Christmas and the Cliff. For my family, they’re so hopelessly entwined that I can’t imagine spending the season elsewhere. My daughter and I moved to Winnetka Heights when she was 2 — so literally all of our shared holiday memories have taken place south of the Trinity.
We’ve baked and delivered cookies to our local police station. We’ve shopped and shared meals with friends every year at Jingle Bells on Bishop. We’ve had pancakes with Santa at Kessler United Methodist, sat in his lap at Kidd Springs, and cheered him on as he rode down Davis on Fire Engine 15.
We bought our treetop angel on Jefferson, a specimen from Mexico with real feather wings so striking she makes my kiddo suck in her breath every year as the tissue paper falls away, declaring her to be the most beautiful angel ever.
Beyond this, we’ve developed family traditions so strong and true that they’ve welded us to this tiny corner of the planet forever, and I offer a couple here now in the hopes of learning more about your own.
May Your Light Shine…
Ever since Sadie was 3 years old, she’s taken holiday candy to Norma’s Cafe, and given a piece to everybody in the place. It started one year when she had received a bag of Christmas candy from her preschool teacher. I took her to the lunch counter for a post-school grilled cheese, and she sat there, clutching that bag to her chest and gazing at the shiny wrappers.
Soon, another family with a little boy about Sadie’s age joined us, and he, too, began to admire the candy. Within a couple of minutes, Sadie opened the bag and handed pieces to the boy and his older brother. They were thrilled, and their response, clearly, was wind beneath her wings.
She jumped up and began giving all of the patrons pieces of candy. The warm reaction my beautiful, 3-year-old elf received clearly touched a nerve, making her want to hand out candy daily — a sentiment reinforced when Ms. Pam, the heart and soul of Norma’s, rewarded her with big mug of hot chocolate with about a foot of whipped cream. Every year since, we’ve gone at least a couple of times each season, my kiddo dancing around the tables handing out candy and then drinking her body weight in hot chocolate.
…. May Your Tummies Be Full….
Our other big Cliff tradition is our annual cookie-decorating extravaganza, Cookie Palooza. This year, for the sixth year in a row, I will spend the Friday night before Christmas mixing up a fridge full of sugar-cookie dough, then waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturday to roll, cut and bake 20 dozen sugar cookies.
I’ll lug the cookies to the Nodding Dog, then set out a dozen colors of cream-cheese frosting in bowls, plus every possible topping and candy you can imagine. By mid-afternoon, the marauding hordes of little girls will descend.
Before decorating commences, I’ll swear everybody in:
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me. I will have a terrific time. I will not bogart the pink icing. I understand in advance that, if I eat my cookie, it is OK, but it is not, then, available to be judged in competition. I will make every attempt humanly possible to keep the frosting on my cookies and myself, and not on my fellow cookie decorators.”
…And, Finally, May Your Dog Talk
A decade or so ago, my favorite TV show was Northern Exposure — and my favorite episode was the first-season Christmas episode. I’m going to share a quick excerpt here because every time I spend an hour out and about in the hood, I’m reminded of the fictional town of Cicely, a lovely place where people of all colors and creeds not only get along, they celebrate each other’s differences.
It’s a speech over the fictional KBEAR radio by the character Chris in the Morning — and it encapsulates this secular girl’s feelings about Christmas in the Cliff better than anything else ever could:
“It’s an old legend that on Christmas Eve at midnight, all the animals fall to their knees and speak, praising the new-born Jesus. Back in the winter of ‘69, my dad was serving a short time for a DUI and I don’t know where my mom was… Anyway, I was home alone Christmas Eve and I stayed up extra kind of late to see if my dog Buddy would talk, and he did.
“I don’t remember his exact words, but that’s not important. What — What matters is that a 7-year-old boy experienced his own personal epiphany. What’s my point? Well, it’s that Christmas reveals itself to us each in a personal way. Be it secular or sacred, whatever Christmas is, and it’s many things to many people, we all own a piece of it. It’s like… Well, it’s kind of like Santa’s bag. Inside, there’s a gift for everybody. My Christmas wish for you tonight: may your dog talk. Good night, Cicely. Merry Christmas.”
Good night, Oak Cliff. Merry Christmas.