December 19, 2004

Preparing for Christmas

New Year's Day is more-or-less a known quantity here in Southern California. Without looking at the Weather Channel or checking the newspaper forecast, you can pretty well assume that it's going to be a gorgeous sunny day with a bright blue sky. The temperature is likely in the 40s or 50s, but it's going to be a sunny day. It might rain steadily for days beforehand, but on the first of the year in Pasadena it's going to be a sunny day. In all the years that they've been holding the Rose Parade, you can count on one hand the number of times it has been rained. I once spent the night with two other people in a Chevy Chevette because it was pouring down rain and we couldn't sleep on the sidewalk along the parade route as we'd intended. It was a four-door Chevette, granted, but it still took some doing. By eight o'clock, when the parade started, the rain was over, the clouds were gone, and the sun was shining to beat the band.

Christmas Day is considerably more variable. It's often cold and gloomy (by Southern Californian standards) but it's just as like warm and clear, and some years it's been in the 80s. I can recall one year, shortly after my parents first got central air and heating installed, when my mom turned the thermostat down low so that she could light a Christmas fire in the fireplace; it would have been far too warm otherwise.

I'm not yet prepared to guess what Christmas will be like this year, as our weather has been changing from cold to warm and back again every few days, but if I had to make a choice I'd guess that it will be warm. We've been having frequent Santa Ana winds recently, warm dry winds that are shaking the last leaves from all the trees that drop them, and once the Santa Anas set in they often hang around for awhile. Why they are called Santa Anas I'm not sure, as they come from the north and the city of Santa Ana is an hour's drive southeast of here. I've seen a number of theories; the most popular is that "Santa Ana" is a local corruption of "santana," which means a hot dry wind. The trouble with that theory is that you'd expect the corruption to go the other way--it's far more likely for "Santa Ana" to be shortened to "santana" than the other way around. More to the point, Southern Californians have been calling them Santa Ana winds for generations; the only people I've ever heard refer to them as "santana" winds are those who once called them "Santa Ana" winds like the rest of us, and then decided that that wasn't right. The late lamented Jack Smith, an L.A. Times columnist from the days when the Times really was a Los Angeles newspaper investigated the topic in detail and concluded that "santana" was purely bogus, and that the winds had their name (if I recall correctly) because they blew from Santa Ana Canyon.

I have no idea where Santa Ana Canyon might be, or why anyone would choose to name a wind after it, but there you go.

Anyway, it's been a warm lovely weekend, and we've finally begun our Christmas preparations. I don't mean shopping for gifts; we started that ages ago, though mostly on-line. But after Thanksgiving comes the season of Advent, a penitential season similar to Lent, and I don't like to get out the tree or the decorations or the Christmas music until Lent is pretty much over. Today was the fourth and last Sunday of Advent, so first thing yesterday morning we got the tree out of the back shed (yes, it's artificial) and set it up in the living room. We had a bit of a milestone this year--the tree was decorated almost entirely (with more enthusiasm than skill) by our three older kids. Jane held the baby (who has taken to screaming like a banshee if Jane puts her down) and handed out ornaments, and I played Christmas carols on my recorder, and a good time was had by all.

Then this afternoon, after church, we got out the Christmas Train--an LGB train with an oval track, a locomotive, a flat car, a freight car with low sides, and a caboose. You'll notice we got it out the day after the tree got decorated; last year we set it up before the tree got decorated, and on January 1st, while we were watching the Rose Parade on TV, my eldest son asked, "Mom, can we decorate the tree today?" Jane was just beginning her third trimester as Christmas approached, and neither of us were sleeping well in consequence, and what with the kids napping at various times and overall fatigue, we somehow never found a time to get the whole family together to decorate the tree. And after the kids were in bed, we were either too tired or occupied with other needful things. So we're doing better this year--let's hope it continues.

Update: I've just done a Google on "santana wind" and found a whole bunch of people who claim that they are named that because the Mexican inhabitants of Southern California call these hot dry winds the "devil winds", "santana" being the Spanish word for Satan. Except that it isn't; that would be "satana". Quite a few of these folks talk about how when they first came to Southern California in the '50's or when they were growing up in the '70's everyone knew they were the "santana" winds, but then the network newscasters, idiots that they are, screwed it up by calling them the "Santa Ana" winds. The trouble with that argument is that my father, who was born here in Southern California in 1926, grew up calling them the Santa Ana winds. On another site I see this:

The origin and even the original spelling of the terms for these winds are unclear, and during the past century both Santa Ana and Santana winds have been used. The term "Santana winds'' is said to have originated in Spanish California when the hot dry winds were called "devil winds.'' Other sources credit the persistence and ferocity of these winds through the Santa Ana Canyon in Orange County as the reason for their being called Santa Anas. A third reasoning has an Associated Press correspondent mistakenly identifying Santana winds as Santa Ana winds in a 1901 dispatch.

Whatever the origin, native Angelenos have been calling them Santa Ana winds for at least a century; that's good enough for me. 

Posted by Will Duquette at December 19, 2004 09:38 PM

Craig Clarke said:

Maybe they're called that because they're hot like the guitar licks of Carlos Santana...

Will Duquette said:

Yeah, there's one in every crowd.....

Craig Clarke said:

If there's an opportunity for a pun, I'll find it.