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How to Hack the Holidays in Dallas

Hit all the highlights--or do a whole lot less! Our staff share 36 ways to make the most of the spirited season ahead.
| |Illustration by Naomi Otsu
Holidays in Dallas
Naomi Otsu
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Everyone has different ways of approaching the holiday season, from upholding long-running traditions to indulging in newly discovered delights. It’s no different here at D Magazine, where our staff celebrates with card-making parties, rounds of Old Fashioneds, and (yes) camel costumes, among plenty of other festive pursuits. Maybe you can add some of their suggestions on the pages that follow to your own itinerary.


KATHY WISE

Friends 

Make a Night of It

Kathy Wise, Editorial Director

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My friend’s father has been singing in Vocal Majority—the international,  award-winning men’s chorus now helmed by Greg Clancy—for at least three decades. Every year, my friends and I go to Jeng Chi for soup dumplings, spicy cold noodles, and bracingly stiff Old Fashioneds before heading to the Eisemann Center for their holiday concert, which may be themed around anything from pirates to Elvis. The last couple of years, our friend group has also added The Thompson Dallas to our December itinerary. The downtown hotel’s festivities include nightly concerts on the steps by Booker T. performers, wreath-making with Shane Friesenhahn of The Botanical Mix, and pie-baking with chef Jeramie Robison. There’s usually a Champagne bar in the lobby, and the elevator bay and hallways are turned into an artisan gift market. (Two years ago, I bought my wife a gorgeous hand-hammered cleaver from the German bladesmith who made it.) After Diamond Noir cocktails and an indulgent family-style dinner at Monarch, we don’t even bother going home; we reserve rooms and spend the night. Last year, someone was singing operatic arias seemingly just outside our window until the wee hours. No matter. We shut the blackout curtains and put on white noise to tune it out. In the morning, the pancakes at Nine more than made up for it. 


Turtle Creek Chorale
The Turtle Creek Chorale puts on quite a holiday show. Courtesy Turtle Creek Chorale

Get in Tune With the Season

Christmas Vacation

Vocal Majority

You can expect National Lampoon-ish humor and classical carols from this veteran 100-plus-member men’s choir. Nov. 30; Dec. 1 & 3. Eisemann Center, 2351 Performance Dr., Richardson

Beautification

Verdigris Ensemble

This innovative co-commission, inspired by the Lady Bird Johnson Highway Beautification Act, pairs artificial landscapes by artist Bianca Bondi with a choral performance featuring cuts from Johnson’s speeches. Dec. 1–3. Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass St.

O Holy Night: Lessons & Carols

South Dallas Concert Choir

The mission of this nonprofit is to preserve the art of the American spiritual. At this year’s holiday concert, it will also collect toys and toiletries for the unhoused. Dec. 7.

Sing for Joy: A Celtic Holiday Celebration

Turtle Creek Chorale

Celtic musicians and a full orchestra back the acclaimed, primarily gay men’s chorus. Dec. 18 & 19. Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St.


bethany erickson

Costumes

Dress Like a Dromedary

Bethany Erickson, Senior Online Editor

Our family goes to the children’s service at First United Methodist Church downtown, where the prerequisite to being a Magi is that you have two adults who can serve as your camel in a costume that’s at least 30 years old. (Pre-pandemic, there was always an actual baby for Jesus, and the baby would eventually object to being held by a 12-year-old girl for 40 minutes and begin wailing, and one of the directors would have to sneak onstage to take the baby.) Afterward, we get cocoa and drive around the city looking at Christmas lights while listening to a family-created playlist.


Lisa McClaren

Family Fun 

Hit the Highlights

Lisa McLaren, Advertising Director

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Thanksgiving musts are more about food. We mostly pick up all the sides from Eatzi’s—they come out with holiday menus to order in advance—plus a ham from Honey Baked Ham. For Christmas, we always go to the downtown Neiman’s for fun shopping, lunch at The Zodiac, and see Santa from afar because heaven forbid my 13-year-old be seen on his lap. For lights, we have to hit up Highland Park Village, the “Santa House” on Southwestern and the Tolleson estate on Hunters Glen Road because their Christmas lights are insane. Mother-daughter tea at The French Room is one of our traditions—you HAVE to make reservations well in advance. We went ice skating in Grapevine last year at their new outdoor ice-skating rink in front of Peace Plaza at Grapevine Main Station, and that was fun. We will definitely add that to our annual list.

