“December Nights” celebration returns to Balboa Park (includes House of Ukraine CONCERT VIDEO)

A favorite tradition in San Diego has long been the annual “December Nights” in beautiful Balboa Park — a kickoff celebration to the holiday season, in which almost the entire park participates in a gigantic, open house.

The coronavirus pandemic changed all of that, since it made large gatherings of people unsafe and therefore out of the question. For the past two Decembers “December Nights” as we knew it became, out of necessity, a drive-through, food trucks sort of event. Now that there are effective treatments for COVID-19 (including preventative vaccinations and Paxlovid), and after an agonizingly long gap of three years, a full-scale celebration of “December Nights” returned to Balboa Park, on its traditional dates of the first Friday and Saturday in December. You can see some of my hundreds of photos, as well as coverage from previous years, at https://automatters.net. Just type “December Nights” into the Search Bar in the middle of the Home Page.

To help visitors navigate “December Nights,” the Fleet Science Center provided free maps and simplified schedules. Museums opened free-of-charge, some with ‘make-&-take’ crafts opportunities…

The fountain next to the Fleet Science Center is a popular meeting place in Balboa Park
The San Diego Automotive Museum
Santa at the San Diego Automotive Museum

… singers and dancers entertained on outdoor stages around the park…

… hand-made crafts were available for purchase…

… and there were numerous food and merchandise vendors.

House of Pacific Relations International Cottages opened — offering visitors ethnic entertainment and traditional foods representative of those found in the home countries…

The House of Ukraine

… As in past years, the House of Spain prepared giant pans of their fantastic paella…

Paella from the House of Spain

… I took home a tin filled with fresh baked goods from the House of England, and once I began to eat them I could not stop until I finished the whole entire tin!

You are invited to a tea party at the House of England
What would a tea party be without an assortment of delicious, home-made pastries?

At the International Cottages outdoor stage, I shot a lot of video at was an especially emotional presentation by the House of Ukraine, in which a host defiantly discussed the tragedy that Russia has brought to that country through war.

A young woman passionately sang the Ukrainian national anthem — and more, to the accompaniment of her father on guitar. He is recording a documentary in Ukraine.

A choir that included a young amputee named Ivan — who was run over by a Russian tank, proudly sang traditional songs in Ukrainian…

… and an adorable little four-year-old girl named Carolina — whose home in Mariupol was destroyed in February by Russia, and whose father is still in Ukraine, sang “Czerwona Kalina” — a famous wartime song that was covered by Pink Floyd and Andriy Khlyvnyuk in a video entitled “Hey Hey Rise Up” (https://youtu.be/zIVihsY7I8I), in support of the Ukrainian resistance…

Here is a YouTube link to my VIDEO of inspirational Ukrainian songs, sung by the community at the House of Ukraine in Balboa Park:

There was a reenactment of the story of Christmas at the ‘Living Christmas Tree’ at the Organ Pavilion, and much more.

The Living Christmas Tree at the Organ Pavilion

The incredible variety of scheduled entertainment and activities also included the Raylin Cloggers, the San Diego City Guard Band, the eKlectic Dance Company, Ballet Folklorico la Joya de Mexico, Billy Lee & the Gulf Coasters, line dance lessons by Greg Benusa and Lori King, the Brian Jones Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival…

Brian Jones Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival

… flamenco with Roots Performing Arts, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, “On The Town” by the JCompany Youth Theatre, the Legendary Lion Dance Association, Mariachi Victoria de San Diego, the Makana Kai Polynesian Dance Troupe, the San Diego Civic Dance Arts with Rockettes-style dancing…

… the Old Globe Theater with the Grinch and Scrooge…

… the San Diego Zoo with Skyfari rides over the zoo…

… the San Diego Natural History Museum with the Pomerado Brass Quintet and the TubaFours, the Japanese Friendship Garden with cultural demonstrations…

… the San Diego Air & Space Museum with holiday music…

Holiday cheer at the San Diego Air & Space Museum

… and the Fleet Science Museum with the opportunity to build your own tiny cardboard Gingerbread House in Studio X…

“December Nights” is an extremely popular event, attracting visitors to converge on Balboa Park from all around San Diego County. To minimize your time spent in traffic, I strongly advise that when you go to “December Nights,” go early.

The crowds were massive, and it could take hours to find a place to park

To learn more about the annual “December Nights” celebration in Balboa Park, visit: https://www.sandiego.gov/december-nights. For coverage of past years’ “December Nights” events, including lots of photos, simply search for “December Nights” in the Search bar in the middle of the “AutoMatters & More” Home Page at https://automatters.net.

