Santa's Not the Only One Working Today
Rumor has it that Santa will end his worldwide delivery route tonight in the Sandhills -- not too cold, not too hot, just right for improving his short game.
He'll stable the reindeer at a horse farm offering lichen, moss and carrots -- then seek lodgings for himself. After a snooze, Santa will ditch the red suit and enjoy Christmas in the land of sand and pine.
Not so fast. Flying high over the weather can leave jolly old St. Nick feeling under the weather. He'll taxi to FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, where no day is a holiday.
At 9 a.m., he will be greeted by doctors, nurses and a few dozen unrehearsed but enthusiastic carolers (one wearing a Santa suit to the real guy's amusement) organized by the Hospital Auxiliary. The carolers will deck the halls with candy for the nurses, coloring books for the children, good cheer for all. Come down and join the group, says spokesperson Julie Martin.
Cabbies, like hospitals, take no holidays, temporarily sleighless Santa discovers.
"We're a hometown company," says Greg Milbourne of AM Transportation in Aberdeen. "We take people to work all the time, even on Christmas. Our cab's a spittin' image of Rudolph."
Even out of costume, St. Nick plans to honor his namesake (and the true meaning of Christmas) by attending church. St. Nicholas was a third-century Greek bishop known for his generosity, hence the gift-giving connection. Santa Googled an appropriately named St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, but it's in Wilmington, too far for the exhausted reindeer. Instead, Santa taxies from 10:45 a.m. mass at Sacred Heart in Pinehurst to half a dozen area churches featuring uplifting sermons and beautiful music.
Singing and praying, praying and singing invigorate an appetite dulled by gallons of milk and dozens of cookies.
However, around here Christmas Day dining options are North Polar opposites. An elf researched the S'Mores pie served at the Magnolia Inn in Pinehurst, part of its $35 prix fixe dinner of filet mignon or shrimp and grits, with an equally sumptuous meal served at the Carolina Hotel.
Chinese Food and Movies
But during the off season, Santa Netflixed "A Christmas Story," in which a family eats duck at a Chinese restaurant after a neighbor's dog demolishes the turkey. His summer reading list recommended "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles," where he learned the Jewish tradition of a movie and Chinese food on Christmas.
Bring it on, he chuckles...
Santa finds proof at Peking Wok in Southern Pines. A full-sized Christmas tree flanks the door.
"We used to close on Christmas, because I wanted to take my employees out," owner Leon Zhang says. "But nothing was open, so we came back (to the restaurant) and cooked for ourselves."
Once seated, they noticed people peering through the window -- and knocking. From that Christmas forward, Zhang has stayed open with a holiday buffet of roast duck (mu shu pancakes on request) and vegetables, in addition to regular dishes. Celebrants include family groups, couples and lonely singles.
"I see new immigrants from Mexico who come and eat not so much to celebrate Christmas but because their relatives aren't here," Zhang says.
John Lin, manager of China Garden in Aberdeen, concurs. He recognizes couples who don't want to prepare a holiday dinner, as well as some regulars like Gloria and Randolph Chagnon of Pinehurst.
"We came here once or twice for Christmas, and it was so crowded we had to wait," Gloria Chagnon says.
The Jewish custom of movie-and-Chinese-food endures. Gayle Parker, who is Jewish, and her husband, Michael Walsh, ate Chinese food in Pennsylvania before moving to Whispering Pines.
"We'll have won-ton soup, not goose, on Christmas Day," Parker says. "We like how the Chinese keep their restaurants open. Their work ethic serves us well."
No word on whether fortune cookies will contain greetings of the season.
Movies, like Chinese food, have become an ecumenical tradition.
"After breakfast and after the presents are opened, there's a gap until dinner," says Sylvia Smith, an employee at Sandhills Cinemas in Southern Pines.
This year, theater employees are braced for a stampede to fill that gap with "Marley & Me," which opens Christmas Day.
All warm and fuzzy from the film, Santa may suddenly realize that he must find a store open or he'll be flying north without a gift for the missus. Panicked, he peers into darkened Belk, Stein Mart, Walmart and the darling gift shops of Pinehurst's village before noticing cars parked outside Short Stop and Jay's Food Mart, both in Southern Pines. At the former, Santa passes over Maxim World's Sexiest Women 2009 Calendar and before considering the Grave Digger Monster Truck Racing Hat and a Mystic Globe Dragon Anthology paperweight that stirs up sparkly snowflakes when shaken.
But snow's no novelty. Santa will move on to Jay's where, in desperation, he can choose cordless electric scissors, gloves and a sequined T-shirt.
With the day waning and muscles aching, Santa will want to wet his whiskers in the warm water of the indoor pool at Hampton Inn & Suites in Aberdeen, where families are offered a Christmas Day rate ($89 for parents and children under 16) to splash away the hours, work off the goodies in the fitness room, and enjoy the fireplace, big-screen television and refreshments.
The clock chimes eight. One by one, the children will fall asleep, signaling the completion of Santa's official duties. He'll steal off to The (definitely not jingle) Bell Tree in downtown Southern Pines where manager John McDonald will crank up the music and open the taps while promising "the best ribeye with bourbon garlic butter" plus a full menu featuring super-crisp sweet potato fries Santa never heard of. Convivial customers will include out-of-towners, regulars and a friend down from Alaska.
"He's a regular elf," McDonald says.
Santa, baby, you've found the right place.
More like this story
- A Flash From Old Fezziwig: Kindness Leaves Us All Richer
- SANDY BERGER: Christmas Has Really Gone Hi-Tech, But That Means Lots of New Things
- 16th Annual Pinehurst Christmas Tree Lighting Kicking Off the Holiday Season in Downtown Pinehurst
- WEB REVIEW: The Santa Clause 3
- Wright On! Santa Project Succeeds Again