Reserve a Tea Time

Circle all future calendars for the first Tuesday of October. That’s when Holiday Tea at The Adolphus reservations go live—and The French Room’s gleaming space does fill fast. This year, however, you might have a shot if you haven’t already booked. The restaurant has added Mondays and Tuesdays, so tea service runs seven days a week from November 1 to January 7 (with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days, naturally). Holiday Tea is $75 plus tax and tip ($35 for kids 12 and under), which includes two courses, two exclusive loose-leaf Zakti teas, and a glass of bubbly. Upgrade tea time for caviar service or book on December 23 and 24 for an aural treat courtesy of Victorian carolers. adolphus.com


Pecan Pie
Pumpkin pie doesn't have to be hard. Shutterstock
Mia Carrera

Baking

Have a Pie Day

Mia Carrera, Digital & Production Assistant, People Newspapers

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Every time I stroll the Dallas Farmers Market, I picture a younger version of me walking with my grandpa and mom, sampling our way through the stalls. I look forward to shopping here in the fall the most. Berries are swapped for pecans, and my mom and I pick up supplies to host our “pie day.” Every year, we spend the few days right before Thanksgiving in The Shed, picking through local ingredients for our apple, sweet potato, and pecan pies. Farmers cut slices of their produce and hand them out, assuring us that we’ll love whatever they have grown. We talk with them, asking about their wares and where they’ve traveled from in Texas. We come home, supplies in hand, and fill the kitchen to the brim with comforting smells and stories of our day. Every year I look forward to it, and every year it always takes me back to being little again. 

Mia’s Pecan Pie

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon bourbon or maple syrup
1 cup chopped pecans 
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 6 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature. Add eggs to syrup mixture and mix until well blended. Stir in vanilla and bourbon or maple syrup.

Lightly toast pecans in oven for 5 minutes, and then place in the bottom of the pie shell. Pour syrup mixture over pecans. Bake for 1 hour.


Don’t Come Empty-Handed

A bottle of wine feels like a simple way to contribute to a holiday party, but the task can feel increasingly complicated once you’re in the aisles of a wine shop or grocery store. 

Wines should ideally be paired with the food being served, but Lance Storer, wine director at Pogo’s Wine & Spirits, knows that’s not always possible. Traditional holiday food is also difficult to pair because the food has many complex flavors, he says. His advice is to go light.

“I have had the best success with sparkling wine, light-bodied reds, and full-bodied whites,” Storer says.

“It’s hard to go wrong with bubbles, and there are styles and price points for every occasion.” We gave Storer three dinner party scenarios and asked him to suggest a bottle to bring to each this holiday season. 

Co-Worker’s Holiday Party

pinot

Bring this: a light-bodied red wine, such as Presqu’ile Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2022 ($29)

Flavor notes: cherry, cranberry, strawberry, raspberry, thyme, and nutmeg 

Neighbor’s Friendsgiving

berlucchi

Bring this: a sparkling wine, such as Berlucchi ’61 Extra Brut Non-Vintage ($35)

Flavor notes: rich and creamy with golden apple, peach, white flowers, and brioche

Dinner With the In-Laws

Chassagne

Bring this: a full-bodied white wine, such as Sylvain Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 2020 ($125)

Flavor notes: apple, white peach, lemon and grapefruit flavors, delicate floral notes, hazelnut, cinnamon, and clove. Find these wines and more at Pogo’s Wine & Spirits. 5360 W. Lovers Ln., Ste. 200.


Holland S. Murphy

Travel 

Leave It All Behind

S. Holland Murphy, Senior Editor

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My husband and I both have most of our family in town, so my dream in life is to avoid the holiday square dance of appeasing all parties and get the hell out of Dodge for the entire Thanksgiving week. 

We halfway accomplished this last year when we took our kids and dog on a six-hour road trip to Bentonville in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. The town is best known as the home of Walmart, which means—cha-ching—Walmart money. Alice Walton funded the incredible Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the anchor activity of our trip. 

