There’s a delightful way to make this year’s holidays a lot more fun. It does, however, require finding children to play with you. Grandchildren are ideal, but lacking those, your own kids, nieces, nephews, young cousins, or even the kids next door will do very nicely. There are no shops to forage for gadgetry you’ve never heard of before, no online sites that swear they’ll deliver on time so you can stay up half the night wrapping things that arrived at the last possible moment, and no wrapping gifts in birthday paper because the Christmas wrap ran out. No, this year you’re going to give experiences the children will remember for the rest of their lives.
Say you live within easy reach of San Francisco — and please note that even Los Angeles is only an hour away by plane. Now would be a good time to schedule a shopping date with the parent of the chosen child. Not for the parent, mind you; for you and the child.
One of the leading events of the San Francisco social season is the Nutcracker Ballet, and the stars of the show are not Clara, the Prince or the Sugar Plum Fairy. No, the stars are the little girls who arrive in their prettiest frocks and shiniest shoes. That’s what the shopping expedition is all about. Velvet and satin, lace collars and cuffs, wide sashes and petticoats, long skirts and pretty tights, these are the stuff of ‘remember-it-always’ Nutcrackers. The shopping should end with a special treat for just the two of you: For example, afternoon tea at the Sheraton Palace Hotel. It’s the closest thing to ‘Eloise in the Palm Court at The Plaza’ left in America.
There are a number of lovely places in San Francisco to take children for afternoon tea during the holiday season. Click here for an excellent list:
For children six and under, buy tickets for a matinee performance. Seven to eleven will do fine at an evening ballet. Should you happen to have a young gentleman in your party, the dress is less formal: A good-looking sweater and pants that aren’t jeans with a pair of recently polished loafers will do the trick (no, he can’t wear his favorite sneakers/high-tops. Whining is not an option).
Nutcracker performances start December 11, 2013 and continue through December 29th; Here’s the link for tickets:
Balcony seating makes it easy for children to see the whole stage, and be sure to ask about booster seats for the littlest ones when you book.
The Nutcracker itself is always a delight. The San Francisco production has a Christmas tree that always draws gasps as it ‘grows’ magically and majestically, and the little ones dancing in the ballet commanding the stage is a delicious reversal of most children’s routine reality. On one memorable occasion I took a five-year-old dressed in pale pink backstage to watch the dancers warm up before the show. The Sugar Plum Fairy walked up to her wearing a green costume. ”That color,” she announced, pointing at the young lady’s pink frock, ‘That’s the color my costume should be.” So saying, she smiled, pirouetted en pointe, and danced away. If we hadn’t taken the five-year-old by the hand to take our seats for the performance, she would be standing there still. It’s not every day that the Sugar Plum Fairy thinks your dress is prettier than hers.
Winter sleigh rides through the orchards in Door County, Wisconsin
Should it happen that you are closer to Chicago than San Francisco, an unforgettable Christmas treat may be found there, too. If you’ve never been to Door County, Wisconsin, go. It’s about a two-hour drive through picture-perfect American pastoral, filled with well-tended farms and orchards that make it feel like you’re coming home even if you’ve lived in cities and suburbs all your life. Dress the kids warmly and sign up for a horse-drawn sleigh ride through snow-covered apple and cherry orchards. This might well be the proper occasion for new caps, mittens, and mufflers of the soft, toasty sort. When sleigh ride’s over, the adults can warm up with spicy mulled wine while the children can wrap little hands around a cup of hot cider or hot chocolate. All parties will enjoy a slice of fresh-baked cherry pie. Pick up packets of chocolate-covered dried cherries to pop in the mouths of all small persons present; it’ll make both of you very happy.
Here are the basics:
Public Group Rides: 30 minutes long $8/person, kids under 2 years free
Private Rides (2-4 people): 30 minutes long $55
Click on http://www.orchardcountry.com/sleigh-rides/ and you’re half-way there. Check the website for dates and times.
|Contact owner John Mayberry for reservations and additional information (920) 421-1152.
For dinner, have a fish boil. Don’t ask; just do it. The boil is spectacular, and the fish is remarkably good. It will make you grin, and the kids will never forget it. Just for the record, it’s a reasonably healthy meal: The fish are fresh out of Lake Michigan, not breaded, not deep-fat fried, in fact, not fried at all. The cooking method is probably closer to poaching than anything else you’ve seen, but then, you’ve never seen anything else quite like this. Here are a couple of links that will make all things clear:
You’ll want to spend at least one night, probably two, so take a look at these for cosy, comfortable, convenient accommodations:
Landmark Resort is located at 7643 Hillside Road, Egg Harbor, WI 54209; the phone number is 920/868-3205, toll-free is 800/273-7877. Two-story two-bedroom suites with views of the lake are available; It’s like having your own Door County condo. Tuck the children to sleep upstairs, and settle in for a very civilized glass of Door County wine before turning in yourself.
Also consider the Door County Lighthouse Inn Bed & Breakfast at 4639 Orchard Road, Egg Harbor, WI 54209; 920/868-9088 or 800/868-9088. Click here to see the website and book:
Another option is the Eagle Harbor Inn at 9914 Water Street, Ephraim, WI 54211
920.854.2121 T. 800.324.5427
For reservations, click here: http://www.eagleharbor.com
The Cathedral Cavern has perfect acoustics.
