My Hallmark Christmas

My Hallmark Christmas

I never had a white Christmas. One time in my life it snowed in North Carolina on Christmas day, and that particular year I spent the day driving to Michigan, where all the snow cheerfully melted upon my arrival. So this year I was brainstorming with a few girlfriends, and when one of us said, “Hey, let’s go to New England for Christmas!” the others said, “Yes, let’s”, because we’re good like that. We googled places that are nearly always white over Christmas, and since the rustic little B&Bs were more than we wanted to pay, we found a posh hotel for an excellent deal instead. The ideal Hallmark Christmas!

I took a bus to Boston to meet the other girls, who were flying in. Being an exploratory type of person, “my brain, that precision instrument, slipped into high gear,” and I thought to myself, “You know what is a good idea? Going really early so that you have hours and hours to spend in Boston before the others arrive. Boston is beautiful, and you love it.” Here’s the thing- Boston is beautiful and I do love it. Here’s the other thing- I do not love spending hours and hours out in the snowy parks and streets with all my weekend luggage on my back because there’s no good place to go indoors.

I sat as long as I dared in the chilly outdoor shelter of the Tatte Bakery I love, sipping my coffee, and when the next diners looked longingly at my large and mostly empty table, I betook myself to wander the streets. Block after block I walked, until day turned to night, my shoulders to rocks under my heavy backpack, and my toes to ice. I finally decided the airport would at least be warm and would have outlets to charge my phone, so I took an Uber there and next thing I knew, my girls had arrived with shining faces and our rental car reservation. Hurrah!

We had a few hours to our hotel in Vermont, and on the way, we decided we were all hungry for Chinese food. We stopped at a well-rated spot, only to have a helpful man stick his head out the door and inform us there was an hour wait or something. Not what a hungry traveler wishes to hear. We googled our options and hied ourselves to another nearby Chinese place, less bedecked with stars, where we placed our orders for two sesame chickens and one sweet and sour, and sat in our smoky “smoke-free” car to wait. After a while our buzzer buzzed, and I went in to collect our orders. “You want rice?” inquired the patroness. “Rice doesn’t come with the orders.” Being of the common folk who assumes rice comes with an order of Chinese chicken, I told her that yes, we did want rice, so she went to the kitchen and came back with one tiny box, holding maybe a cup of rice, which the three of us could split. Alrighty then. We opened our bag of steaming food in the car, and discovered that not only was the sweet and sour chicken a huge box of breaded, fried chicken, which was mostly breading, with nothing else on it, but also, there were no utensils at all. Abby headed back in, and the patrons supplied utensils, looking at her as though they couldn’t understand why someone would need them. We ate our meal amid much laughter, and shared our delicious sesame chicken with the poor one who had unwittingly ordered the box of mostly fried dough.

Next up, we needed to find a grocery store to get food for the next day, since we assumed that most places would be closed on Christmas. We googled store after store, driving in parking lots and peering in darkened windows. Guess what. Most places are also closed Christmas Eve! Finally we admitted defeat and headed toward our hotel, hoping that at least the Walmart nearby would be open on Christmas, (Walmart never closes, right?) and placing great faith in the continental breakfast we were promised.

Our room turned out to be lovely and huge, with a separate living room and a kitchen and lovely, plush, white beds- just the kind of thing we were dreaming of spending a few days in, planning out our upcoming year and relaxing so hard.

Christmas morning dawned, bright and cheerf… oh wait, I mean soggy and gray. The predicted 90% chance of snow had changed to rain, and the warm sky dripped on the earth and melted our hopes of a white Christmas. Meanwhile, North Carolina got a dusting of snow, and our friends in southern states had gorgeous white days, as we sat in the warm rain of New England. The residual snow patches on the ground shrunk, but at least there was a little snow among the trees which outlasted the rain. Does that count for a white Christmas?

I headed to the lobby to get our breakfast boxes which the hotel agent had told me were replacing their breakfast buffet. I scooped up three boxes and three bottles of water from the cooler he directed me to. “Wait, we actually charge for the water,” he told me. “But you know what, it’s Christmas. Take them.” Free water, imagine the luxury! Our very own Christmas miracle. We opened the boxes in our room and found a sad and cold assortment of dry bagels, yogurt, and granola bars, with a little schmear of cream cheese which would meagerly cover perhaps half the bagel. At least we had free water to wash it down! Again, we laughed at our food misfortunes, and fortified ourselves with Chinese leftovers, although the now even-less-appetizing, cold, breaded, fried chicken wasn’t touched.

We spent the day relaxing, journaling, assembling a puzzle… just the kind of restful day you could wish for. Mid-afternoon we thought it best to try out our luck with grocery shopping, since surely anything that was open would close early today. We drove past empty parking lot after empty parking lot, our search once again fruitless. Even Walmart was closed, who knew! Finally we turned back the the Walgreens we had spied, and thought we’d give it a shot. And this, boys and girls, is the story of how our Christmas dinner consisted of unsalted broccoli, frozen calzones, and cottage cheese with pineapples. #glam

The next day though, once things were open and more food than unsalted broccoli and dry bagels was available, well, that was so much fun. We started the day with meat pies and rabbit gravy and buttered peas with mint at the most charming little English cafe. One of my goals for this new year is to make lots and lots of pie, and I think I’m going to need to master these little savory pies while I’m at it. Darling.

Then on to explore, hike (and by “hike” I mean slip and slide on the ice) down a little trail to see a dam we passed, wander through the little downtowns, pop in at the general store, buy maple sugar candy, walk the covered bridge, admire the window displays… it was lovely. We encountered a wedding party taking Christmassy photos by the covered bridge with their faces simply shining. We drove miles and miles up the mountain, as the snow grew deeper and the roads turned to gravel. We watched the sun set, and finally turned homeward, passing through occasional little displays of Christmas lights, and wondering what it would be like to live in such a deserted area. For dinner we dined sumptuously on takeout in our cushy hotel room with our feet up, watching Sherlock. The perfect day.

Too soon we had to head back home, but since a couple of us had never been to Maine, we made a little detour on the way back to Boston, stopping at the Nubble Lighthouse to be frozen to little icicles in the windy blast. I love rocky shores and I could have stayed for hours, watching the spray as the waves crashed against the rocks, except even my massive fur coat didn’t do much against the icy wind. Still, I was delighted to see the New England coast at last. Finally, we ended the trip by wandering through the Harvard campus, which I’d been wanting to see, before I climbed aboard my Boston bus headed back home.

A lovely Christmas, but I have one question. As a high-powered New York City executive who works for a fancy firm in Manhattan (we’ll conveniently ignore the fact that I’m clinging to the bottom rung of the ladder there), Hallmark led me to expect different results from a Christmas trip to Vermont. As I walked the covered bridge or bought my maple sugar candy, wasn’t I supposed to bump into a plaid-clad man, probably just done cutting down a tree with an ax or something, who was supposed to persuade me to leave my city life and move to the country to run a candy cane factory with him, and within one week of knowing each other, we would be engaged and I would realize the true meaning of Christmas? “I haf bin gypped.”

On that note I’ll go, but before I do, have you seen the thing that’s been floating about the interwebs regarding a bot that was made to watch 1000 hours of Christmas movies then write its own? It makes me guffaw in a decidedly un-Hallmark manner. Here you go-

thanks to @keatonpatti


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Three Years Ago:

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