When Dennis and I started dating in 2003, Balboa Park was a central place for us. We ran through the park several nights a week, strolled through the park on weekends, and that December went to our first Christmas on the Prado together. That first visit began a beloved family tradition. Just thinking of “Christmas on the Prado” puts a smile on my face!
This event (which is now formally called “Balboa Park December Nights” to be politically correct) is a two-day holiday festival held in Balboa Park on the first Friday and Saturday of December. Over 300,000 people attend the event. It’s BIG! The museums are all open, free of charge from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. each night, the International Houses are open and many sell food from their country, Santa can be found in several museums, there’s a full carnival in one section of the park, and the artists in the Spanish Village are all lit up and welcoming.
In the early years of our relationship, we’d walk from our downtown apartment on Friday evening. We started the night with split pea soup from the Swedish booth. That tradition lasted about 5-6 years, until they discontinued the pea soup. That was a sad moment.
When we moved to Hillcrest, the park was still walking distance for us. The year I was pregnant with Sienna (very pregnant, her birthday is January 2nd!) I recall is was rainy and also my mom’s first Christmas on the Prado. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
For San Diegans, this is the one time of year we actually need a wool sweater, scarf, gloves, a winter jacket, and a warm hat. We love bundling up to face the elements, when we know it’s going to be in the mid 50s by the end of the night. We’re of tough stock in Southern California.
The highlight of the event, is held at the Organ Pavilion. Around 8:30 p.m. the Del Cerro Baptist Church performs “The Living Christmas Tree” – a musical performance that tells the story of Christ’s birth. This huge Christmas Tree on stage opens up to display scenes from the nativity. It’s awesome.
For the first time this year, we listened to some of the other choir performances in the afternoon. The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir performed several gospel style Christmas songs. The Director gave a little history of how negro spirituals were also coded songs that slaves sang to exchange information. The “promised land” was a metaphor for freedom, the Jordan River referred to the Mississippi. This lesson reframed the songs we were hearing. One amazing woman sang “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” a capella. When it was done Dennis and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes. It was stunningly beautiful.
This past weekend was mine and Dennis’s 12th year of attending this event together. Now that we live in the suburbs, we have to make a whole day out of Christmas on the Prado. We drive down to park close so we don’t have to deal with the shuttle or traffic. This year we arrived at 11:00 a.m., which makes for a long day, but it’s worth it.
It’s become a cherished tradition. Sienna and Mateo know that this is going to be part of our Christmas celebration each year; I hope they come to look forward to it as much as I do!