Village Matters


The Importance of Horseradish

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

Did you get one of those fancy cars with the bow on top for Christmas? Or some of that kiss-worthy jewelry? Or a just-what-I-wanted video game adventure? To no one’s surprise none of these appeared either in my driveway or under my tree. Instead three white elephant gift exchanges resulted in a pair of binoculars, holiday guest towels and a candle.

The upside of white elephant gifting is that the pressure is off for shopping; you get to find, among all the wonderful things you already have, something that someone else would enjoy or at least enjoy opening.

Partly because of that it turned out to be one of the most relaxing and warm holiday seasons ever. It started out with the Laguna Beach hospitality night where we met friends unexpectedly and effortlessly. No invitations, checking calendars, agreeing on a place to mee; there they were. We talked about the most important things on our minds and then wandered on to see who else might be amongst the holiday crowd. Our tradition is to have an outdoor dinner at the White House where we can say hello to friends as they stroll by.

The Woman’s Club Tarnished Treasures luncheon is another favorite introduction to the holiday season. Special “high quality” second hand donations fill the tables and almost everyone turned some of these into their own treasures to purchase for (perhaps) giving away. The Club uses the funds generated toward providing gifts to families in need. Then there is a lovely luncheon with minimal speechmaking and much conversation with whoever happens to be at your table. Driving over I said to myself, “I wonder if I will see Penny King…” Without planning, there she was sitting next to me and we chatted about everything from how her house was saved from the Laguna fire to whether residents’ priorities are being well-addressed by the city.

Next was the South Laguna Community Garden Park holiday sing-along. Tom Joliet’s ukulele class strummed en masse while the Garden Band led the chorus of voices from gardeners and neighbors. Hollywood production designer Nelson Coates made a surprise appearance singing “Blue Christmas” and other holiday ballads. Ruben Flores and Willa Gupta danced. All smiled.

Probably the most stressful part of the holidays is preparing and mailing the Christmas letters. It was done—at the last minute. Then it was off to Reedley where we met Alfredo’s cousins. “I was so sorry to hear about your mom,” Berta sympathized. “How did you know about my mom?” I wondered. (She died in 2008 and we hadn’t seen these cousins for 20 years or more.) “From your Christmas letters, of course!” People really read and remember our letters? Amazing.

On to Sacramento for the northern California contingent of the Careaga family’s Christmas gathering. Five kids under 3 are balanced with retirees and all ages in between, over 20 people in all. Welcoming hugs, accepting conversations, laughter, catching up. Engagements, challenges, new jobs and schools; are the kids growing up okay? We decided they were. Soft beds, casual breakfasts, send-offs with cookies and advice for the road.


Over the Sierras to Fallon, Nev., east of Reno where the Christophs have a dairy farm. A candlelight service with traditional songs and readings inspired hints of the anticipation and emotions I had had as a child on Christmas Eve. There was talk of the Christmas dinner of prime rib, which had to be served with horseradish sauce. There was none to be had at the market on Christmas, so we added horseradish mustard and grated daikon radishes to the whipped cream. Not quite enough bite, but it was the effort that counted. Solving this small horseradish problem was a welcome challenge compared to “normal life.”

For two weeks there was no nightly news, no awareness of tweets from the president, no new irresponsible dictums coming from Washington, no meetings at City Hall, no clients calling, no worries that something was happening while I was away. I knew that everyone else was escaping the same as I was.

Now this week there will be the calls of “It’s been weeks now since we asked you for that plan. What have you been doing?”

“Being in the holiday spirit,” I answer, which I wish could last all year long.



Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and city council member. She has been a community volunteer since 1971, and is involved with Village Laguna and South Laguna Civic Association among others.












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