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SANTA'S TEXAS HEADQUARTERS

Need a little Christmas spirit? Grapevine's got you covered.

By Pam LeBlanc


It looks to me like a holiday volcano erupted over Grapevine, raining down Santa Claus, all his elves and a team of flying reindeer, topped off with a bunch of candy canes and twinkling lights.

Which makes sense, when you consider that the Texas Senate once proclaimed this little town northwest of Dallas “The Christmas Capital of Texas.”

Grapevine goes all-out when it comes to the holidays, hosting roughly 1,400 festive events from just before Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Eve, including a lighted boat parade on Lake Grapevine, an Elves on the Run 5K and a roster of traditional holiday movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street playing at the historic Palace Theater.

That’s just the tip of the garland-adorned iceberg, too. I head to Grapevine to indulge in the magic, determined to see just how much Christmas spirit one little town could pump out.

As it turns out, the answer is “a lot.”

Grapevine city officials begin the bedecking process in early November; the crescendo builds as the days tick into December.

I’m staying at the Gaylord Texan Resort, which feels a little like sleeping inside a holiday snow globe. Probably because we live in Texas, where the sun can beat down like a blowtorch on hot summer days, the resort’s hotels, restaurants and shops are encased beneath a huge dome in a Disneyland-meets-Las Vegas sort of way. Kids and adults love the place, and in December, you can stroll among 2 million sparkling lights, a 54-foot Christmas tree with 15,000 ornaments and a gingerbread house way too big for a single human — or even a family of 40 — to eat.

The resort also hosts an ice sculpture display that’ll knock your knit cap off, but we’ll get to that later.

Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

Grapevine decks the halls for Christmas each year.


Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

The Gaylord Texan Resort celebrates with lights, a tree and ice sculptures.


I make the quick drive to the historic downtown area, where I start my tour with a visit to Vetro Glassblowing Studio and Gallery on South Main Street. Here, customers can make, with assistance from an expert, their own glass tree ornament. I twirl a rod dipped in molten glass into chips of color, then ease it into a furnace like it’s a marshmallow over a campfire.

The results immediately start the mercury rising on my Christmas-spirit-o-meter.

“It’s always amazing how easy the professionals make it look,” says David Gappa, founder of the studio. “But we let you dive in to learn what 2,000 degrees feels like and work with the molten medium. Glass is just so captivating.”

I leave my green, blue and white ornament to cure overnight, and pause to chat with customer Kathleen Pendergast of Coppell, who’s here for the third time in a week to make ornaments to give as gifts to her friends.

“It’s something someone can use year after year, and it has meaning, since you made it for them,” she tells me.

I continue my stroll down Main Street, humming to traditional holiday music playing over the loudspeakers. (The mercury in my holiday thermometer rises again.)

If you decide to visit at another time of the year, you can check out Grapevine’s Botanical Gardens at Heritage Park (home of the annual Butterfly Flutterby each fall), hike/bike or ride horses on 30 miles of trail at Oak Grove Park or explore nearby Lake Grapevine, popular for fishing and boating.

But I’m here for the holiday immersion. I poke my head into Torian Cabin on Main Street, a two-room log cabin built in 1845 in the nearby community of Lonesome Dove, then moved here. I admire the decorations set up in the surrounding pocket-sized park, then amble down the street in slow motion, ducking into shops to buy some chocolates and a pair of red-and-black-checkered pajama pants suitable for wearing while frosting Christmas cookies. Then it’s a bowl of original “red” (no beans, this is Texas!) at Tolbert’s Restaurant and Chili Parlour, whose founder helped start the Terlingua Chili Festival in West Texas.

I stop at a coffee shop for a cup of tea, relaxing for a spell before heading to the North Pole Neighborhood, where I’ve got a ticket for the North Pole Express. An elf in striped tights escorts me to my seat beneath a halo of garlands on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, where I sip chocolate milk from a plastic mug and watch families dressed in matching pajamas settle in excitedly for the trip.

“Be prepared to clap and sing periodically throughout this trip,” a disembodied voice announces as the train chugs to life. About halfway through the 45-minute ride, Mrs. Claus herself boards the train, handing out silver bells that say “We Believe” to the kids.

Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

The North Pole Express welcomes riders with chocolate milk and cookies.


Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

Decorations around town add holiday cheer.


Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

Foamy snow greets visitors after a train ride.


Photo by Earl Nottingham / TPWD

Visitors don parkas for the Gaylord Texan's ice sculpture exhibit.


By the time we pull back into the station, a foamy sort of snow is falling from the sky, and everyone is jostling for a glimpse out the train’s windows. As I step off the train, I brush off the fluffy suds, watch a short performance in Santa’s workshop, then duck into the general store, where kids and parents are lined up to take pictures with Santa.

A carousel spins outside, but I skip that because I’ve got more exciting things on my mind — a visit with live reindeer. Inside a little barn, most of the reindeer are snoozing in soft, fragrant piles of straw. But when Rudolph spots me (maybe it’s the lingering scent of cookies and milk from the train ride on my breath?), he staggers to his feet, yawns and pokes his snout over the rails to say hello.

He always was my favorite.

We converse for a few minutes, but now it’s time for me to return to the Gaylord, don my mittens and head into the 17,300-square-foot ice sculpture exhibit. Artisans from China spent months creating this lavish — and chilly — display from 2 million pounds of colored ice, which portrays a different theme every year. In 2018 it tells the story of Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer. I trade my entrance ticket for a heavy blue parka from a clerk, and pass a sign asking guests not to lick the ice. (I decide to comply.)

And it’s cold! Nine degrees Fahrenheit, in fact. I shiver a little at the sight of the Abominable Snowman, shake my head at Santa’s appalling behavior toward a reindeer that’s just a little different than its peers, and snuggle inside my parka. By the time I make my way past the ice slides (!), though, all is well with Rudolph, Hermey, Yukon Cornelius and Clarise, and I’m ready for a steak dinner at Old Hickory Steakhouse inside the resort.

Notch the mercury up a tad bit higher, please.

I finally tuck myself into bed, visions of the day’s adventures dancing in my head.

The highlight of the trip comes the next morning, when I drop by Nash Farm for a taste of farm life circa the 19th century.

“You better put your traps down, because you’ve got work to do,” farm manager Cody Jolliff tells me as I walk in the door of the historic home. I drop my purse, button my coat and follow Jolliff to the barn, resident orange cat Leroy at my heels, swirling his tail around my ankles.

Thomas Jefferson Nash bought the original 110 acres of the farmstead in 1859. His descendants lived here until 1920, and today just over 5 acres remain, including the main house, a barn, a field guarded by scarecrows and a small cemetery.

The sheep pluck tidbits from my palms with velveteen lips, and the turkeys and chickens squawk their approval when we scatter feed. Even the rabbit peers out of its hutch at us when we make our delivery.

Then breakfast is ready. We wash our hands at a basin in the dining room, using a pitcher of warm water and lye soap, and pull up chairs at a long wooden table. Paper garlands hang overhead.

“It’s the last intact farmstead in Tarrant County,” David Klempin, manager of heritage programs and preservation for Grapevine, says of our beautiful setting. Many people associate Grapevine with Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, but prior to its opening in 1974, the focus in Grapevine was on agriculture. “That’s why it’s so key to keep something.”

The farm was restored in 2008, and everything works like it did back when this was still a functioning homestead. Farm educator Kimberly Wageman-Prack delivers platters of scrambled eggs, homemade sausage (the farm offers a hog butchering class each fall, plus classes in cheese making, canning, carpentry, sewing and weaving at other times of the year), pickled carrots and cucumbers, toast and jam, all cooked up on a vintage stove and served with fresh-squeezed orange juice and a kettle of coffee.

“I want everybody to love this stuff as much as I do,” Wageman-Prack says. “I think it’s important that we learn how our ancestors lived so we appreciate what we do have.”

I know I do.

And I know one more thing — the holiday volcano known as Grapevine has not disappointed.

Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

David Gappa shows how to make a glass ornament at Vetro Glassblowing Studio.


MORE INFO:

GRAPEVINE TOURISM

www.grapevinetexasusa.com

GAYLORD TEXAN RESORT

www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dalgt-gaylord-texan-resort-and-convention-center
(817) 778-1000

NORTH POLE EXPRESS

www.grapevinetexasusa.com/christmas-capital-of-texas/north-pole-express/

NASH FARM

www.grapevinetexasusa.com/nash-farm


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