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View of holiday lights in Balboa Park, California Tower in backgroundLast week, I barked about some of Balboa Park’s most beloved holiday traditions. We are creatures of habit, so it’s only natural we would flock to what’s familiar to mark the holidays. But even a bird brain would realize those traditions had to start at some point in time, when they were in fact new.

So I figured this would be as good a year as any to sniff out newer holiday activities in Balboa Park that may prove to be the most enduring ways future park visitors experience the park during the holidays.

Holiday Food Truck Festival — Plaza de Panama (Dec. 27–30, 4pm–8pm)

This first ever (dare I say “first annual”?) four-day food truck feeding frenzy will take advantage of the season’s dazzling holiday lights and decorations throughout the park to showcase live entertainment, kids activities, and more (details to come in a future blog post).

Holiday Starlight Stroll — Japanese Friendship Garden (through Dec. 31)

The Japanese Friendship Garden is digging back up this after-hours tradition that allows visitors to stroll through the garden under holiday lights and enjoy holiday-themed crafts and classes until 7pm each night. This tradition may be combined with the Holiday Food Truck Festival above.

Doggone Art Show — Spanish Village Art Center, Gallery 21 (Dec. 21–Jan. 2)

Okay, so this really doesn’t have anything to do with the holidays. But it is most definitely tradition-worthy. Why? Because in addition to honoring all canines, both wild and domestic, through the juried fine art works on display, proceeds from sales will benefit the Helen Woodward Animal Center.

Holiday Memories — San Diego Model Railroad Museum (through Jan. 9)

Train lovers can learn about holiday traditions from around the world and share their own memories as they explore a vintage holiday village train layout around a train-themed Christmas tree, complete with an operating Polar Express locomotive.

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December Nights rightfully gets top-dog billing as Balboa Park’s most beloved holiday tradition. But if there’s a “most,” then there must be a second, third, fourth most beloved holiday tradition in Balboa Park as well.

These traditions aren’t difficult to spot. If you’ve been around the park as long as I have, you know them by the fact they’ve been around longer than a dog’s age … and maybe even longer. Here is a shortlist of the family-friendliest ones:

The Nutcracker — Nothing barks “holidays” as loud as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Land of Sweets. Every year the talented pups of the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet present a fully staged performance of The Nutcracker that makes ballet fun for the whole pack. Performances run Dec. 9 through Dec. 18 at the historic Casa del Prado Theater.

Hord and Schlappi tree ornaments at Timken Museum of ArtHord and Schlappi Tree Ornament Display — For nearly 30 years, the Timken Museum of Art has somehow managed to keep all pets away from its exquisite tree display of handcrafted holiday ornaments, which are often compared to Fabergé eggs. Kids will love spotting exotic animals, San Diego landmarks, and whimsical creatures depicted by many of the ornaments.

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas — Now in its 19th year, the beloved annual theater production at the Old Globe is getting to the point where people who saw the first performances as pups will soon be bringing back their own kids, making this a true family tradition.

Puppet Theater Performances — Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater puts preschoolers center stage by treating them to professionally performed puppet shows like “The Merry Christmas Show,” “Cindy the Elf,” and “Benito Bunny’s Great Christmas Adventure.”

Organ Pavilion Holiday Sing Along — The last Sunday before Christmas Day (this year, Dec. 18) is traditionally when the free weekly 2pm concert in Spreckels Organ Pavilion is ground zero for crowdcaroling. But with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, families will get another chance to belt out favorite holiday tunes for the benefit of anyone within howling distance.

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Civic Dance Arts performance at Balboa Park December Nights 2015With Balboa Park December Nights approaching middle age (now 39 in human years), longtime residents who haven’t checked out the annual holiday extravaganza in a while may think it’s just the “same ol’ December Nights.”

Yes, December Nights still features all the traditional favorites, like the Del Cerro Baptist Church Christmas Story Tree; the Santa Lucia Procession; free museum admission each evening, as well as carolers, bell ringers, and colorful decorations throughout the park.

But along with these core elements that make December Nights one of the most popular holiday celebrations in the country, this “old dog” continues to add new tricks, giving millennials plenty of reasons to stop looking at their cell phone screens momentarily.

More than 75 Food Vendors Including Food Trucks!

If there’s anything people (and pooches) remember about December Nights, it’s the food! Not even counting the smorgasbord served up by the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, December Nights will host more than 75 food vendors. And yes, some of San Diego’s favorite food trucks will be along for the ride.

Music Festival Atmosphere

If 300,000 of your closest pack members don’t make you feel like you are at a major music festival, the four main stages and additional performances at various cultural institutions in the park will! Music styles range from holiday standards and swing to Japanese pop and Zydeco. Contemporary and world dance performances are also featured throughout the park.

Locally Sourced Shopping

A new Artisan Marketplace will join the Spanish Village Art Center and Balboa Park’s museum stores as a great place to purchase handcrafted jewelry, clothes and accessories, home décor, and fine art. Whether you are seeking that perfect piece of belly jewelry or a delicious-looking pumpkin spice sugar scrub, December Nights has you covered.