To explore a wide variety of content dating back to 2002, with the most photos and the latest text, visit “AutoMatters & More” at https://automatters.net. Search by title or topic in the Search Bar in the middle of the Home Page, or click on the blue ‘years’ boxes and browse.

Copyright © 2022 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #770r3

Jan Wagner


  1. David Sperry on December 12, 2022 at 3:49 pm

    Jan, I don’t think those of us who live in the East Coast in small cities, towns or suburbia have any concept of traffic in urban California. If I knew that it would take me 3 hours to go a reasonable distance, I don’t think I’d go.

    • Jan Wagner on December 12, 2022 at 5:08 pm


      I still remember when I moved to the San Diego area from Western Canada nearly 40 years ago how intimidated I was by the traffic here — especially on crowded freeways with many (most?) drivers speeding in multiple lanes in each direction.

      A problem with major traffic delays, like the one you referred to, is that you rarely if ever do not know in advance how truly awful that traffic is going to be until you find yourself stuck in it — not that it would have made me not go anyway. For that particular drive from my home to Balboa Park — a relatively short trip that I take often — it is usually possible to drive the speed limit (or more). That drive normally takes just over half an hour, instead of taking me around three hours that particular day. Waze tried to route me around the massive traffic jam on a variety of what turned out to be thoroughly clogged side streets, but for all I know that took me even longer than if I had just driven my usual, direct route. When suggesting routes, Waze cannot possibly predict that traffic is eventually going to get much, much worse that it is when it suggests those routes in real time.


  2. Alberto on December 11, 2022 at 11:32 pm

    Thank You for sharing and taking us to those beautiful and exciting places. You need to enjoy and relax yourself more than giving us all the pleasure

    • Jan Wagner on December 12, 2022 at 11:43 am

      Thank you, Alberto,
      I do this so that I can share what I see and experience with others. I do wish that more publications would regularly publish “AutoMatters & More.” If you can, please share the link to the Home Page of the website: https://automatters.net/
      Thank you.

      • Alberto on December 12, 2022 at 12:57 pm

        Jan, I definitely will share your good works with my friends n family .
        Words of mouth is priceless!!

        • Jan Wagner on December 12, 2022 at 1:16 pm

          Thank you. When I had an earlier version of the website many years ago (which I created in Microsoft’s FrontPage), after a few people checked it out, they told their friends who told their friends and so on. Pretty soon, I had a pretty big following.
          Now there’s a lot more competition on the Internet, but I think the same would apply. It would just take longer.

  3. David Sperry on December 8, 2022 at 4:50 am

    Jan, for someone who likes to get out and about and see and do things (like you), San Diego must be a wonderful place to live. I listened to the video…very emotional songs with nice voices and great musicians.

    Question: Do groups that perform need permits or do they just show up? Is there any tension between groups with different political leanings?

    Did you see all this in only one evening? You sure have boundless energy! David.

    • Jan Wagner on December 8, 2022 at 1:10 pm

      Hi David,
      Thanks for your comments.
      What you saw in the video was all from Saturday evening, but I shot the still photos for the balance of my column (AutoMatters & More #770) on Friday and Saturday. The traffic getting to Balboa Park was so bad on Saturday when I left home in the late afternoon that it took me almost three hours to get there. Traffic was almost at a standstill for miles — and I was using Waze for optimal route guidance.
      To begin to answer your question about the Ukrainian presentation, there is an area in San Diego’s very large Balboa Park (sort of like a small village) that is bounded by a number of international cottages — each one occupied on some days (likely Sundays and holidays) by people representing a different country. During the two-day (afternoon and evening) “December Nights” annual event (the first Friday and Saturday of December), they showcase their country. A central stage serves as the place where they may sing, dance and so forth. Since they already have made long-term arrangements with whatever local government entity exists to have a cottage, I suspect that their performances are more or less covered by those larger, overall agreements.
      To answer your question about any dissent, I did not see any indications of protests. Rather, there was heartfelt support and applause for Ukraine.
      I felt compelled, after witnessing their presentation, to basically drop everything else that I need to do — including way overdue grocery shopping, and finishing up editing my photos (and perhaps videos) for my column from the week before about the airshow at Nellis AFB with the USAF Thunderbirds — so that I could end up spending the entire day and evening yesterday editing together a 25-minute video in support of Ukraine that I had shot footage for that Saturday night. I am absolutely exhausted today.

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