It was early December of 2004 and I had just gotten my son to bed. I decided to sit down at my desk and read the December issue of Arizona Highways. I had a few hours to kill till my wife got home from class, so I was able to get lost in that issue. It wasn't the usual Arizona Highways fair of stunning photos and little story's and history's from Arizona's many wonders but a collection of Christmas memory's about life in Arizona. Their where wonderful stories from all over the state, from Bisbee, Tucson, Yuma, and of course stories from along Route 66.
There was a story from about life before Christmas vacation at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, another story about a Navajo women making her way from Gallup to fight deep snow on the Navajo reservation to be with her family over the holiday break, and another about a women remembering a bitter-sweet bus trip from Kingman during World War 2. It was a fantastic read that put me in a Christmas state of mind, and really made me think about life elsewhere over Christmas.
At the same time though I have to believe that there are folks dreaming about life on my end of the route too. Dreaming about the glitz and glamour of Chicago during Christmas. Suddenly understanding the full meaning of the lyrics to Silver Bells. Growing up in someplace like Elk City, Oklahoma, or Needles, California the lights of State Street, the rush of the shoppers, and the dressed up windows of Marshell Fields (yes I know its Macys), and other stores would seem almost intoxicating and fill one with Christmas joy especially when you never even imagined anything like it before.
You see as I always say that's the thing about Route 66, there is so much territory and so many different ways of life, yet one road links everyone. For Christmas unlike Thanksgiving though each region, and it's cultures and beliefs have their own traditions and takes, on the holiday.
Throughout the Southwest for instance the the festival of the La Posada takes place, a nine day festival celebrating the coming of Christmas, and culminating on Christmas Eve with the La Posada reinactment in which a young couple wonders from house to house looking for shelter the same way Mary and Joseph did before Christ birth. This is followed by midnight Mass and then Tamales and Posola into the wee small hours of Christmas.
In the Midwest on the other hand we jump into Christmas on Black Friday. From there on in the small towns along the route have weekends filled with parades, craft shows, Christmas pageants, breakfasts with Santa, and cookie exchanges. In suburbia houses are decorated to the hilt with lights to help break the darkness of Decembers long cold nights. Midwesterners also turn the oven up to give the house a little extra heat, and to bake batch after batch of cookies shaped like Christmas icons. While midnight masses here are only followed by coffee or hot chocolate and folks get it bed right after so Santa can deliver his goods in the wee small hours.
In the miles of desert that Route 66 covers through California, Christmas is often marked by folks making special trips to towns far away to do the Christmas shopping since there own towns are too small for much of anything. This gives shopping day a special feel of excitement as one must manage to hide gifts, while trying to peak at what was just bought for them all when traveling in the same vehicle. But although snow is an uncommon visitor to these areas the nights do get cold, and the winds get bad. While on the coast Christmas and beach life mingle to create the odd images of Santa on a surf board. Considering that many of the areas in California along 66 have been settled by Midwestern transplants it's not uncommon to see the same traditions of baking and Christmas light insanity pop up in the usually snowless warmer terrain.
The terrain, the cultures, the history, and the miles all play a role in how Christmas is celebrated on Route 66. There are many traditions and many other celebrations I missed here. But I have no doubt one could fill a book with such Christmas time legacys, by just traveling from town to town.
So no matter where you are take a few minutes to lose yourself along Route 66, and imagine how Christmas in celebrated from Chicago to LA, and all points in between.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas, and in case I don't get another article out between one and then I wish you a Happy New Year too!