An Annual Holiday Event in Hermosa Sparks Cheerful Memories for Our Contributor

It’s a wonderful celebration.

  • Category
    Homes, People
  • Written by
    Scott Sanford Tobis
  • Illustrated by
    Nikki Smith

When I was a child, the gloriously sentimental It’s a Wonderful Life was mandatory Christmas viewing for my family. Watching George Bailey, played by the inimitable Jimmy Stewart, slowly realize the value of friendship and the beauty of his hometown of Bedford Falls under the guidance of his guardian angel, Clarence, is embedded in my soul. For years, every time I heard a bell, I was reminded of the guardian angel’s quest for his wings.

Over the years, my perception of the holidays tended to shift to the dark, melancholy celebration of James Joyce’s “The Dead” over such a sentimental classic. Rumination versus celebration was the order of the day. That all changed with the arrival of a particular bundle of joy 18 years ago, combined with the light that comes from the holiday season.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the aforementioned bundle-turned-elementary-school-aged son and I had the distinct pleasure of stumbling onto an extraordinary sight—not fictional this time, but in real life. While walking on The Strand toward Hermosa with my young son, I was expecting to see the massive Christmas tree erected at the base of the pier. I was greatly surprised to also find a giant menorah celebrating Hanukkah, which had started a few nights before.

With the notion of America being a melting pot feeling like a distant memory, it was heartening to see representations of different religions in the same place. It seemed more than appropriate for the holiday season. The two symbols of the holidays were a joy to behold.

Out of curiosity, I took a shallow dive into the history of the local holiday event. It turns out, the tree-lighting celebration started as an ad hoc (and surreptitious) stringing together of Christmas lights plugged into the outlets of the old and sorely missed bar The Mermaid almost 50 years ago. This is according to Rick Koenig, the unofficial mayor of Hermosa, whose family’s roots here date back to the late 19th century … so one tends to trust his anecdotes.

Eventually, the city embraced the notion of a more traditional tree lighting, and it became an official event. Thousands of people line up every year for the lighting, children’s activities and holiday treats. The Holiday Open House and Tree Lighting Ceremony went virtual last year, but fortunately they were in person again this year for South Bay residents to soak in the holiday spirit.

While the menorah has been located in different parts of the South Bay for years, it only landed at the pier seven or eight years ago. According to Rabbi Yossi Mintz of the Jewish Community Center of the South Bay, various locals eagerly donated funds to make it possible to place the symbol in such a prime location.

Hanukkah starts on November 28 this year. In other words, just one week after the Christmas tree is lit, the menorah joins in on the holiday fun. I hope many others will react with the same level of surprise and joy that was on my son’s face as he gazed up at both the massive tree and the menorah all those years ago.