That holiday season (and again this season) the museum hosted “Listening Forest” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a nighttime art walk that led us through eight interactive installations, accompanied by an electronic soundtrack by the musician Scanner. It was the kind of thing where we’d stroll along with our hot cocoa and find a field of 3,000 lightbulbs that pulsated according to a sensor’s reading of our heartbeats. Another day, we wore our kids out at the Scott Family Amazeum (Lee Scott is the former Walmart CEO),  which is full of wacky science and art experiences, such as a room where kids paint glass walls then squeegee them off. 

My son and husband planned to ride some of the region’s 250-plus miles of mountain bike trails (thanks again to Walton green), but the temp was below freezing, so the bikes went unused. It was nice to feel a moment of sweater weather, though. We got back to Dallas in time for Turkey Day, and I’m pretty sure I wore sandals to see my in-laws.

Bentonville Gets Lit November 18

Bentonville’s annual Lighting of the Square is a small-town scene straight out of a Hallmark Christmas flick. Kids get crafty at Santa’s Workshop, families guzzle Ghirardelli hot cocoas while watching the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, and the mayor flips the official light switch at 6 pm sharp. Bentonville takes twinkle seriously. The city’s parks and rec department started stringing in September and will toil for a total of 3,000 hours to hang more than 30 miles of lights. 


Jessica Otte

Kids 

Do Less

Jessica Otte, Executive Editor, D Home & D Weddings

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Since becoming a mother six years ago, I have spent the weeks leading up to the holidays the same way I spend the build-up to birthday parties and family portraits: a stressed-out, manic mess. Some unhealthy impulse—a triple-type-A personality? Working-mom guilt?—urges me to make every day in December a capital-m Memory. 

I make sure we don’t miss a thing. Trains at NorthPark. Zoo Lights. Grapevine’s North Pole Express (the ticket-buying process for which is akin to scoring seats to a Taylor Swift concert). We write a letter to Santa and deliver it to the kind souls at 8281 Club Meadows Drive, who facilitate a response from the Big Man himself. Throw the word “holiday” in front of it—holiday baking, holiday movies, holiday tree lightings—we do it. In between, I’m buying gifts, tying ribbons, making a late-night run to Target so my kid can observe “holiday sock day” at school, and generally running myself ragged in the name of holiday cheer. 

One Saturday this summer—the other season of mandated Memory-making—I was plum out. Of ideas, energy, everything. I might’ve been slightly hungover. We spent the entire day in our PJs. Screen-time recommendations were broken. No water was splashed or vitamin D attained. We had cheddar cheese slices and crackers for dinner. And my kids declared it the “best day ever.” 

It was my Ghost of Christmas Future, making plain to me that my kids don’t care what we’re doing, only that we’re doing it together. It was just the permission I needed—to free myself from the shackles of self-imposed pressure, to stop trying to turn every minute into a moment, and to just enjoy this season of magic, and of life.

The Santa Who Writes Back

You’ll find more than a few North Pole-bound mailboxes around town, but for some reason, few actually get responses. Retirees Linda and Jim Shultz, however, are dedicated Santa ghostwriters, replying to every return address dropped in their red mailbox. In fact, they often hand deliver the letters, quicky turning around those that appear on Christmas Eve, but rely on USPS for envelopes that arrive from as far away as Little Rock. Kids will write in asking for everything from puppies to Kobe Bryant Nikes. One kid simply sent in a page ripped from a toy catalog with marker circling their top picks. Some have requested prayers for ailing loved ones. One of their favorites was a letter signed by “Harry Potter” in which the supposed Chosen One implored Mr. Claus to lay off the cookies and be more health conscious. “I just about laughed my guts out,” Jim says.
Write to Santa at 8281 Club Meadows Dr


Must-See Holiday House

Move over, Clark Griswold. Park Cities homeowner Wayne Smith uses 5 miles of extension cords to light a glowing cavalry of vintage Santas so vast that it necessitated a second electrical panel. As if that ever-growing brigade wasn’t wacky enough, on his roof he installs the head of the original Big Tex (billed as the world’s tallest Santa Claus when he popped up in Kerens, Texas, in 1949). Southwestern Blvd., between Baltimore Dr. and Thackery Dr. 


