It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

I admit it – I’ve been known, on occasion, to poke rude fun at my Vacaville neighbors. When it comes to rolling their cars with alarming regularity, consuming large quantities of alcohol or vehemently protesting such community menaces as apartment dwellers or house cats, it’s hard to beat your average Vacan.

We’ve got our very own style – what some snooty outsiders might describe as goofiness chic.

Once a year, though, I’ve had an opportunity to see the real spirit of the community and it shines like the North Star on a chill December night.

Every winter for the past 12 years the newspaper has sent me and a grumbling photographer to find local homeowners’ best and brightest Christmas decorations for an annual feature story in the newspaper’s Billboard section.

This might sound like great fun but the process is usually more like an exercise in basic winter survival.

No matter how much planning we put into the project, it usually rains – hard. Torrential downpours have plagued us nine out of the 12 years we’ve done the story. Of our three rainless sorties, one was blanketed in thick, blinding fog. Another night hit us with winds that were gusting to 40 mph and blowing Christmas decorations past us faster than we could photograph them.

Have you ever seen whitecaps on Alamo Drive? We have…

But it was also during these cold, windy and decidedly damp assignments that we found out just how warmly hospitable Vacaville residents can be.

It’s important to note that we don’t usually have an opportunity to call ahead and make appointments with likely homeowners. We drive around in the rain and, when we observe a festively lit home shining through the December gloom, we pull over and ring the doorbell. We frequently arrive about the time the family is sitting down to dinner after a long workday.

Residents look out into the fog and rain and see a big, soggy stranger standing on their doorstep and another guy lurking in the shadows.

Yet no matter how bad the weather, no matter how disreputable we may look, the people we encounter invariably invite us in out of the rain, inquire about our sanity and try to help us dry off.

They’ve graciously allowed us to track mud and leaves across pristine white carpeting, brought out towels to dry our heads, offered us everything from tea to bourbon and seated us before their fireplaces while introducing us to their children, grandchildren, dogs, cats, favorite Christmas ornaments and, in one case, a frisky pet rat.

They’ve spoken with simple eloquence about old friends, Christmas past and the only correct way to make Irish coffee (heavy on the Irish, light on the coffee).

One family wouldn’t let us leave until they’d packed up two dozen piping hot lumpia (Filipino egg rolls) for us to take along on our travels. We feasted for the rest of that long, cold night and warmly recalled their largess for years afterward.

Yes, I may sometimes comment on local follies and foibles, but I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t also point out that Vacaville residents are among the most generous and hospitable souls you’re ever likely to encounter anywhere.

Originally published December 23, 2001