Christmas is about tradition, about family, about making memories that last a lifetime.
This is hardly a revelation. But during the final, stress-filled week before the big day, it’s nice to be reminded why the holiday is special. In our annual feature, we asked a handful of notable North Texans to tell us their favorite holiday anecdotes. Everyone was eager to share. Not a “Bah, humbug” in the bunch.
Some of their stories involve giving the perfect Christmas gift. Some have to do with spending time with the perfect holiday companions. And sometimes the cherished memories are of Christmases when something went comically wrong. The details are never exactly the same, but each tale warms our hearts.
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Dr. Phil McGraw
I’ll always remember the Christmas when Jay, the older of my two boys, broke the code on Santa Claus.
My wife and I would go to elaborate measures with both of our boys on Santa Claus lore. For example, we would put out cookies. Then, during the night, we would take one of the cookies away, take a bite out of the other and crumple the napkin so it would look like Santa sat down to eat cookies.
On this particular Christmas, we got Jay a stereo that was in a cabinet that had shelves and a glass door. We had it hidden away and, after he went to bed on Christmas Eve, I got the stereo out, rolled it down the hall into the den and put it by the Christmas tree.
The next morning, Jay got up and was really excited. “Look what Santa brought me!” But then he noticed the two tracks on the carpet where I had rolled the cabinet up to the tree.
So he measured the wheels on the bottom of the cabinet and measured the tracks and then traced them out of the den and into the hall and back to the closet. And he said, “OK, I get it. Santa didn’t bring this down the chimney. This came out of the closet in the hallway. You’re Santa!”
His brother Jordan, seven years younger, was just 1 or 2 at the time. Jay could have ruined the fun for his brother at any time after that. But instead he took great pleasure in being in on the secret with us, allowing Jordan to enjoy Santa for the next six or seven years.
McGraw, a University of North Texas grad, is a psychologist, bestselling author and host of the popular daytime television show Dr. Phil.
Reality TV star
There was a year growing up with my grandmother and grandfather when my grandmother’s tiny hands lost her wedding ring. She was devastated at losing something that meant so much to her.
Several years later, on a Christmas Day at my home in Dallas, my grandfather finally found a matching ring and decided to surprise her. He asked me to help concoct a plan to make it the last gift that Christmas morning.
I hid the ring box in the tree and waited for everyone to finish opening their packages. Then my grandfather said, “Is that all of the presents, LeeAnne?” And I said, “Oh, I forgot. Santa put a package in the tree.”
There was no name on it, so I asked my grandmother to open it. I will never forget her face when she lit up, looked at my grandfather and kissed him. I can still hear her saying, “Oh. Melvin. It’s beautiful!”
That is a Christmas moment I will never forget. It was a teaching moment my grandmother and my grandfather blessed me with: True love isn’t really about gifts; it’s about love shared between two people!
Locken stars in the reality series The Real Housewives of Dallas.
TV news anchor
Every year, my dad was really excited about decorating our house to ring in the holidays.
He would take charge, and we would put up lights and decorations all over the house and always try to impress and out-decorate our neighbors.
For a while, after my father passed, we had a hard time decorating. But now we are back to completely decorating our house, and it brings back the happiest memories from growing up.
Once the house is fully decorated, we host a huge family dinner. But unlike traditional dinners, this one has no formal start time.
My entire family will come by the house throughout the day and leave when they have to. It’s a big party and it wouldn’t be the holidays without it.
Hall, a former reporter for KTVT/Channel 11, is cohost of the third hour of NBC’s Today and an anchor of MSNBC Live.
TV news anchor
I’m Jewish by birth, but I had a very open-minded father and mother. So we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas in my house. I always felt I was very fortunate because of that.
People would ask my father, “If you’re Jewish, why do you let your kid celebrate Christmas?” He would say, “Peace on earth and good will toward men are concepts I can buy into.” I always remembered that. It taught me a lot about being accepting of different people, different backgrounds, different beliefs.
Of course, as a kid, I also liked getting presents on two different holidays.
My younger sister, Tracy, and I would get so excited on Christmas Eve. She was the one who would wake me after our parents had put all the presents under the tree. We’d sneak downstairs to the family room and fall asleep on the couch, waiting for our parents to come down so we could open presents.
