Prentis [Cobb Hale] and I were together for 27 years. I still remember: We spent two Christmases and three New Year’s Eves with other people. Otherwise, he and I were always alone — in our apartment in San Francisco or our ranch in Sonoma. Certain people need people. Prentis and I did not. Our life was just he and I, and our German shepherds at the time. After Prentis died — this February, it was 25 years — no Christmas. When he was alive, Christmas meant everything. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have someone you really love. Because it’s just not the same. It was very hard the first few years, to suddenly … being so close to someone, and they’re gone.
— Denise Hale, philanthropist
The annual viewing of Home Alone is one of our favorite traditions. Even though Elora is too little to understand — and for screen time in general — we can’t wait to show her the antics of Kevin McCallister. Last Christmas, when I was pregnant with her and she was tumbling in my belly, we referred to her as the “Kenosha Kicker” — a nod to John Candy’s polka band in the movie.”
— Event planner Jenna Lam and her husband, pediatrician and ABC News special correspondent Dr. Alok Patel
Going to a dim sum lunch in San Francisco’s Chinatown with my family on Christmas Day.”
— Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds cofounder and co-CEO
For 10 years while we were growing up in the ’60s — in between a divorce out of a young and ill-advised marriage into a happy, fun and smart new marriage — Mom was a single mother bringing up her two kids and making her own rules. To make sure that we did not feel left out, she celebrated a combination of Hanukkah and Christmas by creating a celebration that began on Christmas and lasted for eight days and nights. Now, in my immediate family, we continue a version of this tradition, which I have gleefully dubbed “Chronica.” Similarly, I started a Passover-Easter tradition that we call “Peace-ster.”
— Mindy Lehrman Cameron, daughter of former Nob Hill Gazette publisher-owner Lois Lehrman
We were raised Fake Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fake J-Dubs are the heretics of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, of door-to-door-spreading-the-good-news fame. My mother and grandmother were ardent Fake J-Dub adherents. This meant that we were Jehovah’s Witnesses for birthdays and holidays, because Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t celebrate birthdays or holidays, and they would not have to spend money on frivolous gifts that one of us would break within a day. We were not, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses when my mother wanted to take a Greyhound party bus to Reno and gamble. And we were definitely not Jehovah’s Witnesses when my grandmother wanted a boyfriend — usually another woman’s husband. But there was and is still tradition.
Even though my mom and my grandmother are both gone now, my family’s ability to not get up in the consumerism of birthdays and holidays persists. We jokingly blame Jehovah when we forget birthdays. We once tried to do a Secret Santa gift exchange that had a $5 limit, and all gifts could only come from the corner liquor store near where each of us lived. When we gathered, hilarity ensued. Pickles, warm 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor, pork rinds and apple Now and Laters filled the house along with the scent of pine tree-shaped car air fresheners. The tradition that remains is storytelling. The tradition that remains is taking the La-di-da out of Fa-lala- la. The tradition that remains is joy, and gathering, and choice over obligation — to be family still.
— Marvin K. White, Minister of Celebration at Glide Memorial Church
The one tradition that I keep for all holidays is to cook something special for special friends and family. Having grown up on a pear farm [in the Sacramento Delta] and with family still in the industry, pear tarts and pies are my specialty. I have many images of them on my Instagram feed @paulvincentwiseman. Pears refrigerate very well and for a long time, so they are often available at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I also have a world-class stash of Christmas decorations, which I cannot cook or eat, so they remain permanently in deep storage.
— Paul Vincent Wiseman, interior designer and founder of The Wiseman Group
My favorite holiday tradition is putting up the tree together. It always makes it seem like that’s when the magic happens. We always open a “gift” Christmas Eve, involving cozy socks and matching jammies, and wake up Christmas morning to the smell of breakfast that has been cooking all night in the crockpot. Plus, cinnamon waffles are always a Christmas morning staple, and just being together.
— Stacey Brenner, owner of The Beauty Resort and mom to 15-year-old Elli
One tradition is making dumplings by hand, from scratch, with my family. There is a great bonding moment as we stuff the handmade wrappers with fillings and chat. Of course, there is a running joke about who makes the finest dumplings, as there is some skill and dexterity involved. We then get to eat the fruits of our labor with homemade dipping sauce. We also hide a single nut in one dumpling for a lucky winner who receives it, not unlike the galette des rois tradition in France.
— Lan Jaenicke, fashion designer
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that one of my favorite holiday traditions is charitable giving! When my son was younger, he and I used to set aside time during every holiday season to discuss the organizations we wanted to support together as a family that year. It was a wonderful way to involve him in philanthropy and to teach him about generously supporting the causes he cares about, something that he continues to practice as a young adult. Spreading the spirit of giving brings me so much joy — have you seen what I do for a living? — and I love dialing up that zeal during this time of year. And, of course, my holidays would not be complete without Jamaican black rum cake!
— Nicole Taylor, president and CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation
The Sue Fisher King Employee Crab Feed at my house in December. We have been doing it at least 20 years. I prepare by telephoning Swan’s and ordering the crab; selling some Apple stock to pay for it; and last but not least, removing tons of papers from my 9-foot dining table to accommodate about 10 people.
— Sue Fisher King, whose eponymous decor and gifts shop opened in San Francisco in 1978
For me the holidays are all about family and tradition — I carve out time for a long trail ride and a campfire cookout with my kids. I’m from South Louisiana, so I make a duck and turkey andouille gumbo — paired with a favorite Marin County Pinot by Kendric. It just tastes like Christmas.