Filled with the soaring melodies of traditional Christmas carols, it’s glorious.
America’s Heartland is a fine, big place, and if Door County nudges up close to the northern limit of the Midwest, Blanchard’s Springs Caverns is more on the southern side. The Caverns are 120 miles northeast of Little Rock plus another 15 miles northwest of Mountain View. It’s about two hours driving time from Little Rock to the Ozarks National Forest, and the Blanchard’s Springs Caverns are worth every scenic minute of it.
While the caverns had long been known to local people, the Cathedral Cavern was not discovered until 1963. At 1,150 feet long, 189 feet wide, and a ceiling 65 feet high, the Cathedral Cavern is spectacular far beyond the ability of words to describe or photographs to portray. Add to its stunning dimensions the crystalline stalactites that hang down from the ceiling and the glistening stalagmites that stretch up heavenward from the floor of the cavern. The Cathedral Cavern’s crowning glory is perfect acoustics, and that brings us to the annual “Caroling in the Caverns”. All the joy and wonder of old-fashioned Christmas carols fill this ethereal space with the richness of song accompanied by string instruments. Come in good voice: The best part of the concert is the sing-along. Concerts commence on November 30th at 4:30pm and December 1 at 4:30pm. Shows are scheduled at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m on Sunday, December 8th and 15th as well as Saturday, December 21st and Sunday, December 22, 2013. Tickets are $20 per person, and all the concerts have sold out every year for the last ten years. Advance tickets are required so call the Mountain View Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-888-679-2859 for availability and to order tickets. The caverns maintain a stable temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, and while you may still want a sweater or jacket, it’s not uncomfortably cold by most standards for Midwestern winters.
Should it happen that you live on the Eastern Seaboard, the most delightful holiday thing to do is Nantucket’s Christmas Stroll Weekend. This year is the Stroll’s 40th anniversary, and the theme is ‘A Victorian Christmas’. When whaling ended in the late 1900s, Nantucket Island went into a deep sleep longer than Rip Van Winkle’s famous nap. The result is that Nantucket retained it’s 19th century architecture to a greater extent than any other single place in America. Despite the island’s reputation as the most desirable summer destination on the East Coast, much of it’s ‘lost in time’ ambiance can only be properly savored during the Nantucket Noel. Festivities start off on Friday, November 29th, when a crowd gathers at the top of Main Street at Main and Centre. More than 100 beautifully lighted trees line the centuries-old cobblestoned street, and at the signal, all the trees light up at once in one gloriously magical moment. Old-fashioned carols fill the air, led by the ‘Accidentals & Naturals’ choral group from Nantucket High. Should you wish to join in, there’s an app for that: Download Nantucket Arts App to your Smartphone for the lyrics.
Officially, Christmas Stroll Weekend is December 6th through 8th, but the annual Christmas House Tour, a self-guided walk through elegantly decorated homes and inns from 19th century seafarer’s cottages to magnificent mansions, is on Friday, December 5th. Most of the homes feature home-baked Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, and eggnog as well as beautifully decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands galore.
Santa himself arrives Saturday, December 6th, delivered to the island by the Coast Guard whence he and Mrs. Claus are formally escorted up Long Wharf by the Town Crier to his own very special conveyance (details are still very hush-hush, but already creating much curiosity and considerable buzz). Led by a bell-ringers and a brass quintet, Santa parades up Main Street, across Centre Street, and into the century-old Jared Coffin House. There he bends an ear close to hear exactly what eager children most hope to find under their very own Christmas tree.
Throughout the Christmas Stroll Weekend singers in Victorian dress, children caroling, and teen choirs will fill the air with the familiar holiday melodies, the Magical Talking Tree will hold forth at the top of Main Street, and young performers from DanceWorks will dance in the streets.
Holiday craft markets, and a variety of exhibits and performances all enhance the feeling and flavor of Christmas. To cap it all off (all puns intended) there’s a Victorian Costume Contest on Main Street at 1:45PM, with ribbons handed out by Nantucket’s famous Victorian Carolers.
The 20th Annual Festival of Trees
runs throughout December at the Whaling Museum, and it’s a destination all by itself .
Upon arrival on island, go to the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce, located at Zero Main Street, second floor (above the Cape Cod Five Bank) to pick up a copy of the 2013 Official Stroll Program, available starting in late November.
Here’s the link:
For accommodations, check the Nantucket Visitors Bureau first; Here’s the link:
Many hotels, inns, and bed & breakfasts are already booked, so if you can’t find anything there, try Vacation Rentals by Owner (http://VRBO.com), and search for Nantucket. Look for houses listed as ‘Nantucket Town’ on the link below:
It’s easy to get to Nantucket by air from Boston’s Logan Airport, and there are some New York connections, including Manhattan, as well. Check the schedule for Cape Air here:
The ferry is a fun ride all by itself. The regular ferry and the high-speed ferry both run from Hyannis to Nantucket. It’s $69 round-trip for adults, $36 round-trip for children 5 to 12, and younger children ride free. The schedule for the Steamship Authority is here:
Make this Christmas unforgettable for the children you love — and you’ll find that you love it, too. Love is never a one-way street, especially during the holidays.