Arts & Culture

Twelve tales of Christmas

Author William E. Butterworth IV, right, with his father, William E. Butterworth III
Author William E. Butterworth IV, right, with his father, William E. Butterworth III Tom Clancy

Christmas is about tradition. It’s about family. It’s about making memories that last a lifetime.

This is hardly a revelation. Still, it’s nice to be reminded during the final, stress-filled week leading up to the big day what the holiday is really all about.

In our annual holiday feature, we asked local celebrities to share their favorite Christmas anecdotes. Here are 12 tales that warmed our hearts.

Chip Gaines

HGTV personality

“When I was a kid, my dad would wrap the entryway to the living room with butcher paper to block my sister and me from getting to Christmas presents under the tree. Then, on Christmas morning, we would break through the butcher paper like a football team running through a banner at homecoming.

“Santa’s gifts would be unwrapped and there would be wrapped presents, as well. One of the best presents I ever got was a bike. I had an aunt whose husband owned a bike shop. I was able to go to the shop and put decals and stickers on it and learn how to work on it. That was a fun gift.

“And I’ll always remember one Christmas when I lived in Albuquerque, N.M., the year the swimming pool froze over. I was playing on the ice when it broke and I fell in. My parents freaked out — it was a scary moment — but they got me out and wrapped me in towels after a hot shower and I was OK.

“But I sometimes think that incident might be part of the reason why I’m the way I am today. Maybe almost freezing to death somehow connected the right side of my brain to the left side and turned me into a genius. Or maybe it explains why I’m so dumb!”

— Gaines, who grew up in Colleyville and graduated from Grapevine High School, stars with wife Joanna in Fixer Upper, HGTV’s hit house-renovation show, now in its third season.

Erin Hartigan

Fox Sports Southwest reporter

“There are two Christmas traditions that are big with me and my sister.

“One, every year, is we watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s our favorite Christmas movie because, when it comes to decorating, Papa Hartigan is basically the over-the-top Clark Griswold of the neighborhood. We very much relate to the Griswold family’s dysfunctional Christmas.

“The other tradition has to do with my mom’s Christmas cookies. She was the queen of Christmas cookies. She made all sorts of treats, but her frosted sugar cookies and her toffee were the best ever. Everyone loved them. And she had a very particular way of making them.

“During the last year that she was alive, my sister and I had her show us every step: the way she made the dough, the way she made the frosting, her way of drizzling the frosting onto the cookies, the exact temperature to use when making her toffee. She showed us everything.

“Now, every year, we make her cookies. That’s our way of keeping something alive of her through the holidays. My sister is the one who got her cooking and baking gene. I’m still a work in progress. But I’m definitely an expert at eating the cookies, so that’s my part of keeping the tradition going.”

— Hartigan, who lives in Keller, is a host/reporter for Fox Sports Southwest. Her beats include Texas Rangers baseball, Houston Texans football and New Orleans Pelicans basketball.

Chris Johnson

Singer/musician

“My family was poor when I was growing up. We didn’t have much and we lived in a trailer in Louisiana for a while. But that didn’t stop my parents from getting me the coolest Christmas present.

“I was a huge baseball fan. Started playing when I was about 7 years old. But I was the one kid on the team who didn’t have his own bat. I always used someone else’s. And I remember Christmas morning, opening presents, and I got this Easton baseball bat.

“Easton was the king of all baseball bats to me and my friends. But they were pretty expensive. I remember getting this bat, opening it up, and just breaking down in tears, knowing we didn’t have the money for it, and I remember telling my parents to take it back.

“As soon as I got it, I was like, ‘Here, take it back. I don’t need it.’ They, of course, wouldn’t hear of it. Looking back, I think that said something about my family.

“After a little bit of pleading back and forth, finally I realized they weren’t taking the bat back. It was mine. And it couldn’t have been a better present for a kid who loved baseball as much as I did.

“By the way, I still have that bat.”

— Johnson is lead singer, guitarist and banjo player for the Fort Worth-based band Telegraph Canyon. The seven-member group released its new album, You From Before, this year.

Jill Marie Jones

Actress

“Two of my favorite Christmas stories involve my mom. We didn’t have a lot when I was very young, but we had a lot of love in that home. One time we got shoes for Christmas, and my mom put one shoe in one box and the other shoe in another box, so we got two presents instead of one.

“Also, it was kind of a scavenger-hunt game for us: find the package with the matching shoe. We were young, so we didn’t know times weren’t the greatest, especially because my mom always made sure there were lots of presents underneath the tree. She always made it fun.

