A really Raleigh Christmas

illustration by Emily Brooks

illustration by Emily Brooks

by CC Parker 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. My sister recently forwarded a sign posted on Pinterest: “The Cycle of life: You Believe in Santa; You are Santa; You look like Santa.”

If you fall into the middle category, then you are quite familiar with playing the role of Jolly Old Elf.  You also know the task is overwhelming and often thankless. We parents wrestle with how to make special holiday memories for our children, and we can’t help but reflect back on our own childhood memories as we do. Some of us want to emulate those memories; some of us over-compensate with excess.

And some want to simplify. Do you really want those blasted elves to magically appear again this year? Which is more meaningful – hosting the neighborhood Christmas Eve party for hundreds, or spending a quiet Eve reading The Night Before Christmas by the fire? And at what point can you buy a pre-lit artificial tree?

Maybe the best question is: What will our family remember 40 years from now?

One of my family’s best stories is the one when my father-in-law had to deliver an extravaganza of Santa gifts for 11 cousins assembled at the family farm.  (This is 1970’s rural Alabama).  He and his brother-in-law were having a grand time cruising the back roads with all the loot piled in the back of their pickup truck, drinking bourbon and smoking unfiltered Camels with an igloo of half-drunk beer at their feet (#up to no good). At some point in their adventure, one of them tosses a smoldering cigarette out the window. It lands in the bed of the truck and promptly catches the presents on fire. I’ve never thought to ask the ultimate outcome of that particular misadventure, though it’s hard not to see it as grounds for divorce.

Speaking of bourbon, there was the year my parents invited dear friends to join us for Christmas Eve dinner. The couple stayed late to help Dad assemble my new tricycle. More whiskey was poured, assembly instructions were debated, tempers flared: It culminated in a near fistfight.  Ho ho ho.

So they might remember the mishaps more than the mistletoe. But what about gifts? In an age when you can buy yourself almost anything and have it delivered direct from the North Pole the next day, who needs Santa? But gift-giving is a language of love, of course, and we all want a little magic during the holidays.  So in this age of unlimited free shipping, how do we give “I love you”?

In my husband’s family, they have a rule about how not to do that. The Christmas “don’t” was established the time my father-in-law gave my mother-in-law a vast assortment of kitchen gadgets as her Christmas gift. It being the 80’s, they surely included a bread machine, pasta maker, and microwave bacon fryer.  She saw the assembled boxes and cried on the spot. This explains why it took my husband three years to muster the courage to give me the Le Creuset Dutch oven and All-Clad slow cooker for which my heart yearned.  I finally scored last year.

Speaking of other unpopular gifts. On Christmas morning in my childhood home, when the unwrapping frenzy was over, there would always remain one solitary wrapped gift sitting beneath the tree.  It was always addressed to mom, and either from the Night Gallery or Pennyrich Bra Patch. And each year the unopened gift would disappear.

After years of these boxes, and the resulting enormous store credit at The Night Gallery, mom had the final word. She looked from the contents of the package to my father, and said, in a level voice, that if the affixed rhinestones were diamonds, she’s wear it. (My sister does not remember this story. I think she’s blocked it out. I, however, say “YOU GO GIRL!”)

Take heart, friends.  No one remembers “perfect.” People remember having to improvise. (How do you replace a truck full of burnt Santa toys?). People remember uncharacteristically tawdry comments from your mother. (Ahem).  People remember the unexpected, like a new bike on the roof of the house because Santa couldn’t fit it down the chimney. (Good one, Dad.)

If all else fails, do what my father did with his passel of ladies. The day after Christmas he would load up our crew – with our bags of returns in tow – and head to Reliable Loan to get a new piece of jewelry from “family jeweler” Philip Horwitz. (His son Alan runs the show now.  Be sure to ask to see what loot they have in the back).

And for a change, this year, I’m going to consider skipping the things, and giving experiences instead. The best part of it: We don’t need to shop anywhere else. Raleigh has everything we need right here.

Here are a few from my list:

For your adventurer

Imagine the exhilaration of leaping from a plane at 13,500 feet! You free-fall 120 m.p.h., followed by a serene five minute float under a canopy, all while safely attached to an instructor. $249. You can capture the madness on a DVD for $99. Triangle Sky Diving, 480 Airport Rd., Louisburg. (919) 861-2345. triangleskydiving.com.