MIKE PIELLUCCI

Sports

Get Full of Cheer

Mike Piellucci, Sports Editor

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One of my earliest sports memories is Leon Lett’s notorious slide on the snow-covered artificial turf of Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving Day 1993, and most Turkey Days since have been planned around the ’Boys on TV (along with copious amounts of turkey and apple pie). More recently, Luka Dončić has made the Mavericks an institution on Christmas Day, which has led to a new round of traditions: eating antipasto while opening presents at my mom’s house, followed by pasta and meatballs featuring my grandmother’s time-honored red sauce recipe in the afternoon, all while making sure to carve out two and a half hours to see No. 77 make Yuletide magic. 


hojarascas
It is difficult not to eat the entire batch of hojarascas before arriving in Mexico. Courtesy
Alieen Jimenez

Sweets 

Have Someone Else Bake the Cookies

Aileen Jimenez, Managing Editor

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About a week or two in advance of the holidays, my mom calls Del Norte Bakery #3 and orders dozens of their thick and crumbly hojarascas. The location on Lake June Road has been our family’s preferred panadería for as long as I can remember. My mom makes sure to ask that they add pecans to the cookies; the added crunch is essential, trust me. They are buttery and sweet from being dusted with a sugar and cinnamon mix. Fresh from the bakery, these cookies travel to Mexico, where we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with our family. 

The ultimate test is not unsealing the cookie boxes and scarfing down a few during the nine-hour drive. After a long day of cooking and feasting, things finally begin to slow down once the evening turns into a chilly night. We build a bonfire and brew some coffee. Then mismatched coffee mugs and cookies begin to circulate. It’s exactly what you want after making meals from scratch all day—something warm, sweet, and stress-free.  


Will Maddox

Outdoors

Take a Hike

Will Maddox, Senior Editor, D CEO

We love to load up our teardrop camper and head to our favorite fall state parks, including Tyler and Lake Bob Sandlin. The tall pines still wear their green coats even in the dead of winter, and if you get outside early enough on a cool, still morning to catch the reflection of the fall foliage on either of those parks’ small lakes, you have found one of the prettiest sights in a two-hour radius. As a family too often focused on schedules and purchases, we need the time in the woods to escape the consumerism of the holidays, take a deep breath, and let something other than Disney+ do all the entertaining. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good holiday shopping spree and hot-chocolate-infused Christmas lights extravaganza. But when it comes to family moments, I want my boys to remember hiding behind a tree in our “invisibility cloaks” to watch a deer walk through the woods or paddling through a misty morning pond as the “pirates” of Tyler State Park. That’s the best gift we could give them.


Kym Rock Davison

Loved Ones

Host an Egg Roll-a-rama

Kym Rock Davidson, Associate Publisher, Medical and Legal Services

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When I was a child, my family would enjoy a huge Thanksgiving meal, after which my dad would put all our names in a hat. He’d pull them out one at a time to determine the order of who would get to go on a one-on-one dinner and gift-shopping date with him during the upcoming Christmas season. Those dates were some of my most special memories. We also always made my dad’s super-secret fudge recipe, which he revealed was the one on the marshmallow jar only after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer—go figure! 

When my kids were little, we always had homemade pizza on Christmas Eve, and then each of my three received pajamas, a book, and an ornament. We would then read from my childhood edition of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas before heading to bed. I always wrapped my kids’ gifts in a different wrapping paper for each child; on Christmas morning, I let them know which was theirs. 

It makes me feel so blessed that I see my kids with their children repeating the same traditions. We also have a new tradition. My dear friends JB and Rhonda Byrd had a long-standing family egg roll-a-rama on Christmas Eve with close friends and family. They would make the filling in advance, and the group would roll them together in the evening. We lost Rhonda to cancer last year, but her son has already announced that he is picking up the mantle this year.

