It's no secret that Calistoga has retained its small town allure, even though it is home to some of the world's best wineries, resorts and spas. And nothing shows this off more than the lighted tractor parade each December.
This annual event, 16 years strong, attracts more folks than a Republican Convention in San Francisco. Yet, when Eden Umble from the Visitors Bureau said it was "a kick in the head", I envisioned some tacky Christmas lights strung atop a few tractors, while local cheerleaders tossed out candy and marched to the tune of some cheesy top 40 hit. But I had traveled up north for my 17 month old son, Kai, who is infatuated with tractors, excavators, fire engines and the holier than Hanukkah concrete mixer.
It turned out that not only were families lined up on beach chairs along Calistoga's main street, but nearly every person who lived within a 50 mile radius had come out. Young folks drank beer at the Calistoga Brewery, elderly chatted over margaritas and guacamole while waiting for the extravaganza and kids, so many kids, laughed and joined in the carolers as they sang everything from Silent Night to Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.
My father in law, visiting from LA, kept remarking that this really felt like a community, where people gather to celebrate the holidays rather than collect at the mall to contribute to the consumerist circus called Christmas. And he was right. We all joined in Kai's excitement about the inflated Santas on fire engines, the bright Christmas trees atop a digger, the carolers on a plow. And though Christmas is still a few weeks away, we were able to engage in the heart of the holidays, something we often miss by living in a big city.
Once again, Calistoga brings me back to the heart of Napa Valley, where real farmers built crops on a dream, stuck through droughts, prohibition, vine disease, dodgy weather and the international wine community not believing in them. In Calistoga, you can see the roots, not just the vines. You can see that the growers are people, with families and friends, who gather to celebrate the seasons that they depend on for their livelihood. And it isn't bad to be reminded of that every once in awhile.