Christmas with the stars

Posted Friday, Dec. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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There’s something about Christmas that creates fond memories. Maybe it’s receiving the perfect gift. Or eating the perfect meal. Or spending time with the perfect holiday companions.

The details are never exactly the same. But something about the day inevitably stands out and makes it special. We know. Because when we asked around, people were eager to share anecdotes of favorite holiday traditions and cherished Christmas memories. Not a “Bah, humbug” in the bunch.

Many of the celebrities we checked in with are from North Texas (Tim Love, Sandra Brown, Amy Acker, Hayley Orrantia, Courtney Kerr, Jake Pavelka, JT Hodges).

Others are included here just because they had good stories to share.

And Craig Johnson, author of the popular “Longmire” mystery novels, went beyond the call and wrote an original Christmas story for us. Enjoy.

Tim Love, celebrity chef (owner Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Love Shack, Woodshed Smokehouse, Queenie’s Steakhouse)

“I am a sucker for Christmas lights. I love to look at them and I love to hang them at my house. I have over 80,000 lights at my house and my kids love them as much as me. My absolute favorite tradition is to get a tree for each family member. We have five trees now, with two being flocked because my twin girls love ‘fancy’ things. It makes for a very festive aroma in the house and also a chance for me to hang more lights!”

Sandra Brown, author ( Deadline)

“The Christmas of 2012 was memorable, not entirely for a good reason. I contracted the Norovirus on Dec. 23 and spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in misery. Midday on Christmas Day, it began snowing. My husband, Michael, knowing that this was my first white Christmas and that I wouldn’t want to miss it, opened the draperies in the bedroom so I could watch the snowfall from my sickbed. By the 28th, my family deemed it safe enough to be with me without being gowned, gloved and masked. We gathered and had our traditional Christmas. Although it was three days late, it was wonderful! The ‘date’ isn’t as important as the ‘day.’ It’s not when you celebrate Christmas that makes it joyful, but rather the loved ones with whom you celebrate it.”

Amy Acker, actress ( Person of Interest)

“One of my favorite Christmas traditions we had is that every year, from the year I was born, my grandmother gave each of my siblings and me an ornament with our name and the year on it. Later my mom took up this tradition. When I moved to my first house, my mom sent me all of the ornaments from each year of my life. Now I have two kids and she has started doing this for them. They get to open the wrapped ornaments the night we decorate our tree. As we decorate, it is really fun to compare the ornament I had when I was 2 years old to the one they had when they were 2, or to find the ornament that I was given when I was their age. It sounds silly talking about it now. But with the Christmas music playing and the fire burning, it makes decorating the tree really special.”

Kirstie Alley, actress ( Kirstie)

“One of my family traditions, which we wrote into our first Christmas episode, is everybody wearing matching pajamas on Christmas Eve. That didn’t always get the best reaction in my house. ‘Oh, God, Mom! Why?’ But now that the kids have gotten older — my daughter is 19 and my son is 21 — it has almost become so kitschy that they don’t mind anymore. They’ve surrendered. So last Christmas, we were all dressed in pajamas that made us look like giant sock monkeys. The only difference on the show is that we were dressed as reindeer because we couldn’t find matching sock monkey costumes.”

Leeza Gibbons, TV host ( America Now)

“Several years ago, along with our Christmas tree we put up a small Wish Tree. I had a bunch of ornaments that opened, so we put blank strips of paper inside. We invited our friends with their kids to come to our Wish Dinner and to secretly write a wish on the paper to tuck away inside one of the ornaments. It could be a wish for themselves, for the world or for someone else. After dinner, the kids take turns opening the ornaments and reading the wishes out loud to the group. We get laughs, tears and lots of ‘Oh, that’s so sweet’ moments. Over the years, I’ve saved all those folded, handwritten dreams. You wouldn’t believe how many have happened, everything from wishes for a baby brother to finding a lost relative. It has become one of my favorite traditions.”

