There is nothing quite like a Christmas season in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The star is on top of the tree in the village of Solvang, which each holiday season is festooned with holiday finery. And the nights, oh, the nights. Lights everywhere you look.

There’s something about holiday lights that helps take a load off a person’s mood. Maybe it’s the kid in us who never truly disappears.

It helps that Solvang, its businesses and residents pretty much go all out at this time of year. Parades, tree lightings, the town filled with Christmas music, people walking amid the light displays, laughing, singing and enjoying life.

Perhaps that’s why Solvang has been named one of the nation’s premier places to spend the holiday season. It’s official, and there is no doubt about our town’s holiday cheer being richly deserved.

Solvang’s good cheer is infectious. Nearby towns have joined in, with light shows and special events throughout the days leading up to the Christmas/New Year celebrations.

But before we get overcome with glee about the fun we are all having, perhaps we should pause for a moment and consider what kind of holiday season the folks down the coast from us are having.

We are referring to the tens of thousands forced out of their homes by a series of wildfires stretching along the coast of Southern California.

The worst of the bunch — so far — has been the Thomas Fire, whipped by Santa Ana winds and moving through residential areas so quickly that people barely had time to grab the car keys and escape. Photographs and video of the devastation have almost become a blind spot for those not directly affected by such raging monstrosities.

But the terrible truth is, we are all affected in one way or another. We, and most Californians, live in a potential powder keg. And we’ve had our share of fire monsters here on the Central Coast.

Long-time residents of the South Coast will remember, with vivid detail, the Painted Cave Fire that swept down from San Marcos Pass, destroying hundreds of homes and killing a woman trapped by a wall of flames.

Mid-county residents will recall the Zaca Fire, started on a hot July 4 by workmen using a metal grinder. That one burned until almost October, scorching more than a quarter-million acres, mostly in the back-country wilderness.

This will turn out to be one of the worst fire years in California’s history, with the current blazes and the October conflagration that killed 42 people in Northern California’s wine country. And it’s obviously not over yet.

What the Thomas Fire and those monsters from the past tell us is that we’re only one lightning strike or carelessly-discarded cigarette butt or smoldering, unattended campfire from a full-on disaster.

Another red-flag warning is that such fires are raging in December, a month in which wildfires have usually not happened.

Maybe this is what Californians will have to come to expect. A changing climate brought us the hottest summer on record, and despite last winter’s rainfall, we still are on the cusp of severe drought conditions.

The weather has a habit of changing our plans, and that’s what we all need to prepare for. It’s a new climate paradigm, and while skeptics may question global warming, you can’t question what’s happening in California right now.

Part of the traditional holiday fun here in the Valley is the annual burning of Christmas trees behind the Mission. Maybe we need to re-examine that tradition.


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