Local Holiday Traditions

Beloved Christmas traditions come alive with the help of business owners and benevolent volunteers.

The winds of change have brought fallen autumnal leaves down to a carpet of yellows, oranges, and browns, with the crunch of the season under our boots. We rarely see it happen-- seemingly overnight –that the decorations appear from out of nowhere, our eyes flickering with delight and amazement, and we know the holiday season is here. In Southern California winter fashion, seasonal celebrations are not paired with snow, but with the familiar aroma of pumpkin spice mingled with music coming from unseen speakers, and sparkling lights twirled up tall trees along our city streets.

Some special local holiday traditions are made possible because a special group of humans choose to give their time and money for the joy and celebration of others. Like admiring a special ornament that brings back the memory of the giver, we’re pulling back the curtain on the folks who make those holiday celebrations extra special.

Holiday on Main Street

Main Street, Yorba Linda, the original downtown, has been home to the Holiday on Main Street celebration for 30 years. Although the event has grown over the years, some traditions have stayed the same such as free pictures with a live Santa, food and beverages, entertainment provided by local dance and Scout troops, and merchants invite patrons inside for warmth and hospitality. There once even a hill of real snow in the parking lot now occupied by a section of the Town Center. “In 30 years, we have never cancelled the event,” says Marsha Dolbow. “One year, we had high winds which proved to be rather challenging, and one year we have to move it to Olinda Street due to construction, but the show always goes on.”

Marsha Dolbow, owner of Yorba Linda Travel, has been a primary decorator and organizer of Holiday on Main Street for three decades but has had a bounty of help from other merchants. The decorating is done in two stages. “On one day we decorate the light poles and light up more trees. The real big part is where Santa and the nativity gets set up,” said Dolbow, “and that doesn’t happen until the morning on the day of the event.”

Dale Madsen of State Farm Insurance is a key behind-the-scenes organizer as well as Yener Szabo of JSR Jewelry, Scott Miller & Co. of Legacy Toys, Sally Hicks, who passed away earlier this year, and Gabriella Rollins of the Yorba Linda Arts Alliance. Inspired Vibe Events was hired as event coordinator three years ago to help the merchants organize the increasing volume of vendors and activities, but the street has always been physically decorated by the business owners.

Eastlake Holiday of Lights Boat Parade and Adopt a Family for Christmas

This year marks the 32nd annual Holiday of Lights Eastlake Boat Parade, a holiday tradition that began in the minds and hearts of Bridget and Eddie Blehm of Eastlake Village. In the early years of the boat parade, Bridget realized that having beautiful holiday entertainment that could draw the community together would help increase participation and donations to charities such as Blankets for the Homeless, Meals on Wheels, and Adopt a Military Family for Christmas.

The residents of Eastlake Village, parade participants, and other volunteers help raise funds for her charity, For Families of Active Military. Each November, Bridget and an army of volunteers gather at the Eastlake Clubhouse to pack lunch boxes, gift baskets, and prepare a feast for the soldiers who are bussed in for the occasion. Just after Thanksgiving a tree appears in the Eastlake clubhouse with names and gift wishes on them for Adopt a Military Family for Christmas. Secret Santa shoppers take the tags and purchase the gift items and return them to the clubhouse. By early December, they are ready for wrapping and delivery at a special luncheon for the military families at Fort Irwin near Barstow and Camp Pendleton in Oceanside.

Santa Benny Preston

Recuperating in a Cardiac Rehab Center in 2002, Benny Preston met another patient who was a real-bearded Santa who said that given a red suit and boots he would make a very authentic looking Santa Claus. Preston, a self-described introvert and often grumpy man back in those days, took the comment to heart and reinvented himself with the qualities of a Santa Claus as a more cheerful and outgoing man.

Off season, Benny worked for Auto Zone in Yorba Linda making red truck deliveries decorated with antlers and a license plate that openly revealed his identity: MYSLIEH. Looking much like a cool summer Santa for most of the year, he often donned a red shirt and Bermuda shorts, and with a twinkle in his eye above the ever-present beard he caught attention even from far across the street. “I hear them honk and yell, ‘Santa!’ so I always turn to wave and smile,” says Preston. “Even if I can’t see them exactly, I always turn around to let them know I hear them.”

As if by clockwork and the strike of December, Santa’s schedule books up with local stops at Faith Community Church, D & J Custom Crafts, Stefano's Golden Baked Hams, and My Gym Yorba Linda for photos and socializing. One year he was called on the afternoon of Christmas Eve while still “in suit” driving home from another event to help one family deliver presents to another family with young children in need of Christmas cheer. Benny showed up to deliver presents that were bought and wrapped with every dollar of the husband’s year-end bonus, and made Christmas wishes come true. 

The Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, of which Benny Preston is a member, endeavors to enhance the Spirit of Santa, spread joy, and serve children and the community as each of the people featured here have done. So, as the holiday season comes to its fullest we’d like to thank each and every one of those who make the holidays brighter for others.

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