A light afternoon snow was falling when my Florida relatives arrived in my hometown of St. Charles, Missouri. My brother Ted, his wife Sue, and their two children—Mark, 5, and Sara, 10—were excited to experience an old-fashioned Christmas, like Ted had described so many times before, so they decided to join me here, where Ted and I grew up. They were ready to get started immediately, and Ted and I were eager to show off St. Charles, so we all dressed up in holiday finery and made our way to the Old Stone Chapel and its banquet center.
We were personally greeted by iconic Christmas characters upon arrival, such as Scrooge and Jack Frost, which Mark and Sarah loved. We sat down to enjoy a delicious buffet dinner at the banquet center, while the characters mingled among the guests, telling stories and handing out collectable cards bearing their image and story. When I told Mark and Sarah that they’d see many more characters, a friendly competition began between the two of them to see who could collect the most character cards. We left the banquet center full of holiday spirit, ready for the rest of our visit.
The following morning, we stopped by My Handyworks art studio and the kids each made a handprint ornament. Sarah’s was a glittery red ball with a smiley face on her simple green palm print (with a Santa hat on the index finger). Mark went with a shimmery blue ornament and planted his palm print in white paint, with dotted snowflakes all around the sphere.
When the holiday masterpieces were complete, I suggested Ted take the kids on a carriage ride.
When the holiday masterpieces were complete, I suggested Ted take the kids on a carriage ride, so their mom could help me pick out a few extra Christmas trinkets for them. Knowing that Sue and I tend to browse, he gladly accepted the charge. In addition to picking up some fun books for Sarah and Mark, Sue and I became enraptured at the Quilted Cottage, located in a charming Victorian house.
“I could spend days here!” Sue, an avid quilter, said as she ran her hands across the colorful bolts of fabric. I laughed and reminded her that although I could too, we needed to meet up with the rest of the family soon.
Our troop reconvened at Picasso’s Coffee Shop, where we could get warm and rest our feet. Mark burst with excitement as he described the amazing number of lights on the city Christmas tree to his mom.
The next day, we decided to take the kids to two different holiday parades. Arriving along the parade route, we staked out seats for the Santa Parade. I’m pretty sure every viewing area is “the best,” but Sarah and Mark certainly had their preferences, and we settled into a great spot near the beginning of the parade. The Fife and Drum Corp, a band decked out in festive red uniforms, kicked off the Santa Parade. The notes from their instruments echoed throughout the sky.
A brigade of ten Santas followed the band, each one dressed in traditional garb from different countries. They carried their respective country’s flag, yelling “Merry Christmas!” in the correlating language. Big smiles appeared on the kid’s faces when one of the Santas handed them each a collectible card.
After the parade ended, I told Mark and Sarah the real Santa would be arriving at the Gazebo.
“Mom, look at Tiny Tim on his dad’s shoulders—and there’s Jack Frost!” noted Sarah. Mark blushed when the Sugar Plum Fairy came by and touched him with her wand and handed him a card. Mark and Sarah’s pockets were full of cards by this point.
After the parade ended, I told Mark and Sarah the real Santa would be arriving at the Gazebo. Mark’s eyes were big, as he was a believer. The crowd cheered when he arrived in a horse-drawn carriage.
When we made it to the front of the line, Sarah surprised us all by going with Mark to talk to Santa. Her presence surely gave Santa extra credence in Mark’s eyes as they each shared what they wanted for Christmas. Ted snapped a couple photos, and the kids left with candy canes given by Santa’s assisting elf.
As evening fell, we joined the crowd for the traditional Spanish reenactment of Las Posadas. Joseph led a live donkey carrying Mary on its back, and as they walked by, we joined their journey, falling in step behind. All the parade goers carried candles, which added a festive glow to our path. My heart warmed when I saw Sarah and Mark’s faces lit by the light from their small lanterns. The actors made occasional stops along the street as they asked onlookers for a room at an inn. The procession ended at a live manger scene, and the event wrapped up with carols around a bonfire.
As our cheeks grew rosier with the evening chill, we sought out vendors selling roasted marshmallows and chestnuts. “These marshmallows are amazing!” said Mark, as he stuffed the warm, tan, gooey treat in his mouth. It reminded me of when Ted and I were kids—we would roast marshmallows in our living room fireplace every Christmas Eve.
Eventually, even the warm delicious marshmallows weren’t enough to keep us out any longer. Everyone agreed, between yawns, we needed a warm room at an inn as well—or at least a room back at my place. As we walked along Main Street toward our car, the twinkling white lights on nearby trees and buildings gave off a beautiful festive glow.
When we arrived home, I added Mark and Sarah’s handprint ornaments to my tree—front and center. St. Charles provided my family with all the sights, sounds, scents and tastes of an old-fashioned Christmas. I knew they would never forget these magical memories, just like Ted and I hadn’t, and I hoped this trip had established a new family tradition.
Create your own family Christmas traditions in St. Charles!