Friday, December 24, 2010
Deck The Halls With Boughs Of Hollywood
Hollywood and Christmas seem to go hand-in-hand. Not only are there countless motion pictures over the years (like this one, this one and maybe even this one), blockbuster theatrical releases and a post-Thanksgiving weekend parade to kick off the season, but its very name is a reference to the holiday as well.
Those of you who know your local history know that Hollywood started as its own town, independent of Los Angeles, founded in the 1870s and incorporated in 1903. Unlike many local towns and communities named after places in the so-called "Back East" such as Beverly Hills (Beverly Farms, MA) and Wilmington (Wilmington, DE), Hollywood was named after a local, a native even.
The hills above Tinseltown are populated with numerous native bushes known as the Toyon a.k.a. California Holly a.k.a. Christmas Berry a.k.a. Heteromeles arbutifolia a.k.a. Hollywood Plant. Those of you who hike up Griffith Park's many trails have seen them - they have oblong dark green leaves with jagged edges, and in the fall grow clusters of tiny red berries (edible but not very tasty, for humans at least). The word "Toyon" is referred to many times in the Griffith Park area (Toyon Canyon). Yes, Hollywood was named after this very plant.
Around a century ago, Angelenos used to pick Toyon off of the hills for use as Christmas decorations. Eventually this practice became so widespread and noticeably depleted a number of the bushes that a 1920 California state law made it illegal to pick Toyon from public lands.
Thanks to that law, Toyon is plentiful in the Santa Monica Mountains today, where you can easily see them on any hiking trail, or on the road up to the Observatory. Of course this law is still in effect, but many local nurseries sell Toyon for you to grow if you want to revive the old Angeleno holiday tradition. Next time you spot one of these indigenous plants, think about how it's entrenched in history (and how the East Coast-based media hegemony has purposely corrupted its name to stand for all that is materialistic, vacuous and superficial). Militant Christmas, everyone!