All these years later, I still celebrate both holidays. My wife is Catholic-born. But we still light the candles for Hanukkah and we still celebrate Christmas, too.
Fein co-anchors NBC5 Today weekday mornings from 4:30 to 7 a.m.
The best gift I’ve ever given anybody was a pool table. Actually, I’ve given many pool tables over the years, including one to my brother last year. There’s a whole story behind that.
When I was a kid, I was raised by my dad, who was basically just a big kid himself. So if I asked for something like a Barbie for Christmas, I would end up getting something completely different and unexpected.
Basically, he would give me something that he wanted.
One year it was a pool table. I was 9 years old. What does a little girl want with a pool table? I could barely reach across the table to make a shot. He did that kind of thing all the time. One year, when I was 12, he got me a Jeep for Christmas. I’m not talking a toy. It was a real Jeep.
He was that kind of a dad. He spoiled me. He still does.
Anyway, it became a thing for all of us in my family: The Christmas presents we get each other are actually the things that we want ourselves. It has become a fun family tradition.
It was weird when I was 9. But I love it now.
Cole, an Arlington native, is the leading lady in Hallmark Channel’s Christmas in Homestead, which airs at 9 p.m. Friday.
When I was growing up, my parents had an ongoing battle over the Christmas tree.
My dad loved Christmas, every bit of it, as much as any child. He loved presents and carols and lights and, more than anything, a real Christmas tree. My mom was less the merry elf and the thing she liked least was the tree. From the first appearance of artificial trees, she campaigned for one.
She was terrified of fire, which now as an adult, thinking about those prickly, dry Scotch pines and those hot lights, I understand a bit better. But at the time I thought the world would end if we put an ugly plastic thing in our living room.
Every year I waited in an agony of suspense to see who would win the argument. Always, it was my dad. He’d nod towards the car and off we’d go, just the two of us. We’d spend an hour on the lot picking out the best specimen, then he’d tie it on the car for the trip home.
My dad, my grandmother and I did all the tree-trimming: lights, ornaments and then the finishing touch, tinsel. No throwing allowed! Each strand had to be placed just so. But, oh, when it was all done it was glorious! I would tiptoe downstairs in my pajamas at night, just to sit and look at it.
Eventually, when I was grown and gone, my mom got her way. From then on, my parents had an artificial tree. But I’ve stuck with tradition. Every year, I go by myself and pick out the very best tree.
And somewhere, I think my dad is smiling.
Crombie is a native North Texan who writes a series of bestselling Scotland Yard mysteries. Her next novel, Garden of Lamentations, comes out Feb. 7.
I grew up in an Air Force family, so we moved around a lot when I was a kid. From the time I was about 8 to 12 years old, we were stationed in Germany, so my sister and I got to experience the German culture and all of the amazing traditions there.
One of my fondest memories is visiting different Christkindlemarkts (Christmas markets). One of my favorites is the Christmas market in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a medieval walled Bavarian city with cobblestone streets. It was like traveling back in time.
I can still remember the smell of the spicy sausages and glühwein (mulled wine) wafting through the cold air. And speaking of food, we ate “schneeballen” (snowballs), which were made of strips of sweet dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar or chocolate, and gigantic gingerbread cookies.
Our parents even let us taste the weisser glühwein, but we preferred the cookies. We rode the carousel, mostly to try to grab the brass ring and win some sort of prize, and we shopped for ornaments at Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Village.
Those same ornaments we bought in the ’80s still hang on my parents’, Grandma Marie’s, my sister’s and my Christmas trees. One day we’ll pass them down to our kids.
But more importantly, we’ll pass along the Christmas memories and traditions that are so special to us as a family.
Padgett is the chief meteorologist for KTVT/Channel 11; his family lives in North Texas.
Cowboy Bill Martin
The Christmas I’ll never forget was when I was 8 years old. My mother sent me and my brother, Skeeter, to bed early, because that’s what mamas do on Christmas Eve.
My brother was pretty upset because he was 10 years old and already in bed. But I was excited and telling my brother all the great stuff that Santa Claus was going to bring me. What we didn’t know was that somebody had been breaking into houses that year in Blue Mound, where I grew up.