“I also remember another year, when we were doing a little better, my mother telling us to gather all of our presents and to pick the five that we most wanted. The rest we would give to charity, for boys and girls who didn’t get any presents.

“At first, I didn’t understand it. I was like, ‘But I want all of my presents.’ But after we did it, it felt so good to be sharing with kids who didn’t have anything.”

— Jones currently stars in Ash Vs. Evil Dead on Starz, is a Dallas native and a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.

Pete Delkus

WFAA/Channel 8 meteorologist

“As a kid, my favorite thing to do at Christmas was to lie under the tree after it was completely decorated and look up at the twinkling lights and pretty ornaments. It was kind of like I would be looking at the tree from the package’s point of view.

“Christmas was a big event in my family, and my mom went all-out with decorations. Every room had something in it that was Christmas-y, everything so nicely done, and the tree was the centerpiece to the Christmas season in our house. You could feel the excitement of Christmas morning coming.

“It always gave me a good feeling to lie underneath the tree and watch the lights. And you know what? I still do it. I do it now with my kids. One’s in college now and one’s in high school.

“We crawl underneath the Christmas tree and we look up at the lights and decorations and we talk about anything and everything. Some traditions just don’t change.”

— Delkus is the chief meteorologist for WFAA’s News 8. He joined the station in 2005.

Carlson Young

Actress

“I’m from a big family. I have, like, 20 first cousins and pretty much everyone is still in Fort Worth except for me. So every Christmas Eve, we get together at my grandparents’ house for an enormous extended-family celebration. It’s pretty fancy, too. Everybody dresses up, and it’s always so memorable.

“One of my favorite Christmases was last year. It was my boyfriend’s first Christmas with me back in Fort Worth, which made it special, and he gave me a beautiful necklace.

“I also have fond memories of doing the Ballet Concerto Christmas show with the Margo Dean School of Ballet when I was younger. We did Frosty the Snowman and I was one of the little kids playing with Frosty. It was so much fun. I guess you could say it’s one of my first acting jobs.

“I’ll be back in Fort Worth for Christmas again this year. Everyone will be there. It’s going to be a big one.”

— Young, a Fort Worth native, stars as Brooke Maddox in MTV’s Scream, which will return for a second season in summer 2016.

David Mann

Actor

“We do something in my family that we call RAK, which is short for random act of kindness. I’ve been tremendously blessed in my life and I like to share that blessing, especially at Christmas, when we tend to turn the holiday into more pressure than it has to be.

“One time I walked up to this older couple, pulled out a $100 bill and said, ‘Hey, I want to give you this.’ But the guy was like, ‘What’s the catch?’ I said, ‘There’s no catch. I just want to share this blessing with you.’ But he was like, ‘No, there has to be a catch.’

“I must have stood there for five minutes, going back and forth with the guy, trying to convince him to let me give him a $100 bill, his cynicism and suspicion getting the better of him.

“I pointed out, ‘The unfortunate truth is you probably would be more willing to accept a situation with somebody coming up and saying, ‘Give me your wallet,’ than someone saying, ‘Here’s a $100 bill.’ I could see this thought turning over in his head and then he said, ‘You’re probably right.’

“Finally his wife said, ‘Just take the money.’ And that’s the last I ever saw of him. I hope he used the money for something that made him happy. And I’d like to believe that random act of kindness made him want to go out and bless other people — or at least made him more open to others.”

— Mann, a Fort Worth native, starred in Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns (2004 play, 2008 movie and 2009-2011 sitcom). He also starred in the reality show It’s a Mann’s World.

Deborah Ferguson

NBC5 news anchor

“Ask me about Christmas memories and my brain lights up like, well, a Christmas tree.

“There’s the excitement of opening that first present on Christmas Eve; the presents that came to my sisters and me one year from the Star-Telegram’s GoodFellow Fund; all the time it took for my dad to pull out his pocket knife and carefully unwrap his presents.

“There’s the aluminum Christmas tree that I convinced my mom to replace with a real one; the scavenger hunt that revealed a trip to Disney World for my nieces and nephew; the carols and candlelight of Christmas Eve service followed by tamales.

“There’s the twinkle in the eyes of my sister’s boys when my nephews see the Christmas tree and try to guess which gifts Santa left; and the first hugs of family as we gather at this special time of the year.”

— Ferguson, a Fort Worth native and TCU grad, co-anchors NBC5 Today weekday mornings from 4:30 to 7 a.m. She joined the station in 1991.

William E. Butterworth IV

Author

“Christmas is, of course, about giving. While the commercialization has risen to a heartbreaking level today, it has always been a challenge teaching one’s children that.

