As the weather in the Santa Clarita Valley begins to cool, even if only slightly, and Thanksgiving fast approaches, it’s time to get in the holiday spirit.
Every year, the holidays bring with them a time for cheer, family and traditions, and whether big or small, each is an important way to get into the spirit of the season.
Some of the SCV’s leaders got a bit nostalgic, fondly recalling some of their favorite traditions and memories, sharing them with us to get us all in the holiday mood:
Santa Clarita Mayor Bill Miranda
Miranda grew up living in New York City, and as a child, remembers the family Thanksgiving dinner, which was always held at his aunt Cuqui and uncle Pedro’s apartment in Midtown Manhattan.
“It was truly a family affair every year,” he said, as family members congregated there from all over, both near and fear.
“One year, no longer a boy and then an airman in the Air Force stationed in the remote area of Northern Maine, my parents told me not to worry about traveling so far in such inclement weather to be with them,” Miranda recalled.
Even so, Miranda was determined to continue the family tradition, looking forward to Pedro’s turkey, Cuqui’s trimmings, Mami’s pasteles (tamales) and Carmen’s (store-bought) desserts, as he set out in the early morning hours, driving 12 hours to Pedro’s apartment.
Miranda arrived just in time to surprise everybody and sit down for the start of the meal, and “Mami gave me a humongous hug and whispered in my ear, ‘I knew you would come. I know my son.’”
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the SCV
For Barger, one of her favorite Thanksgiving Day memories is of her father preparing his famous “turducken” for the family feast.
“It was the one day of the year when he took the reins from my mother in the kitchen, and he definitely made his mark when it was his turn,” Barger said.
For those who don’t know what a turducken is, it’s a “culinary innovation from the South,” Barger said, noting that the word itself combines turkey, duck and chicken, which is exactly what it is: a turkey stuffed with a duck, then stuffed with a chicken.
“I loved watching my father prepare it,” Barger added. “I can distinctly recall the rich herb and spice scents coming from the kitchen that would waft throughout the rest of our home. And of course, there was always that first bite — I remember it was a bit salty, almost a barbecue flavor.”
Everyone in Barger’s family looked forward to the yearly turducken meal, and “it was and still is unforgettable,” she said.
State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita
Wilk recalled a time he was invited to the family home of his now-wife Vanessa in Palm Desert for the holidays when they’d just recently begun dating.
“I’m looking for the mashed potatoes, and there are none because they serve rice pilaf instead,” Wilk said of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner meal. “I was outraged.”
“Where’s the mashed potatoes?” he recalled asking her. “How could you not have mashed potatoes?”
It was then that Wilk learned that in Vanessa’s home, rice pilaf was a Thanksgiving tradition, and years later, the tradition has continued with Wilk and his family, who now also serve rice pilaf instead of mashed potatoes.
“Now I don’t even miss them,” Wilk said, noting that he looks forward to the rice pilaf every year. “I’m ABC: Armenian by choice.”
Santa Clarita Councilwoman Laurene Weste
For Weste, it’s the tremendous sense of community that she treasures each holiday season.
From the Christmas tree lighting on Main Street in Newhall, the Boys and Girls Club’s Festival of Trees or a “Nutcracker” performance, it’s those special annual community traditions that help to start the season for Weste.
“Watching people just enjoy the beauty of the lights and decorations and the camaraderie, it’s just an incredible experience,” Weste said. “It’s an incredibly close-knit community, especially during the holidays. And if somebody has a talent, they’re sharing it.”
Each year, Weste enjoys Thanksgiving meals, not just with family, but also the community, whether it be for church or through a city-sponsored event.
And while Santa Clarita has continued to grow, its community feel has not been lost, Weste noted.
“It’s way bigger than when I was younger, but it’s still loving, giving, close, helpful, charitable — all those things and more,” Weste added. “We are so blessed that we are so unique in where we are and who we are, and I’m just grateful.”
Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita
Garcia always looks forward to simply getting to spend quality time with his family on Thanksgiving, he said.
“I’ll also be remembering my grandma who passed away last year,” Garcia said of this year’s holiday season.
Santa Clarita Councilman Jason Gibbs
For Gibbs, the holiday season often awakens some of his fondest and most treasured memories, as it was the one time during the year when the world just slowed down and his family would gather together for the holiday meal, especially the after-dinner conversation where his best memories of the family were made.
“Everyone just naturally took turns telling jokes, or better yet, hearing stories from the adults talking about funny events and situations they all shared growing up together,” Gibbs said. “Filled to the brim with pie and turkey, I will always remember tears pouring down people’s faces from all the laughter and happiness we shared together. This is exactly what the holidays were meant to be about.”
While the years have passed and though the flavor or feel of some of those traditional holiday dishes may never be the same, the Gibbs family still manages to keep these traditions alive, as “the stories, the memories and the jokes still find their way to the family dinner table each year.”
“May you all find reason to give thanks this holiday season, cherish those that you love and think fondly of those you have lost,” Gibbs added. “From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.”
Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, R-Santa Clarita
Other than being with family, the best part of Valladares’ Thanksgiving Day was her mom’s stuffing, which she called “perfection.”
“While it was a little heavier than normal stuffing and a bit dense, it had just the right amount of fluffiness,” she said. “My mom used my Nana’s recipe which included a mixture of a few different meats — you didn’t think I’d give away my mom’s secret did you?”
Every year, Valladares would sneak a serving — or two or three — in a Ziploc bag to freeze and eat randomly over the following months.
Though her mother died, she left a handwritten recipe for the stuffing, and Valladares has tried year after year to replicate it.
“I’m looking forward to attempting to get it right this year, and even if I don’t, I’m thankful for the memories my mom gave me and that her recipe will keep her alive at Thanksgiving dinner, not just for me and my family, but especially for my daughter,” Valladares added. “If I can keep her memory alive in my daughter’s eyes, that’s the best Thanksgiving I could hope for. I hope that every individual finds similar blessings to be thankful for this year.”
Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale
Like most, Lackey said his favorite thing about Thanksgiving and what he’s most thankful for is his family, which he called his “most prized possession.”
“That’s an opportunity that we’ve always taken to get together, even when I was working shift work for the Highway Patrol, it was always a priority to meet,” Lackey said. “We get a chance to just celebrate and be happy together for one day.”
Lackey said he’s lucky that his second wife and ex-wife are all on good terms, allowing the families to gather all together through the holidays, and as his children have grown up, their lives have gotten busier, so the holidays present a chance to reunite and enjoy each other’s company.
“We just gather together and enjoy (our) visit with laughter, and it’s just a very happy time with no drama,” he added. “I feel very fortunate that throughout my life, Thanksgivings have always been positive, and I know that’s not the case with a lot of people, but I’m thankful for that… There’s nothing better than just being with those you love.”