Well, at about 9 o’clock, we heard scratching at the window. I said, “Skeeter, do you think that’s Santa?” That’s when my brother jumped out of the top bunk and ran down the hall yelling, “Somebody’s at the window, somebody’s at the window!”
Then I heard my daddy outside saying, “Hey, you! Get away from that window.” Then BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Three shots rang out. I got out of bed, knees a-knocking, tears coming down both cheeks, and headed to the kitchen, where my mama was making cookies.
Then my daddy came in and said, “It’s time the boy knows the truth.” And I said, “I already know. You’re the son of a gun who shot Santa Claus!” Only I didn’t say son of a gun. It was the first time I ever cursed in front of my mom and dad.
Martin is a Tarrant County native who launched his stand-up comedy career at Hyena’s Comedy Club in Arlington in 1996. He starred in his own CMT comedy special last year.
Both of my parents have passed away, so my Christmas memories have become even more special to me.
One of my favorites is the year my parents, younger brother and I spontaneously stopped by a live Christmas tree lot. It was a very cold day and we were in my mom’s convertible Pontiac Sunbird. The top was up, of course. We had planned just to look but ended up finding the perfect tree. We had to have it.
After they chopped it down, we decided the best idea was to put the top down on the convertible and stand the tree up on the back seat floorboard. My brother and I were crammed in the back seat on either side of the tree and charged with not letting the tree fly out.
Mom and Dad cranked up the Christmas carols to full volume as we drove home in below freezing weather with the top down and the Christmas tree up. Then, shortly after we got on the road, despite nothing in the forecast about it, a beautiful soft snow began to fall on us.
That is truly a magical Christmas memory for me.
Malone is a DJ for The Ranch (KFWR/95.9 FM), which plays a lineup of Texas country music from its studio in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth.
My favorite Christmas tradition started when my kids were in their early teens.
They were becoming more independent and had their own schedules, their own lives. To the point that one year we couldn’t get everybody on the same page about when to put up the tree and decorate it.
So my husband and I instituted a no-television, no-telephone, no-company rule so we could have a tree-trimming party, just the five of us.
Our kids were so angry at first. They acted like it was punishment. But we sang Christmas carols, we made hot chocolate from scratch, we baked cookies, we did the tree, the whole thing, and it was nice.
The next year, they told all their friends in advance, “This is the day we can’t have anyone over and we can’t talk on the phone because of our family-only tree-trimming party.” By the third year, their friends were calling and asking if they could come to our party. We always said, “Sorry, it’s family time.”
It became our family tradition, the one time in the busy Christmas season that was just for the five of us and a way to remember how it all started with family: Mary, Joseph and the baby.
Ayres is a Fort Worth-based writer. The fifth book in her “K-9 Rescue” paperback series came out in November.
In my family, traditions are important.
My grandmother always gave us each one box filled with things she purchased throughout the year that represented our past year in some way.
And my mother always makes sure that the first present we open is from her. It’s always pajamas that we all put on before opening the rest of the presents. We look forward to seeing what creative ideas she comes up with, from onesies to soft robes.
These are traditions that I hope to carry on when I have a family.
VanSanten was a journalism student at TCU when she discovered her love of acting. She costars with Ryan Phillippe and Omar Epps in the USA action series Shooter.
Thomas Haden Church
When I was a kid living in Fort Worth, which was from 1967 to 1971, every Sunday night between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the whole family, six kids, two parents and two grandparents, would pile into two cars after church and drive around the TCU area just to look at the Christmas lights.
We loved it when people went all out with their decorations. In those days, people didn’t put as much stuff on the lawn as they do today, but they did fairly ornate lighting along rooflines and in trees and bushes. My grandmother and my mom especially loved the elaborate displays. I loved it, too.
Now I do the same drive-around thing with my daughters. I live in a community where it’s often something of an ego derby for everybody to go overboard with decorations. I even do some lights myself.
In a way, it’s a memoriam for my grandmother, because she loved this tradition so much.
Church is a University of North Texas grad who stars opposite Sarah Jessica Parker in HBO’s “Divorce.”