A California Family’s Holiday Tradition: Handing Out Christmas Meals

7 months ago 182

California Today

A ritual dating backmost much than 2 decades has persisted done times of joyousness and tragedy.

Soumya Karlamangla

Dec. 23, 2021, 8:57 a.m. ET


Christmas luncheon  astatine  the Midnight Mission successful  Los Angeles past  year.
Credit...Mario Tama/Getty Images

Many years ago, erstwhile their children were inactive young, Ben and Vanessa Benya adopted a somewhat unconventional vacation tradition.

The mates had noticed that Hunter, past 8, and Phoebe, 5, were crafting long, elaborate lists of toys they wanted for Christmas.

The household lived successful the privileged “surf bubble” of Manhattan Beach, truthful the precocious expectations weren’t wholly surprising, Vanessa told me. But she felt acrophobic nonetheless.

Around the aforesaid time, Ben heard astir a religion radical that handed retired sandwiches astatine a section parkland connected the past Saturday of the month, which, that year, fell connected Christmas Day. The Benyas weren’t portion of the religion but decided to articulation in.

On Christmas Eve of 1999, the foursome made turkey sandwiches and packed them successful brownish insubstantial bags on with candy and fruit. The adjacent morning, earlier a azygous contiguous was unwrapped, they piled into their car and headed to a parkland successful Santa Monica that supported unhoused residents.

Vanessa said she initially felt immoderate anxiousness that passing retired the lunches benefited her household much than really helping people. But betwixt benignant interactions with parkland residents and the information that nary meals were near over, she felt satisfied by the tiny gesture.

“We were enamored with it and thought that it was truly specified a bully idea,” Vanessa, 63, said. “And truthful we kept doing it.”

The Benyas’ communicative doesn’t extremity there. When Vanessa emailed maine successful effect to my query astir Golden State vacation traditions, I was struck by 2 things: her family’s ritual and however it has morphed and endured done times of tragedy.

I’ll fto Vanessa instrumentality it from here:

“Our contented has continued for 20 Christmases and the series ne'er wavers: get up, load the lunches, don the Santa hats, queue the euphony and go. Hunter and Phoebe added their ain flair on the mode including large Christmas euphony and frothy vacation drinks.

Some years, we’d beg friends to travel by to assistance marque sandwiches connected Christmas Eve. We’ve had boon years and been capable to adhd socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste and adjacent travel-size shampoo to the luncheon bags.

Sometimes, we’ve asked friends to driblet disconnected other sweatshirts, fleeces, pullovers and long-sleeved shirts to adhd to the giveaway bounty. Once, we had paperback books to share. They were a immense hit. We brought galore friends retired with america implicit the years, to stock successful a elemental enactment of giving.

This volition beryllium the 4th twelvemonth that we’ll marque lunches connected Christmas Eve with our friends and without Hunter. We mislaid Hunter successful 2018 and weren’t definite that we could proceed without him. Our grief was crushing.

As lone beloved friends tin do, ours stepped successful and invited america to their location that Christmas Eve, with their present grown-up children, friends of some Hunter and Phoebe, to marque the Christmas lunches.

There is nary fanfare with our routine. It’s conscionable what we bash 1 greeting successful December.

It’s truthful casual to assistance others with a elemental gesture. It’s selfish, but we consciousness amended giving.”

For more:


Credit...Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
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  • Heir evident oregon afterthought? The frustrations of Kamala Harris.

  • Online classes: Seven University of California campuses volition power to online acquisition successful January arsenic fearfulness of an Omicron surge spreads, Inside Higher Ed reports.


  • Weather warning: Officials are informing that excessive rainfall connected Thursday could trigger floods successful parts of Riverside, San Diego, San Bernardino and Orange Counties.

  • Emergency housing: Los Angeles is racing to link unhoused radical surviving successful hotels with vouchers to assistance them find lodging earlier they are kicked retired adjacent year, The Los Angeles Times reports.




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Today’s question extremity comes from Alanya Navarro, who recommends visiting Anderson Valley successful Northern California:

“Turn disconnected 101 onto Highway 128 and thrust northwest done the beauteous valley, stopping astatine wineries on the way. In Boonville, I halt for a repast and a acold brew astatine Anderson Valley Brewing Company, and past proceed connected to camping astatine Hendy Woods State Park, wherever I camped each summertime increasing up.

We are truthful fortunate to unrecorded successful specified a beauteous authorities with specified a immense diverseness of landscapes.”

Tell america astir your favourite places to sojourn successful California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll beryllium sharing much successful upcoming editions of the newsletter.

The best cookbooks of 2021.

During your downtime this weekend, see watching this unthinkable 45-minute whirlwind done California’s 58 counties by the Sacramento tv newsman John Bartell.

It’s a fast-paced circuit of immoderate of the champion spots successful the Golden State and volition person you itching to program a post-pandemic roadworthy trip.

Thanks for reading. I won’t beryllium backmost until Monday due to the fact that of the holiday. Enjoy your weekend. — Soumya

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