And if re-runs of Magnum PI or Top Gun are recorded on your DVR, give that man some flying lessons at Total Flight Solutions.  It offers introductory flights in either an airplane or a helicopter including 30 minutes of instructions on the ground and 30 minutes of instruction in flight, when you get to actually take the controls. Helicopter lesson: $159; Airplane lesson: $99. Total Flight Solutions, 450 Airport Rd., Louisburg. (919) 497-551. totalflight.com 

For time alone with your teen

Escape to Fuquay-Varina for a day of hunting at Drake’s Landing. Choose from sporting clays, pistol pit firing range, upland hunting (quail and pheasant), dove hunting and deer hunting. A family membership includes: individual, spouse and children under 18 years old. Price is $175.00  Drake’s Landing at Andrews Farm, 3146 Chalybeate Springs Rd, Fuquay Varina. (919) 552-9455. Drakelanding.net.

Or take an excursion to Ornamantea.  One of the coolest shops in town is packed with everything you’d ever need for jewelry making.  Tuesdays is “make and take” day, where you two can sit at the communal table and make jewelry.  Staffers are on hand to help.  They also offer a wide assortment of classes including metal-smithing, bead weaving, enameling, and jewelry box basics.  Ornamentea, 509 N West St, Raleigh. (919) 834-6260. store.ornamentea.com.

For yearlong fun

The Rialto Ambassador Pass is an unlimited movie pass for two people to all Rialto and Colony regular features for a year for approximately. $250. Sold only in December, passes are limited and can be used from December 2014 until January 2016. Included in the Ambassador Pass is admittance to the classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, which runs the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Fridays of every month at midnight.  You can no longer throw wet things at the screen, but rice, toilet paper and screaming obscenities along with the story line is still permitted.  Or, ask about The Cinema, Inc. Society. The Rialto, 1620 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh. (919) 856-8683.ambassadorcinemas.com

A year of resplendent orchids can become hassle-free with Raleigh Orchids. Give a different orchid each month, which comes complete with orchid cachepot, moss and willow. ($35/month.) Or give a six-month lease, which provides an orchid in bloom at all times ($130.00).  Raleigh Orchids, (919) 413-1313. RaleighOrchids.com

You can have party hair all year long with the Parlor Dry Bar’s Monthly Blow Out Club.  It includes two hair blowouts a month, an additional free birthday blowout, and10% off all products and threading for $58/month. The Parlor Blow Dry Bar, Cameron Village, 402 Oberlin Road, Suite 116, Raleigh.
(919) 665-9816.

A membership at the JC Raulston Arboretum, is a gift that keeps on giving for gardeners.  Members receive free live plants; free admission into the Raulston Blooms Family Festival; free admission, and a 10% discount at members-only preview plant sales; a year’s subscription to Better Homes and Garden magazine; and a reciprocal Garden Pass for 200 gardens and arboretums in the US. Family/Dual membership: $75.  JC Raulston Arboretum, 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh. (919) 515-3132. jcra.ncsu.edu

For heading back in time

Journey to the Atlantic Beach Pavilion, circa 1955. Beginner, intermediate or advanced shagging lessons at Loafers Beach Club. Classes offered daily.  When class is over, there’s an “After Work Mingle”. A membership to Loafers is $20 and $13 per visit. Loafers Beach Club, 605 Creekside Drive, Raleigh. (919) 743-533. Loafersbeachclub.com. 

For post-holiday detox

Humdinger’s “Beginner Cleanse” provides six juices per day for however many days you choose.  Its most popular is a three day cleanse for approximately $150; a seven day cleanse is approx. $350, and includes tax and in-town delivery.  Or ask about their weekly Juice Subscription. Humdinger Juices, 5024-H Departure Dr., Raleigh. humdingerjuice.com.

Ladyfingers Detox Program, Glow like Gwyneth without all the work. Five or seven day food and raw juice cleanse is $240 (5-day) and $336 (7-day) and includes breakfast and afternoon juices from Humdinger Juice, and a morning snack, lunch, dinner and dessert from Ladyfingers Caterers. The New Year’s Cleanse runs January 12 – 25th.  Contact Ladyfingers for other 2015 dates.  Ladyfingers, 627 E. Whitaker Mill Rd. (919) 828-2270. Ladyfingersofraleigh.com.