“I remember as a young boy going with my mother and little brother to the Five & Dime store (our town of 4,000 did not rate a Wal-Mart) and being overwhelmed with the excitement of Christmas.

“My eyes grew even wider when my mother asked me which of the bicycles I thought a little boy would like. I was not sure why she asked, but I thought I had a good idea, and immediately picked out three. My brother agreed. My mother then had each of us roll the bikes to the register.

“I was amazed. This was back when my father was a struggling writer. We never went without. But we did not live large at all. And certainly not three new bikes! But why three? It was just my brother and me. I asked my mother, and she said, ‘You will see.’

“We loaded the bikes in the car and soon were pulling into another parking lot. My brother and I exchanged looks. The police station? Minutes later, we stood looking up at the chief of police as my mother announced, ‘My boys would like other boys in town to find something special under their Christmas tree.’

“I won’t say that I was exactly thrilled at watching those shiny new bikes disappear behind the police station door. The drive home was very quiet. But, at home, we had bikes. Later, as we unwrapped our own presents, I imagined those bikes being found under another’s tree. And I understood.

“As my girls were growing up in Flower Mound (population 12,000 when they were born), I carried on my mother’s tradition. We would go to Sam’s Club, load up on canned food and diapers and a selection of bikes and dolls, then drop them off at CCA (Child Care Assistance).

“The first time, as we drove away, passing the entrance where families were entering, I vividly remember the same deep silence in our Suburban that decades earlier had been in my mother’s car.

“God bless you, Mom.”

— Butterworth, who lives in Flower Mound, is a bestselling author. A decade ago, he joined his father, William E. Butterworth III, in writing war, espionage and crime novels as W.E.B. Griffin.

Janine Turner

Actress/author

“When I think of Christmas, there are three things that come to mind.

“The first thing I think of is the song O Holy Night. It’s my favorite Christmas song. Especially the part of the song that builds to the words ‘Fall on your knees.’ That part of the song makes me just melt, because that’s the spirit of Christmas in a nutshell. That’s what Christmas is really all about.

“The second thing I think of is a happy Christmas day when I was a girl and we all went to church together as a family, which didn’t happen all the time, and we were in the car going home from church and it started snowing, which doesn’t happen every Christmas Day in Fort Worth. It was a perfect moment.

“And the third thing I think about is a special Christmas spent with my daughter, Juliette. I had told her that year, ‘Don’t go asking Santa Claus for a cat.’ But she did it anyway. Which meant I had to get a cat for my daughter for Christmas.

“Juliette was so little and it was a big cat, so it was comical, the sight of her lugging that big cat around. She was so happy. It was another perfect Christmas moment.”

— Turner, a Fort Worth native, is an actress (Northern Exposure, 1990-1995), author (Holding Her Head High), radio show host and founder of the Constituting America foundation.

Jody Dean

KLUV radio personality

“For me, Christmas means the windows at Leonard’s Department Store and the Santa at Mrs Baird’s Bread on the West Freeway. My grandparents coming up from San Saba and Pop coming home just in time on the T&P. Lights in Ridgmar. Mimi’s banana-nut cake. Unwrapping a Johnny Astro.

“Any time it snowed. Cutting down a tree as a family — and the time my toddling youngest son pulled a 10-footer over on himself. Swearing at my smoker. Handel’s Messiah at midnight and Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night driving home from work at Spencer’s and Billy Bob’s.

“Thinking of Joseph and remembering how I felt when they handed me my little ones, who aren’t so little anymore. Watching them start their own traditions. White Rock Lake with Fiona after the turkey. Hearing a homeless man sing Silent Night.”

— Dean, a Fort Worth native who began his North Texas TV-radio career in 1973, is a member of the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. He hosts “Jody Dean & the Morning Team” on KLUV 98.7/FM.

Larry Mowry

KTVT/Channel 11 meteorologist

“I remember as a kid waking up Christmas morning and rushing out of bed to open presents. My sister and I would sort the presents and then it was a free-for-all to open everything. We didn’t take turns, so it was all over in a matter of minutes, and then we got to play with our toys.

“My favorite part was going over to my grandparents’ house and having a big lunch. My grandma was an incredible cook. She made the most amazing pies you have ever tasted. It was the homemade crusts that did it! Then, after lunch, we would open more presents from my grandparents.

“It wasn’t all food and toys, though. We would have to do chores on the farm that afternoon. The animals still needed to be fed!”

— Mowry, the chief meteorologist for KTVT/Channel 11, can be seen weekdays on the CBS 11 News at 5, 6 and 10 p.m.

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