Hayley Orrantia, actress ( The Goldbergs)

“My nana passed away last year at the end of November. We would always go to her house and the whole family would be there. Even though she had passed away, we went anyway for Christmas. It was a hard Christmas, because she wasn’t there, but she had already bought everyone presents. So we were opening presents from her and one of them was a baby book that my mom had gotten her when I was born. She was supposed to fill it out with genealogy records and her memories of growing up so I could have it one day. She never filled it out, put it off for years, until a couple of months before that Christmas, when she filled out the whole thing and wrapped it up. That was the best Christmas gift I could have ever gotten from her.”

Jackie Collins, author ( Confessions of a Wild Child)

“I do all the cooking with my daughters on Christmas Day. It’s a major production. This year, we made a list of who we’re cooking for and we discovered we’ll have 35 people for lunch. I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but it’s our Christmas tradition. So we have to decide whether to get two turkeys or three. We’ve got turkey on the menu, English roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, three to five different vegetables, a lovely gravy, Christmas pudding, mince pies. It’s all very festive and very family. But 35! Thank goodness I had my kitchen designed for just such an occasion: It’s a kitchen that has four ovens and I think I’ll be using every one of them during the Christmas crunch!”

Joe King Carrasco, Tex-Mex musician ( Tamale Christmas)

“It wouldn’t be Christmas without tamales. In south Texas and in Mexico, it’s a tradition that you have a lot of tamales at Christmas. Maybe I can go a Christmas without tamales, but I never have. My old songwriting partner, Johnny Perez, who was the original drummer for the Sir Douglas Quintet, had been pushing me since about 1988 to write a Christmas tamale song. So I kept that idea in my head and had the song, but didn’t get around to recording it until last year. It’s on our next album. The sad part is, after we recorded it, I called Johnny out in California to tell him about it. I hadn’t seen him in a while. But he had passed away. So he never got to hear Tamale Christmas. But wherever he is, he’s probably out there appreciating it.”

Guy Fieri, celebrity chef ( Rachael Vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off)

“When I give presents, everything has to be done with some showmanship. I get that from my dad. Last year, my son Ryder had been asking for a dog. We have dogs, but he wanted his own dog. So I take a page out of A Christmas Story, when the dad says, ‘Hey, what’s that?’ and it’s the Red Ryder BB gun. So after all the presents have been opened, I say, ‘Hey, what’s that ornament hanging there?’ And Ryder reaches over. It’s a piece of wrapping paper with his name on it. He opens it and there are two pieces of salami and a note that says, ‘Go outside with a piece of salami in each hand.’ So we go out and there’s a giant English mastiff puppy. And because Ryder’s holding salami, the dog waddles right over to him. I still get goosebumps when I remember his reaction. That is my favorite Christmas memory.”

Jake Pavelka, reality TV personality ( The Bachelor)

“My brothers and I have always tried to give Mom and Dad something personal for Christmas. You can go out and buy a gift at a store, but if you actually make something and put some thought into it, it’s more special. So we’ve always done that. One year, when I was maybe 12 years old, I got a cassette tape and told my dad on it how much he meant to me and what a good job I thought he was doing. And I remember catching him in his room listening to it — and he was crying. I thought, ‘That was probably the right gift.’ 

Courtney Kerr, reality TV personality ( Courtney Loves Dallas)

“My favorite Christmas traditions involve driving to Fort Worth from Dallas on Christmas Eve and spending the evening with my extended family, exchanging gifts. Then, on Christmas morning, my mom and I watch the parades and cook breakfast. And by nighttime, we are always craving Mexican food!”

Melissa Joan Hart, actress ( Melissa & Joey)

“We started a new tradition of hosting an Ugly Sweater Party with our friends, complete with an elephant gift exchange. We also host a kids party with Christmas movies playing and cookie decorating while the moms assemble casseroles. Then we bring the casseroles and cookies to our nearby soup kitchen to feed some hungry people in our town. Santa usually runs by the back door and drops gifts from the roof, too.”