Special Deals for Lyft Users

Keeping with the times, December Nights now has an official rideshare service: Lyft. New Lyft users can get $5 off their first 10 rides with code BPDN50, and anyone can get a 20% discount for rides to or from Balboa Park on December 2–3, 2016, with code BPDN2016 (up to two rides, up to $5 off per ride).

18 San Diego-Area Craft Beers on Tap

Knowing how difficult it can be for some locals under 40 to conceive of going out without having easy access to San Diego’s bounty of craft brewers, it’s worth mentioning that Panama 66 offers a howling good selection of local beers on tap. Located adjacent to The San Diego Museum of Art, Panama 66 is operated by the same folks who brought our fair town Blind Lady Ale and Tiger! Tiger!

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I’m usually not too picky about the bones I get to chew on this time of year; that is, except for the Thanksgiving turkey wishbone, of course. The magical powers that fragile little forked bone possesses, technically called the furcula, are legendary. Scholars have even dug up stories of the ancient Romans making wishes before breaking the wishbone of a chicken. I’m not too humble to say, as a veteran of many tug-of-war doggie toy contests, I rarely end up with the short end of the stick.

So, what is my top wish for Balboa Park once I sink my teeth into the larger section of the wishbone? Thankfully, because I’ve been such a lucky dog at prior years’ Thanksgiving meals, so many of my wishes are already coming true:

Balboa Park December Nights view of El Prado walkway and California TowerBigger December Nights Celebration

Nope, you’re not shrinking. And Balboa Park certainly isn’t shrinking. December Nights does get bigger, better, and brighter with each passing year. This year’s holiday extravaganza on December 2 and 3 will once again welcome more than 300,000 of my closest pack members for more food and entertainment options, bringing even larger doses of holiday cheer to San Diego.

More Food Trucks

Whoever thought of periodically parking over a dozen gourmet food trucks around Balboa Park’s historic Central Mesa area deserves a big juicy lick on the face from yours truly. And what’s this I hear? There’s going to be a Holiday Food Truck Festival in Balboa Park from December 27 through 30, featuring free live entertainment? Hot dog!

More Trees in Balboa Park

Just because Southern California continues to experience drought conditions doesn’t mean we can’t have more trees. In fact, this is the perfect time to plant even more—water-friendly—trees, as has happened in Nate’s Point Dog Park and other sections of Balboa Park’s West Mesa over the past year. And once the comprehensive Tree Inventory of the park is complete, we’ll know where and when to plant even more trees!

Giving Tuesday heart logoMake Your Wishes Come True on Giving Tuesday (Nov. 29)!

So what are your wishbone wishes this Thanksgiving? More parking and easier access? Clearer signage and wayfinding? Rejuvenated and restored historic landmarks and cultural landscaping?

The Balboa Park Conservancy is currently involved in a number of vital projects to keep Balboa Park magnificent for future generations. You can show your thanks for this big beautiful cultural park by lending a paw this Giving Tuesday (Nov. 29) by making a donation in any amount. (And that would be my personal wishbone wish this year.)

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Tucker and Sophia, two dogs lounging on a deckTucker and Sophia write: Dear Cosmos, We run with a very diverse pack that doesn’t discriminate based on breed, pedigree, or fur color. What are the best ways to celebrate our diversity and heel the divisions in our community?  

Cosmos: With the holidays just around the corner, the coming weeks provide ample opportunities in Balboa Park to reconnect with our greater pack and demonstrate that kindness and respect trump all divisions. Here are just a few savory ideas to get you started:

Sue Palmer and Band, Bon Temps Stage, Balboa Park December Nights 2015Nine New Cottages Break Ground — Nov. 19, 2–3pm

Ever since the 1935 Exposition in Balboa Park, the House of Pacific Relations has promoted peace, unity, and understanding among all nations through its many cultural programs that almost always involve a smorgasbord of food. This Saturday, the public is invited to watch Mayor Kevin Faulconer and other civic leaders break ground on nine new International Cottages for the Houses of India, Korea, Mexico, Palestine, Panama, Peru, Philippines, and Turkey, bringing even more international flavors to the park. That’s a lot of digging. I’m jealous.

Balboa Park December Nights — Dec. 2–3

In two short weeks, more than 300,000 of your fellow packmates are expected to converge on one of this country’s most spectacular kickoffs to the holiday season. December Nights became the massive community festival it is today through embracing the wide diversity of holiday traditions from around the world — the sights, the sounds, the smells, the fun, and the food! There is probably no better way to see (and taste) firsthand what makes America great.

Holiday Food Truck Festival — Dec. 27–30, 4–8pm

If you haven’t figured out where I’m going with this by now … food is clearly the best way to celebrate our differences and bridge the gaps between our species. The holiday celebrations that start in Balboa Park with December Nights will wrap up with a big fat juicy food wrap on four consecutive nights between Christmas and New Year’s Day at the Holiday Food Truck Festival. In addition to more than a dozen food trucks parked in the Central Mesa area, live musical entertainment each night will further help bring our packs together.

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