Taking time to enjoy family during a festive getaway to Odessa, By Brooke Davis
The holidays are a magical time of the year in our household. The day after Thanksgiving I always put a large pot of gumbo on and the four of us—myself, my husband, Mike, our daughter, Samantha, and our son, Seth—go pick out a Christmas tree that we’ll bring home and spend the day decorating with holiday music playing in the background. It’s usually not snowing this time of year in Texas, so we sometimes will turn the air conditioner on and light a fire just to get into the spirit. We end the day with toasted s’mores, hot chocolate, and watching the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
This year, the kids begged us for a Christmas vacation. We always host the extended family at our house on Christmas Day, so we decided to treat the kids to a vacation in early December. I searched for family holiday destinations in Texas and found that Odessa, a short three-hour drive for us, had a bunch of holiday events starting after Thanksgiving.
“Kids, pack your bags!” I announced. They were elated!
All is Bright
We arrived on a Thursday, just in time to attend the Community Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in McKinney Park. We got hot cocoa for the kids and listened to the carolers as we gathered around the tree. Organizers started the countdown.
“Five, four, three, two, one!”
Seth and Samantha eyes lit up the moment the switch was flipped, illuminated by the cheerful glow of the giant tree’s Christmas lights. Afterwards, we got back in the car and drove under the twinkling arch of Starbright Village to check out all the light displays.
“Look, mommy,” Samantha shouted. “Santa!” She pointed to a sparkling red sleigh pulled by lighted white reindeer galloping up into the sky.
The kids were in winter wonderland heaven as we made our way through the displays, and even made a game of pointing out all of the different light sculptures.
“Look at the train,” Seth called out, as we passed the Snowflake Express, an animated train churning out lighted smoke trails and snowflakes from the stack on its locomotive.
“Mom, look!” Samantha chimed in. “Teddy bears! They’re so cute!” she said pointing to a circus bear balancing a stack of gifts on its nose, and a teddy waving from the back of a lit up rocking horse.
We drove past trees with flashing light icicles and under starry arches, past penguins doing back flips off a lighted igloo, and past a giant pair of lit up cowboy boots stuffed with gifts surrounded by dancing musical notes. There were white swans, twinkling angels, dancing gingerbread men, giant sparkly red Poinsettias, green mistletoe, and snowmen blowing snowflake kisses.
“And look,” I told the kids, “St. Nick is blowing us snowflake kisses!”
The following evening, we returned for pictures with Kris Kringle himself at Santa Land. Samantha couldn’t wait to tell him that she wanted a bike this year. Seth was a little unsure. Mike and I laughed at his adorable reaction to this stranger with a beard. Our timing was perfect. When we returned to our hotel, the brand-new Odessa Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, I uploaded the photos and ordered our Christmas cards right from our plush bed. Now that’s #momming!
A Wonderful Winterfest
On Saturday, we ate freshly-made enchiladas and fajitas for lunch at La Margarita and then headed to Noël Heritage Park downtown for Winterfest. Many of the shops downtown were trimmed with tinsel and lights as part of the Downtown Decor Contest. The entire park was festively decorated and looked like it was jam-packed with holiday activities. There was a band playing “Gingerbread Rock” music, and an outdoor synthetic ice skating rink. Mike and I donned skates and joined the kids out on the ice.
We stayed for the Parade of Lights that evening, alongside hundreds of locals and visitors. The kids and I waved at the marching bands and oohed and ahhed at the giant floats all lit up as they passed, while Mike loved the antique cars. Santa and his elves ended the parade in a grand finale.
A Legendary Day
The Ellen Noël Art Museum was hosting a family calligraphy class on Sunday, we decided to attend and learn how to address our Christmas cards in the fanciest way. We also toured the art galleries. I was seriously impressed with the caliber of art the museum featured. It’s a Smithsonian Affiliate museum, and as such has access to the assets in the Smithsonian Institution portfolio.
When we left, we stopped by the nearby Chris Kyle Memorial Plaza, which honors the Odessa native and hero. Mike and I both read American Sniper and saw the movie. We could not pass by without honoring this extremely brave man and his service to our country.
For dinner, we treated ourselves to giant steaks—and steak fingers for the kids—at The Legendary Barn Door Steakhouse. The kids especially loved how they brought us a loaf of bread and block of cheese to enjoy as we waited for our entrées.
In a bit of Christmas magic, we completely lucked out that evening as the Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker happened to be on stage at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center. Extravagant costumes, stunning sets, soaring birds, grandiose puppets, and professional dancers brought the production to life in a magical way. This alone was worth the drive and the kids seemed to really enjoy this special night. I made mental note to write down the dates for two upcoming performances: A Charlie Brown Christmas Live and Twas the Night Before Christmas, both taking place later in the month.
Our holiday vacation in Odessa was so much fun, we are already planning our next visit, just a few weeks from now. We saw that our hotel, the Marriott, is having a special during the weekend of December 14. Santa’s Staycation Weekend included a Teddy Bear Tea breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Claus (and mimosas for the parents!), and more fun holiday events. I figured I could get my last minute shopping done and the kids could have some fun. Though we can’t slow down time with them, we can make it count.
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