Join These Locals On a Walk Down Holiday Memory Lane

illustration of holiday set up

“I had just finished a year of study in France working on and receiving a Master Chef diploma, and I arrived back home in early November just in time for Thanksgiving. I was so jazzed about the holidays and all of my new cooking skills that I invited 12 of my favorite friends and family members for Thanksgiving dinner in hopes of wowing them. I pulled out all the stops and cooked for days, but I was most excited about the roasted butternut squash ravioli, drizzled with brown butter, and sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts and crisp sage. And my guests were so excited about them also, so excited that they ate so many ravioli — some even indulged in seconds — that no one ate the roast turkey, chestnut stuffing, mashed olive-oil potatoes, roasted vegetables, spiced cranberry sauce and homemade pies! Let’s put it this way, I had a lot of leftovers that day, and I was smart enough never to serve pasta as a first course on Thanksgiving again.”
—JOANNE WEIR, chef, managing partner at Copita, PBS TV host

“It was my first Thanksgiving after being married and we offered to host both sets of relatives in our new home. It was the first time I’d ever made a full Thanksgiving dinner and I had been planning for a month and cooking for days. The table was set perfectly, the food was laid out beautifully to ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. Just as we all sat down at the table a transformer blew and every light on our street and in the neighborhood went out. I ran around gathering and lighting every candle I had. Surrounded by candlelight everything was so beautiful and we were able to really focus on what was important, our good fortune of all being together. Each person individually called me in the days following telling me it was the best Thanksgiving they had ever had. Success!” 
—HEATHER HARDCASTLE, chef and founder, Flour Craft Bakery

“When I was a little girl, as we were opening presents on Christmas Eve with our immediate family, my father would ask us a series of questions. Some of the questions included, ‘What are you thankful for? What do you hope to get for Christmas?’ Among the seven of us in our family, we would fight over the microphone. But the best part was that we all listened to what we each wanted the previous year. Which always made us laugh about how we each changed and grew.”  
—KARA GOLDIN, founder and CEO, Hint Inc.

“Every year in December and leading up to Christmas Day, the elf on the shelf comes to visit us. The elf flies around from spot to spot and sometimes settles in some very unique locations, but usually he likes to land in places that are high up. One day, the elf decided to land in a spot that was at eye level and one of my boys asked, ‘Mom, why does the elf on the shelf have a bar code attached to it?’ ” 
—CAROLINE PACULA, fine art photographer, Caroline Pacula Prints

“I didn’t expect I’d end up having a large holiday feast when I booked a trip to India over Thanksgiving to see a friend. I brought a can of pumpkin puree, though, just in case. But as my friend waited for me at the airport, she met a stranger-turned-friend who then invited us to his sister’s wedding a few days later — on Thanksgiving! And so a large feast we had, filled with pav bhaji, pakora and savory samosas, as well as Indian families who welcomed us warmly. And, of course, an unopened can of pumpkin puree.”
—ERIN RIDLEY, PRMRY Extra Virgin Olive Oil co-founder

“Our Christmas dinners were chaos. A jovial mix of family and friends where holiday traditions were played loose. One particular Christmas, my Aunt Mollie, then 95 years old, insisted on contributing to the dining table. How could my mother exclude her? Papyrus records show families going to war for less. Thus, Mollie prepared mashed potatoes. She arrived with her CorningWare filled. My mother took the offering and asked about the pepper. ‘Pepper?’ Mollie questioned. ‘I didn’t use pepper.” My mother stared blankly into the bowl. Black flakes, like sprinkles on a doughnut. If not pepper, then what? She pushed the bowl into my hands — do something. To this day, my stumble and the explosion of mashed potatoes across the floor remains a family legend.”
—MITCHELL SAM ROSSI, writer

“My father-in-law was an avid game hunter. He and my mother-in-law returned from an otherwise unsuccessful trip with his first snow goose, which had flown over them just as they were packing up. He asked me to cook it for him. He was more of a father to me than my biological one, and I wanted to make it memorable. I served the breasts seared on fresh greens, made confit from the legs as an appetizer, created a sweet potato hash, and roasted the bones for a consommé. He talked about that holiday meal for the rest of his life.” 
—THANE KREINER, Marin Agriculture Land Trust CEO

“Growing up in a multicultural family, my favorite holiday tradition was each Christmas Eve day when the Mexican-American side of my family gathered for a ‘tamalada,’ a tamale-making party. I loved this family gathering so much that I featured it in my latest children’s picture book May Your Life be Delisioso (Cameron Kids/Abrams). In this story Abuela shows her granddaughter, Rosie, how to make tamales and also imparts some wishes about how to have a delicious life. This tradition is all about family, storytelling, heritage, and of course, the joy of feasting on those delicious tamales!”
—MICHAEL GENHART, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and picture book author

