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Things To Do In Small Town America During The Holidays

Different town, same activity

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If you live in America like I do, your town is probably a lot like mine. There are long, twisting roads up hills or along lakes and brush-hidden river banks. There’s a history of Native American ancestry and old cemeteries and farm houses and brick houses which harbor nail salons and real estate agencies and law firms. There are beer and wine places and deer crossing signs and street lights and grocery stores and CVS’s and parks and busy pizza shops. Have you ever seen an empty pizza shop? I don’t know if that exists.

There are places to see or help animals — dog shelters and fish stores or maybe a touristy snake hut.

Perhaps there is a state college or a University.

At first glance, many of these spots may resemble a boring assortment of plain old locations that make up the meaty flesh of Anytown, USA. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see them for what they are; places you spend the precious minutes of your life making experiences and memories, supporting and building community. They represent the things you can and will do for the holidays in your home town.

Every town has a tree lighting ceremony. It’s usually at the municipal building or in a park downtown. Sometimes they have hot chocolate or fireworks or caroling or Santa will show up. Sometimes it’s frigidly cold and held outside, other times it’s an indoor affair. It’s usually free, and a butt ton of people show up. You almost didn’t know there were so many people in your town. To make the most of this event, if there isn’t a food donation element connected to it, contact the municipal building and ask if they would be willing to request one can of food or pet food for admission to be donated to a local food bank. It’s the season of giving after all, no??

The Antiques Barn will provide caroling and a raffle. You know the place. The big old barn-slash-factory that is now full of little booths that people can rent and sell their hand-painted Tupperware containers and collection of vintage Corningware mugs. You will find old train sets, a big rustic table, those cool antique wooden folding chairs, a red yellow green traffic light that is operational, big letters, paintings of animals, small wooden ladders, Fisher Price toys from the 60s and 70s, linen table cloths, and of course a nicely painted pastel shabby chic desk, among other things. The retired people running the place are nice, and will serve you hot chocolate. A group of elderly carolers dressed in green sweaters will shake bells and sing Godly type Christmas hymns. No one will make even one mention of Hanukkah. The Nazi pins in that one guy’s display case make it pretty clear what holiday is King around here. Complain to the manager about the nazi memorabilia to make the Yuletide truly gay. Don’t forget to enter the raffle. If you win the $200 gift certificate, you can buy some of that Nazi stuff and burn it in front of his booth, for heat mostly of course because it’s really cold in the large drafty antique filled factory.

There will be a holiday hike at the outdoor center. Marjory Blake will lead it. 15 elderly people wearing L.L. Bean boots and purple REI vests will show up for it, dressed in turtle necks and carrying hiking sticks, though it’s a pretty level half-mile hike across a wooden walkway and you’re not going to get much exercise anyway because Marjory loves to talk and she stops every six or so steps to talk about what kind of pine cones are underfoot and what bird is warbling and the history of the woods you’re walking through. It’s interesting stuff but you were hoping to burn off some of that stuffing. Still, it’s free and only a 15 minute drive in the Subaru from your house so…

The Indoor Winter Farmer’s Holiday Mart sells honey, olde tyme peppermint sticks, colored popcorn, maple syrup suckers, handmade ornaments, wreathes, wooden spoons, fresh cut flowers, various types of mustard, albeit all priced at a few dollars higher than you might like to pay, and of course there’s the dog rescue table where you can buy a sticker that says “Give this pup a doggone chance” and sign their mailing list to get updates with photos of sad dogs that need homes five minutes ago or will be…you know. The music over the speakers is cheerful and look! It just started snowing outside! Every person who has a table looks at you with a hint of desperation in their eyes as you wander by their table. You buy soap from this lady because she legitimately looks as if she might cry. “It’s been slow,” she confides. You tell yourself it’ll make a good secret Santa gift and thank her with a smile, reaching into your pocket to make sure you have tissues in case she needs one. You don’t.

You can buy a Christmas tree and decorate your house. You’ll be the first person on the cul-de-sac to do so this year, as your neighbors across the street haven’t been having an easy go of things. The ones behind you are new and who knows if they even celebrate Christmas? The farm down the road sells trees at a steep $50 per, which feels like a rip off when you’re literally surrounded by them, but who goes and randomly cuts their own tree down in the woods? Do you even own an axe? Have you ever used it? You have some old lights but a quick trip to Home Depot could get you up to speed on this year’s decor. Well, it’s a good 40 minute ride one way and figure you’ll spend 30 minutes there and another 10 in line. And it’s getting late so you might get caught in traffic on the way home. So yeah it’s gonna be a few hour affair. But you wanted something fun to do, right? Will you settle for time-consuming? If you don’t want to go to Home Depot, stay home, make popcorn and thread it on a string. Get bored halfway down the line and put it into a pile on the counter, not to return to it til mid-January, when you find it under a pile of newspapers and throw it away.

Karaoke contest at the local craft beer place is always a fun choice. You’d be surprised at the pipes on some of these gals and guys. A few resemble truck drivers and they very well may be, but they can crank out a Bruce Springsteen “Baby Please Come Home” or an Eagles’ “Please Come Home For Christmas” like they’re auditioning for AGT. There are holiday boobs galore, on display in green velvet v-neck tops and the blonde bangs fluffed out into forehead croissants almost appear to be frozen in place. Laughter and jovial smiles fill the room, which smells a little like french fry grease and hops. This place is pretty cool with it’s brick walls and blackboard backdrop with what must be 100 kinds of beers written out on it in all colors of chalk in perfect penmanship. It’s not doing super well because the locals see it as kind of snobby. The college kids love it but craft beer isn’t cheap. The prize for winning the karaoke contest is an ice cold keg though, and who doesn’t want that at their Christmas party?

Whatever you decide to do in your town to gear up for the holidays, don’t forget to add an element of good will. Tip the waitstaff extra, buy a few things at the pop up shop even if you don’t know what you’ll do with them, call someone you love and let them know. Christmas comes but once a year, so put your head down and push through it. In no time, it’ll be January and awful award season will begin again, so be thankful we aren’t there just yet.



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Jessica Delfino

Jessica Delfino

I write about life with 1 husband, 1.5 kids, 1 cat, at times funny. Bylines: New Yorker, The NY Times, The Atlantic, McSweeney’s.