgiving started in the late 1800s and is still running strong in California today. The odds of an NFL game playing in the background throughout the duration of the holiday, possibly even through dinner, are fairly high in a California home.

During the holidays when the rest of the country may be experiencing rain, snow, and sleet, California’s temperate weather keeps most of the holiday season in pleasant, comfortable weather. You’d think this non-stereotypical weather would put a damper on the holidays, but it never does. Californians won’t let the lack of cold weather put a damper on the holidays! They still celebrate in style, including these uncommon holiday traditions.

Surfin’ Santa at Seaport Village in San Diego

Santa doesn’t always have to be wearing his big red suit! Surfin’ Santa dons a Hawaiian shirt and board shorts in San Diego. He cruises up on a boat decked in Christmas lights, then poses with visitors for their spirited holiday photo! Surfin’ Santa is part of the bigger celebration of the season which includes a parade along the boardwalk, kids, crafts, live street performers, and holiday shopping.

9-Ton Sandcastle at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point

Most Californians don’t have snow, so they use the next best thing: sand! This huge sandcastle is on display Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day and depicts a different festive scene every year. This is a unique offering at the St. Regis, along with other holiday events like the Gingerbread House Academy and pet photos with Santa.

Skating by the Sea at Hotel del Coronado in Coronado

Warm weather doesn’t stop Californians from ice skating. The rink is located at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. Returning to Hotel del Coronado for the 13th year from Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017 through January 1, 2018, the ice rink is located on Windsor Lawn with views of the Pacific and Coronado beach.

Mother Goose Parade

The town of El Cajon has been celebrating at Thanksgiving for more than 70 years, and many locals consider this charming parade the unofficial start of the Christmas season. The parade includes colorful and exciting parade entries, such as floats, marching bands, giant helium balloons, clowns, eloquent equestrians, special guests, and of course Santa Claus at the end of the parade. The parade route travels down Main Street. A tree lighting follows at dusk on Main and Magnolia. It’s always held the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Hollywood Christmas Parade

The Hollywood Christmas parade is held on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a long-time tradition that seems less glamorous and more hometown-like than you might expect. Formerly the Hollywood Santa Parade or Santa Claus Lane Parade, The Hollywood Christmas Parade is an annual parade that takes place on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The 3.5-mile route of the parade moves along Hollywood Boulevard, then back along Sunset Boulevard.

California Living Museum Holiday Lights in Bakersfield

The non-profit California Living Museum displays more than 2 million Christmas lights per year, surrounding the property in twinkling lights. Light shows are held with music, providing a magical, entertaining celebration with lots to see, do, and taste. Santa is available for pictures, there are train rides and a carousel, and the museum store is also open for souvenir shopping. You can even catch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and walk around with a delightful hot chocolate.



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