Audrina Patridge, reality TV personality ( The Hills)

“Every Christmas Eve, my entire family gets together at my grandparents’ house. We always start with a prayer to acknowledge loved ones who have passed. Then we indulge in a huge Christmas feast. Sometimes carolers come to our door during dinner. Then, while the kids open presents, we pass around pfeffernüsse, which are traditional German cookies my great-grandmother used to make every Christmas. My grandma makes them now and she’s taught all of us how to bake these tasty little cookies to carry on our tradition. I always look forward to spending this very special time with my grandparents and family.”

JT Hodges, country music artist/actor ( Finding Christmas)

“The best Christmas gift I ever got, when I was little, was a yellow Mongoose dirt bike. I was just over the moon when Santa Claus brought me that. I rode that thing into the ground for the next three years until finally my dad said, ‘You’re probably a little big for this bike. You need to get yourself a new one.’ But it was hard to make that change, because I remember loving that bike.”

Bruce Greenwood, actor ( Star Trek Into Darkness)

“All the time that I was growing up, my dad on the night before Christmas would read A Christmas Carol to my sisters and me. We would all curl up on the couch and my dad would read it out loud. We later extended that tradition to include our friends: We hang out at the house and write numbers on slips of paper, one for each stave of A Christmas Carol, the tiny chapters. We put the numbers in a hat and have people pull out a stave to read aloud. We still do that. It’s a great way to remember what’s important at Christmas.”

Tom Mison, actor ( Sleepy Hollow)

“The best present I’ve ever received was a robot when I was a child. I was begging for a robot, and I got a little one that you could speak into and then it moved and repeated what you’d say, which got me into a lot of trouble: That robot used a lot of swear words!”

Skunkenator: The Perfect Gift

By Craig Johnson

As holiday experiences go, I’d have to say that what happened to me the other day only last week was one for the books.

I was getting grain out of the bins in my tack shed when I discerned a familiar noxious smell wafting up from under the floor. Never having dealt with skunks much, I called up the Wyoming Game and Fish and asked the nice lady on the phone what, other than a double-ought dose of lead, my options were; it was coming up on Christmas after all.

“We’ve got a trap we can loan you.”

This introduced a number of ancillary perils. “Yeah, but what do you do after you catch the skunk?”

“You reintroduce it to the wild.”

This rather prosaic response seemed to leave out one essential point. “Yep, but how do you keep from getting sprayed?”

“It’s a special trap just for skunks, a tube that doesn’t allow them to raise their tails.”

The Skunkenator, as was written on the side of the metal, worked on the basic premise of the live traps I’d dealt with before but, as the lady described, contains the little critters in such tight quarters that they can’t use their primary weapon.

I baited the device with a little mixed-grill cat food and went to bed. The next morning I was rewarded with a Pepe Le Pew snoozing in the Skunkenator, and the impending drama of reintroducing him to the wild.

I tried to think of anybody I knew who needed a very special Christmas gift but ultimately decided that the marshy spot near Healy Reservoir (about 14 miles from the ranch) should suit the little fellow just fine.

One of the biggest advisories printed on the side of the Skunkenator is the warning that upon release, the operator must be patient. Once you open the grated end at the front of the cylinder, you need to move to a safe distance and allow Nature to take her course at her own pace.

I lasted five minutes.

Apparently, the Skunkenator was so comfortable that the creature felt compelled to set up housekeeping. The idiot that lives on my shoulder started coming up with ideas on how I could rush the nature pace thing but still not have to live in the tack shed till New Year’s.

I figured if I took hold of the handle on top and slung the tube in an outward direction, I would effectively be firing a skunk cannon. I calculated that by the time he hit the ground and discovered where to spray, I’d be back in my truck and headed down the road.

Trust me, no Olympic shot-putter in the history of the world has ever applied as much emphasis into the action as I did this one. I was rewarded with the sight of a very handsome and surprised skunk that spread his little limbs fully out, hit, rolled once, then sprang up ready to spray — but thankfully not in my direction. The last time I saw my skunk, he was bounding off toward the lake.

But if you are not lucky enough to have gotten a Skunkenator for Christmas and have had a close encounter with one of the little critters lately, I have a lovely tack shed that’s available for the holidays.

Craig Johnson’s Christmas novela, ‘Spirit of Steamboat’ (Viking, $20), was published in October.

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