Monday, January 4, 2021

COVID Didn't Cancel Christmas in Texas - 2020 Holiday Festivities

 Holiday season had arrived!  We celebrated Thanksgiving for all our blessings with one of Mom’s home-cooked plant-based feasts, once again sparing Tom Turkey from becoming a dinner entrée.


It is our tradition to watch “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Christmas Vacation” on Thanksgiving Day as our official kick-off for Christmas.  Then with full family participation, we play our Christmas music, don our Santa hats, and decorate our home-on-wheels inside and out.  As you can tell from my video,  I enjoy this activity much more than our tabby cat does!  

Mom carries on my Grandma’s cookie tradition, so our home begins to resemble the Keebler elves’ bakery!  In the past, we received great joy in sharing these delectable delights with neighbors and friends.  But because of people’s COVID beliefs and fears, very few folks were recipients of Mom’s cookies this year.

Though we are away from our home base most of the year, we try play an active role in the community when we return.  Hence, we made our monthly food donations to Mannafest, our local food bank.  And between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we volunteered for a half dozen 2-hour sessions of bell-ringing outside the Walmart for the local branch of the Salvation Army.  It’s such an easy way to assist those less fortunate in our County.   And, Mom and Dad treated me to delicious pizza at Joe’s Italian Grill after each session.   


I sanitized the kettle after each donation!

That's one good looking pizza pie--and would you believe it is all veggies topped with non-dairy vegan cheese?

The San Jacinto High Rollers Motorcycle Club is the oldest American Motorcycle Association (AMA) sanctioned club in Texas, and they do quite extensive charity work.  In fact, the local chapter holds an auction each year to raise funds to buy 50+ new bicycles for underprivileged kids in our own County.  When Mom learned this, she convinced Dad to donate his collection of Harley-Davidson Limited Edition Barbie Dolls that we have been carting around with us for nearly 9 years!   They High Rollers were deeply grateful for the auction donation, and Mom was thrilled to make room in our “basement” for more Christmas decorations!

The San Jacinto High Rollers Motorcycle Club also sponsors an Annual Toy Run benefiting Boys and Girls Country, a nonprofit organization in Hockley, TX that provides educational and spiritual guidance and a safe, stable home environment to at-risk children and children from families in crisis.  Thankfully, COVID did not cancel the 44th year of this run, but it altered its format significantly.  We could not stop/get off our bikes for any reason, and meeting/speaking with any of the children or staff was prohibited.  But we could tell just by their enthusiastic waves, homemade signs, and cheers that they were glad to see us and were appreciative of the 100+ motorcyclists who donated their time and money to assist the organization.

We participated in Wreaths Across America at Memorial Gardens in Lufkin, TX.  Due to heavy rain, the ceremony was moved indoors.  Many folks did not participate in actual wreath laying that day, opting instead to return the following morning.  We, however, stayed to lay about 60 of the 500+ wreaths to honor our deceased military veterans.   After all, getting a little wet was little sacrifice compared to those who fought to protect our freedoms.   Anyway, we had another commitment the following day with the Southeast Texas Patriot Guard Riders (PGR).  Each year, we meet with the parents of PFC Stuart W. Moore to place a commemorate wreath at the family cemetery on their beloved son’s grave.  This year, we also laid a wreath on the section of highway recently named for him in memoriam.  It is exceptionally difficult for this family, having received the news of the death of their only child just days before Christmas and just weeks before he was scheduled to come home.  PFC Moore was only 21 years old when he perished in Iraq on December 22, 2003.


Folks often joke that “everything in Texas is big”, and celebrating Christmas is no exception.  However, many 2020 holiday festivities in which we usually participate (you can read about them here Holidays Past) succumbed to COVID cancellation.   Plans for Livingston’s Light Parade and Hometown Christmas were scrapped.  Ditto for The Festival of Trees at the Museum of East Texas. Instead, the Museum had a small exhibit of antique ornaments and a disappointing display of 30 theme-painted wooden trees that they called “The Reinvented Festival of Trees.”  Very sad, indeed.

A very pathetic "Reinvented Festival of Trees", but at least we could a glimpse of the following while in Lufkin:

Good Golly Miss Molly’s Antique Shop in Livingston invited the Polk County Heritage Society to set up their train exhibit again.  However, the treasure hunt, where specific objects are hidden within the exhibit, was eliminated to reduce the amount of time folks spent within the store.

The City of Livingston still decorated City Hall, Penguin Park and Pedigo Park with lights.  But The First Baptist Church of Livingston produced only an abridged version of their Bethlehem reenactment, reducing the live production that usually includes hundreds of volunteers/actors to just a drive through tour of 4 biblical scenes utilizing a few dozen people.  I do commend the Church, however, for developing a way to herald the message of “the Reason for the Season” during a time of cancel culture.