At the time I was living in a VW van during a one-year surf trip across Australia with my best friend from college. I was surfing on Christmas Eve at Cactus Beach — some of the sharkiest waters in South Australia — catching some of the best waves of my life. The waves got big really quick, and I took a nosedive onto the reef, which cut my foot down to the bone. I ended up in the hospital because I had a staph infection with a red line going up my leg and spent Christmas Day hooked up to an IV. I am thankful I didn’t lose my foot and grateful to be alive.” 
—MIKE RALLS, founder and CEO, Addictive Coffee Roasters

“As a founding member/keyboardist of the groove band Vinyl (formed in Mill Valley in ’95), we had the great honor of playing the original Sweetwater on Throckmorton Avenue many times over. Our annual “Black Wed” party the night before Thanksgiving became a tradition (now 25 years running) as did Vinyl Sweetwater shows on New Year’s Eve. In 2005 we were booked on NYE at Sweetwater but first played a December 30 show in Reno. The next morning we woke up to a major storm — Interstate 80 was closed and, as we crammed in our breakfast, we realized we were screwed. We started out at 9 a.m. by driving south, but immediately encountered flooding and detoured East through Virginia City. We were now two hours farther away from our destination. Somehow, we made it to Lake Tahoe as they closed Highway 50 behind us. With chains on we crawled around the unplowed lake roads. I remember that at some point the road cleared and we actually got a speeding ticket! We finally made it to the 101 around 9:30 p.m. I think we got to Sweetwater at 10:45 p.m. We loaded in as fast as possible, played a few songs and went right into the NYE countdown. We ended up having a great show — the crowd was pumped. The power went out just as we finished. It was one of the craziest travel days ever — a 13-and-a-half-hour drive. We had never been so glad to make it to a gig or to be back home in Marin.”
—JONATHAN KORTY, musician/producer/fisherman-at-large

“One of my happiest holiday experiences was New Year’s Eve the night of the millennium. I was pregnant with my second child. We gathered with friends and family on a snowy night at my husband’s tiny family cabin deep in the forest near Big Sky, Montana, playing games and singing songs around a roaring outdoor fire while giant snowflakes fell. Being in the quiet but formidable presence of Mother Nature in winter, surrounded by loved ones, was the perfect way to welcome a new century.” 
—MERRIAM SAUNDERS, LMFT, psychotherapist and author

“I had just graduated from San Jose State in 1987 and I landed a job working for a tech company in Redwood City. It was Christmastime so my mother prepared a leftover lunch. And it wasn’t any ordinary PB&J American lunch. This was as ethnic an Italian Christmas specialty as anyone could ever find. It’s called baccala, which is a salted cured codfish, reconstituted overnight with water and baked in tomato sauce with garlic and onions. When warmed up, this meal has just the right elements you’d need to clear a building within minutes. And, warmed in the company kitchen microwave, it was more like a sarin gas release in a subway. Suffice it to say the fish stench permeated the entire building and my colleagues acted as if anthrax was just released. From then on, a new policy was implemented, ‘No funky leftovers allowed in the kitchen!’ I somehow escaped the blame.”
—FRANK POLLIFRONE, chief marketing officer and co-founder, The Record Factory, Sausalito

“Some of the happiest holiday memories occurred on our farm at our grandparents’ home. All of the family members would arrive from near and far, and the cousins would have an absolute blast together. We had a special kids’ table where all of the children ate on the side porch and we’d hatch a plan to scare the parents or the oldest cousins, which was never successful. Later, we’d play outside with the ranch dogs, take turns riding the horses, and get chased by my grandma’s chickens. Our parents would exchange the latest stories about their kids and we’d end the evening with lots of family pictures. I remember one year my sister, Jacque, prepared a beautiful vegan dessert for Christmas and our family drove to our relatives’ home that evening. Unfortunately, when we arrived someone forgot to close the car door (likely due to the excitement of seeing everyone). When we noticed the car door was open an hour later, we went back out to find the family dog had devoured the vegan tart that was also forgotten in the car. My sister was not too pleased, but hey, at least we knew it was a tasty dessert!” 
—ELAINE TAYLOR, co-founder of Le Prunier 

“One year, all of the kids wanted to help trim the tree. Unfortunately, I prefer glass ornaments and the little ones dropped and broke about 40 percent of them. But the kids were adorable regardless. Another year, the dogs got overly excited and knocked the Christmas tree over, taking out like 10 percent more of the ornaments. Luckily, I also enjoy ornament shopping and have been gifted many ornaments since.” 
—ALLISON TRYK, Floramye founder

In December 2020, our nonprofit announced that if we exceeded our year-end fundraising goal, I’d wear a grape costume at our farmers markets. And we did! After a difficult year, it was fun to make people smile around the holidays at my own expense when I wished everyone a ‘Grape New Year’! ”
—ANDY NAJA-RIESE, CEO, Agricultural Institute of Marin