During the Christmas season each year, my family takes a traditional road trip to Santa Land right off Interstate 20 near the East Texas city of Lindale. Santa Land is one of those spectacular drive-through Christmas lights displays, guaranteed to add some dazzle to your holiday with a photosensitive seizure.
We usually try to go early to avoid the incredibly long line that moves at a salted snail’s pace due to waiting for drivers at the entrance recovering from the trauma of the admission fee. This year we were pleased to find that the column of vehicles only stretched back as far as Albuquerque.
The agony of waiting was aggravated by the fact that, once we were stuck in line, I was hit by the urge to go to the bathroom, and since my youngest daughter always sits in my lap as we wind our way through the bumpy gravel trail at Santa Land, my bladder felt like it was subbing for the ball at the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest. (Yes, ladies, now I know what pregnancy feels like. And, no, I’m not interested in experiencing the actual delivery.)
Once we finally entered Santa Land and made it through the first twinkling tunnel of nausea, we were instructed by signs along the path to roll down our windows so we could hear the country Christmas music playing throughout the venue. Unfortunately, the first speaker we encountered was blown out, making Reba McEntire’s rendition of “O Holy Night” sound like she was auditioning to be a back-up singer for Megadeth.
I was pleased to see that, along with the commercial aspects of Christmas on display (like a handmade wooden cutout of a giant Hershey’s Kiss that, according to my middle daughter, looks like an enormous turnip), there is a section of Santa Land dedicated to depicting the story of Jesus. Featuring what looked like decommissioned mannequins from a 1970’s K-Mart, a series of dioramas depicted the life of Christ from the Nativity to His Ascension into Heaven. When we reached the Last Supper scene, my eldest daughter remarked that the apostle Peter appeared to be wearing red lipstick, but I assured her that Peter would never consider wearing that particular shade with a burgundy robe.
Another sign we saw instructed passengers to remain inside vehicles at all times. The exception, of course, is when you reach the end of the trail of lights and your children force you to visit the gift shop. After the light display has lulled you into a state of Yuletide euphoria, the gift shop tempts you with such irresistible souvenirs as decorative toilet paper and holiday grooming kits. (I think I even saw a pair of Donald Trump “Make Christmas Great Again” boxer shorts – or maybe that was the toilet paper.)
Managing to tear ourselves away from the gift shop without adding a single Elvis nutcracker to our collection, we headed to our traditional post-Santa Land dining destination, Cracker Barrel. The joy begins when the server brings out a heaping plate of warm, complimentary carbohydrates (biscuits and cornbread). I usually request some honey, jelly, and butter to offset the enriched bread products with something healthy and natural.
Another perk is that regardless of what you order, the server almost always asks if you’d like white or brown gravy. One time, I’m pretty sure I saw a guy pouring gravy on his garden salad. Sheer genius! They even have rows of rocking chairs lining the front of the building, just in case you can’t make it back to your car without giving your arteries a minute to recuperate.
I also appreciate the antique ambience of Cracker Barrel. I especially enjoy browsing through the vintage candy and soda as I explain to my daughters, “See, girls, that this is how people got diabetes in the old days.” And then there’s the charming décor of the place with traditional farm implements ornamenting the walls. I mean, where else can you eat a plate of meatloaf and, at the same time, risk being skewered by a falling hay fork?
With full tummies and thoughts elevated with Christmas spirit, we headed home singing carols and looking forward to the rest of the holiday season. I was also looking forward to a few days of sleeping late and lounging around the house in my burgundy robe and my “Make Christmas Great Again” boxer shorts.