Byrd Family Egg Roll-a-Rama

Ingredients:

Vegetable oil 
2 boneless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1 pound Jimmy Dean hot sausage 
1 large onion, diced
3–5 garlic cloves, minced 
8–10 scallions, diced 
4–6 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage 
1 8-ounce can of water chestnuts, diced 
3–4 cups of fresh bean sprouts, washed and dried 
1 cup chicken stock 
Soy sauce, to taste 
1–2 packages of egg roll skins 
1 egg, beaten 

Directions:

In a very hot wok, place a sufficient amount of oil to fry meat. Immediately place the chicken into the hot oil and cook quickly, “chopping” it further with your cooking utensil. When the chicken is almost done, crumble the sausage into the remaining hot oil. When the sausage is fully cooked, remove meat and set aside to cool. Add onion to hot wok. After 30 seconds add the garlic; after 30 seconds more add the scallions. Cook until onions are almost translucent. Return cooked meat to the wok and mix well. 

Add cabbage and bok choy. Cook for about one minute and then add water chestnuts and bean sprouts. Add chicken stock and soy sauce to taste. Cover and turn heat down to medium; let cook for approximately 3 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the cabbage and bok choy; they should be wilted but still have some crunch left. Uncover the wok, give the mix a good stir, and remove from heat. Allow to cool completely. 

Once the mixture has cooled, drain the remaining liquid. Roll filling into egg roll skins, and apply a small amount of the beaten egg to the edges to “glue” them closed. Fill an electric deep fryer with oil according to directions. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Cook rolls until golden brown. Serve immediately. 

Chef’s tip: It is best to assemble only the amount of egg rolls you can cook at one time, and then assemble the next batch after cooking the first batch, and so on. This is because the egg wash will quickly “melt” the egg roll skin if it sits for more than a minute, likely causing the roll to rupture in the hot oil. Having a team where one person fries the assembled egg rolls while the other member(s) of the team assemble the next batch not only speeds up the process, but it makes for a more enjoyable experience.


Nataly Keomoungkhoun

Correspondence

Play Your Cards Right

Nataly Keomoungkhoun, Online Dining Editor

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The text message I wait for all year hits my phone in the fall, when my neighbor Elisca invites a group of ladies in the neighborhood to come over for a Christmas card-making session. Elisca—who is likely a descendant of Santa Claus himself—transforms her home into a temporary holiday workshop with card stations in her living room, kitchen, and dining room. Each station is stocked with boxes of scalloped glitter paper, tiny cutouts of snowflakes and snowmen, and stacks of colorful ink pads. She creates the annual designs in advance, and it is our elvish job to re-create them.

My favorite accent is the puffy paint, which starts out as a fine powder and blooms to life with the application of super-hot air. In exchange for bringing a food or drink—my choice is a bottle of wine or a box of savory croissant kolaches from iHeart Kolache—each person leaves with up to 18 handmade cards. There’s an endearing quality to ones with tiny smudges or crooked edges. I grew up Buddhist, so I don’t always send out the cards I spend hours making. I make them because I enjoy good company, and there’s a peacefulness to the craft that slows down my brain. The rest of the world doesn’t matter when I’m cutting out tiny snowflakes. 


Tim Rogers

Shop Around

Post Up at the Mall  

Tim Rogers, Editor

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We go to NorthPark on Christmas Eve. I know it sounds terrible. It’s not. The only agenda is to post up in a restaurant and occupy a table way longer than is reasonable. Two hours minimum. Three is better. Usually we get a bar table so as not to screw over a waiter. Do we do any actually shopping? Sure. Every so often one of us might wander off and grab a last-minute gift. But the point is to waste time while others are rushing, and to really rub it in their faces. 

Avoid the Santa Lines at Half Price Books

Mall Santa lines run painfully long and kids’ patience runs short, so it’s no wonder many end up sobbing by the time they’re plopped on the big guy’s velvety lap. If you’re willing to forgo professional portraits, hit up Half Price Books’ flagship store for a real-beard Kris Kringle who once appeared on the truTV competition show Santas in the Barn. In his 30 years as the store’s Santa, Karl Ward has not only posed with wee humans but also with pet rabbits, ferrets, hedgehogs, turtles, dogs, cats, and, hairiest of all, a tarantula. Lines are usually manageable, and while you’re there, you can grab a copy of Alice in Wonderland or some other charming vintage edition to sub in for those un-recyclable glittery gift cards. Half Price Books, 5803 E. Northwest Hwy. 


This story originally appeared in the November issue of D Magazine with the headline, “How We Holiday.” Write to [email protected].

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