One pleasant ray of sunshine for me in a COVID-dampened Christmas was attending Santa’s Wonderland in College Station, TX.  What a terrific place!  It has the most magnificent light display I’ve EVER seen (and we’ve been to plenty of others including Longwood Gardens in Brandywine, DE, Moody Gardens in Galveston, TX, and Six Flaggs Great Adventure in Jacksonville, NJ to name a few), although my photos don’t do it justice.    We took the hayride to view the displays initially, then strolled along the walking paths to enjoy them in more detail.

One of the Clydesdales getting ready to start carriage rides.

Santa's Wonderland has a nativity scene with live animals including the Geico camel!  There is Christmas caroling, live bands, western dance exhibitions, even ice skating for an additional fee.  Fun, fun, fun!  We spent more than 4 hours visiting (wearing masks at ALL times as required, even though we were outdoors)!  It was quite chilly the night we attended, which added even more holiday ambiance.  We hit up Comet’s World Famous Hot Cocoa and enjoyed it while watching portions of the movie "Elf".  There also are warming stations throughout the Park where you could roast  s’mores or even toast your buns!

The Geico Camel was there--and it wasn't even Hump Day!

There are lots of novelty shops throughout the Park, which is where I met Miranda the Mouse. I considered her as a potential gal pal.   But after a round of speed dating, I decided she wasn’t my type.  Plus she seemed too superficial with her trendy clothes and jewelry.  To top it off, she was lactose intolerant and didn’t eat cheese!    Strike 3, she's outta here! 

Miranda the Mouse, a potential gal pal

The best thing about Santa’s Wonderland is that Poncho the Longhorn lives there!  Fortunately, we got to see him early in the evening since he went on siesta at sundown.  

What a rack on Poncho!

Admittedly, Santa’s Wonderland is a bit pricey--$50 per adult (includes a service fee for advanced on-line ticket sale).  We took advantage of their $35 Supersaver Ticket (also purchased online and in advance) which gave us entry on a specific Monday night.  Parking costs range from free (across the highway and waiting for shuttle service) to $20 per vehicle, depending on how close to the entry gate you wish to park.  (We paid $10 for parking at the Blitzen lot since it gave us plenty of room to park Big Boomer, our medium duty truck.)  But cost be damned, I still think Santa’s Wonderland is a fantastic place for “kids” of all ages, earning one of my coveted Rambling RV Rat 5-cheese awards.


We made another stop on our Texas history tour.  This time, we visited the only known international boundary marker in the Continental U.S.  It was placed in 1841 to distinguish the boundary between the Republic of Texas (RT) and the U.S.A.  A 2-hour drive to Logansport, LA (population 1,500 but a commercial ghost town with nearly an entire city block of vacant storefronts) for a 5-minute history lesson!  My parents are nuts!


On the chilly afternoon of December 24, we joined Park neighbors to do caroling for some of the shut-ins within our Rainbow’s End community.  Dad and I enjoyed singing all the tunes, but Mom only lip synced as instructed by her 3rd grade teacher.  You see, Mom and certain other students couldn’t carry a tune according to this teacher.  (I guess if Mom sang aloud, every dog between here and Timbuktu would be howling!)  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to view the Christmas Star that night due to cloud cover.


Our Christmas meals were stupendous!  Mom made a mini version of our Italian Feast of the Fishes on Christmas Eve and reverted to a plant-based menu on Christmas Day with a mushroom/spinach stromboli as our entrée.  We looked for a local church to attend an in-person Christmas service.   Sadly, most denominations did not open-up their churches on Christmas Day. So, we were reduced to watching a very uninspiring “Zoom” service.  We enjoyed watching more Christmas movies the rest of the day.


That's Mom's cookies and vegan carrot cake on display in the forefront, the stromboli in the background (and yours truly, ready to fill my belly).

On December 26, we met with friends Janice/Rick (whom we met in 2015 at Amazon) and good friends of theirs Debi/Ed (with whom we have lots in common and got along with splendidly) at Red Brick Tavern, an old school bar with exceptionally good pizza in Conroe, TX.   And a few days later we got better acquainted over dinner at Pueblo Vieja with Rosemary/Jeff, like-minded folks we have bumped into at various Escapee Parks throughout the year.   We enjoyed their company so much, they joined us at our home to ring in the new year! 


According to the Chinese zodiac, 2020 was the Year of the Rat.  Let me tell you, this Rambling RV Rat took a lot of heat for the poop fest the year turned out to be.  So, I sure was glad to say sayonara to 2020.  I pray that 2021 brings us all good health, joy, laughter, and some normalcy.  Just to be safe, Mom made us our first ever batch of black-eyed peas, a Texas New Year’s tradition for good luck. 


We celebrated New Year’s Day with our final get together at Petron’s Mexican Grill with Lisa/Jim and Romalee/Tim.  Friends Kathy/Al from the Grand Canyon Conservancy motored into town, too, for an upcoming surgical procedure.  We took a walk through the Park with them, careful to stay socially-distanced and wearing our masks to ensure they stayed safe and healthy.


Well, time for me to sign off.  We leave tomorrow to enjoy the winter season in sunny, warm Southwest Arizona!