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December CONTENTS 2020 • VOLUME 17 • NO.11
Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Driving through the Lights For Holiday Fun
Brookgreen Gardens’ Nights of 1000 Lights
oliday Nostalgia H Classic Christmas Movies
departments 16 Living Well Avoiding Scams
42 On the Road Again Pass Christian, Mississippi
20 Notables Graceland’s Angie Marchese
44 Greater Goods 68 Homegrown Margaretes Fine Chocolates
24 Exploring Art Alex Ladner
72 Southern Gentleman A Resolution Revolution
28 Exploring Books Fais Do Do: Louisiana Lullabies
74 Southern Harmony Isaac Alexander
30 Southern Roots Holiday Decor from the Garden
78 In Good Spirits Cheers to the Holidays
34 Table Talk Coletta’s in Memphis 38 Exploring Destinations Big Cedar Lodge
80 Exploring Events 82 Reflections Christmas Mornings
editor’s note | DECEMBER
The Return of the Light It begins in September, the shortening of days, when sunset arrives earlier each night and darkness dominates as the earth tilts away from the sun. And then something magical happens in December. The winter solstice arrives and the days begin to stretch longer again. It seems apropos, then, that we honor the holidays with lights. In addition to nature’s return of the sun, the shining illuminance we create reflects what Jesus brought the world when he was born. There’s also the miracle of Hanukah, when a temple light continued for eight days when it was destined to burn out in one. Even though social distancing has curtailed activities this year, visitors can still enjoy holiday lights throughout the region. (That’s me at Gulfport’s Harbor Lights Winter Festival which will offer more than a million lights this year!) Tom Adkinson takes us on a tour of some of the top places where you can stay in your car and see the lights, while Karon Warren gives us a peek at Brookgreen Gardens’ “Nights of a Thousand Candles.” For those who prefer a quiet evening at home by the fireplace (and maybe with some popcorn), DeSoto Coeditor Mary Ann DeSantis provides a rundown of holiday movies and why they resonate with audiences, particularly in tough times like these.
DECEMBER 2020 • Vol. 17 No.12
PUBLISHER & CREATIVE DIRECTOR Adam Mitchell PUBLISHER & ADVERTISING DIRECTOR Paula Mitchell ADVERTISING CONSULTANT Melanie Dupree CO-EDITORS Mary Ann DeSantis Cheré Coen
Congratulations go out to our Jackie Sheckler Finch, whose DeSoto Magazine story about Tupelo's 150th anniversary won first place in the magazine category in the Society of American Travel Writers Central States Media Awards. We’ve won numerous awards this year, thanks to our excellent writing staff. Happy Holidays everyone and may the light shine on you this month and always!
CONTRIBUTORS Tom Adkinson Michele D. Baker Jim Beaugez Cheré Coen Mary Ann DeSantis Jackie Sheckler Finch Jason Frye Pamela A. Keene Karen Ott Mayer Tracy Morin Connie Pearson Karon Warren PUBLISHED BY DeSoto Media 2375 Memphis St. Ste 208 Hernando, MS 38632 662.429.4617 ADVERTISING INFO: Paula Mitchell 901-262-9887 Paula@DeSotoMag.com
on the cover Alex Ladner’s Nativity scene dough bowls make the perfect Christmas decor. Read more about Alex Ladner and his art in our Exploring Art department on page 24. Photography by Cynthia Mitchell
©2020 DeSoto Media Co. DeSoto Magazine must give permission for any material contained herein t o b e re p ro d u c e d i n a n y m a n n e r. Any advertisements published in DeSoto Magazine do not constitute an endorsement of the advertiser’s services or products. DeSoto Magazine is published monthly by DeSoto Media Co. Parties interested in advertising should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 901-262-9887. Visit us online at desotomagazine.com.
living well | SCAM ARTISTS
Scam Alert! By Karon Warren | Photography courtesy of kasperskydaily.com and medium.com
Scam artists ramp up during the holidays, so be prepared to avoid getting ripped off. The holiday season remains one of the most popular times for people to support their favorite charities and organizations through financial giving. However, it also brings out those who use the holidays as an opportunity to steal from generous folks by pretending to be someone from within these organizations. And, because they do this full time, scammers have honed their craft to become quite convincing. For instance, the DeSoto County Sheriffâ€™s Department has reported often through the years, and as recently as August, that scammers call local residents claiming to be with the department. They claim to have active warrants on the resident or to ask for donations to support the department. As stated numerous times on its Facebook page, the DeSoto 18 DeSoto
County Sheriffâ€™s Department never asks for money or personal information over the phone. â€‹ Another popular scam is someone calling, emailing, or sending letters stating they are with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by email, text, or social media asking for personal or financial information. Other scammers pretend to involve family members, such as grandchildren. For instance, the caller states a grandchild has been involved in a car wreck or was hurt at work or some similar accident. They may pretend to be a police officer, an attorney, or a medical provider. At some point in the call, they will ask for money, usually in the form of a prepaid card.
AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF There are things you can do to keep from getting ripped off when scammers come calling. First, and most importantly, never give your personal information over the phone to someone you don’t know. This includes Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account information, and so on. If the caller presses, tell them you will get back to them. Always look up the real number for the organization the caller states they represent, and call the organization to confirm if they are actually trying to reach you. Write down names the caller gives you, and ask for them when you call the organization’s number. If it’s a charitable organization that’s calling, tell them you’ll get back to them. If you are interested in giving, research the charity and find out legitimate ways to give that don’t involve providing personal or financial information over the phone or by email. If someone asks you to purchase money cards or wire money, take that as a warning sign and hang up. A key way to avoid most scam calls is to not answer the phone when you don’t recognize the number. If they leave a message with a name and number, again, verify the number against the organization’s listed number; these are usually found online through a search engine. Call the real number to confirm if the call is legitimate. If you do receive a call and the caller ID looks authentic, be cautious when answering the phone. Many scammers can fake caller ID information so it looks real. However, if they start asking for money or personal information, hang up. BOGUS EMAILS AND MORE
If you do receive emails from someone you don’t know, do not click on any links in the email. These could lead to websites that load spyware and malware on your computer or personal device to steal your personal information. Do not answer the door if you do not know the person on the other side. If they become belligerent or threatening, tell them you are going to call the police. If they persist, call 911. If you receive a package delivery notice but are not expecting a package, look up the official phone number and contact the post office or delivery service to see if the notice is legitimate. Never call the number or go online to the website listed on the notice, and never give out personal information. I f i n d o u b t a c a l l o r solicitation is real, trust your instincts. Hang up the phone or throw away the correspondence. WHERE TO GO FOR HELP For more resources on how to avoid and report scams, visit or call the following: DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department: 662-469-8027 Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information: consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts Internal Revenue Service: irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumer-alerts for more information. A graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi, Karon Warren covers personal finance for such outlets as Lending Tree, MoneyGeek, and Magnify Money. She stopped answering the phone from numbers she doesn’t recognize years ago.
Just like with phone scams, don’t respond to emails from people you don’t know or organizations you’re not expecting to hear from. While they may look official or authentic, many are not. One way to verify is to check the source or internet headers of the email. The source or internet headers will reveal if the official-looking email is from someone else. If you are not sure how to do that, you can search online for directions for your specific email program or ask a friend or family member for help.
notables | ANGIE MARCHESE
Christmas at Graceland By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography courtesy of Elvis Presley’s Graceland
Recognized as one of the nation’s Best Holiday Historic Home Tours, Graceland feels magical during the holidays thanks to Angie Marchese’s dedicated leadership and focus on authenticity, right down to the tinsel on the trees. For the last 31 years, Angie Marchese has worked at Elvis Presley’s Graceland through every season. The holiday season, however, offers a time to celebrate in true Elvis style and reflect on the authenticity of the collections. Graceland has been named the “Best Holiday Historic Home Tour” by 10Best.com in USA TODAY’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for the last two years. Driven by fans, the award recognizes the reason behind Graceland’s holiday appeal. “I think we were recognized because the holiday
displays are authentic,” says Marchese. “Everything is exactly as Elvis would have decorated the house, right down to the original tinsel we put on the trees. In fact, we still have the original box for the tinsel!” The holiday season offers a real glimpse into the personal side of the Presley family. “Elvis loved Christmas and the house is truly how he would have kept it,” she adds. The Graceland team begins decorating the grounds a few weeks before Thanksgiving and leaves the decorations up DeSoto 23
until Elvis’ birthday on Jan. 8. Marchese’s introduction to Elvis began when she heard his music and watched movies as a child. So, when she sat down with her high school counselor in 1989, the conversation revolved around work and something clicked. “She asked me if I had a summer job and said I should apply to be a tour guide at Elvis Presley’s Graceland because I had an outgoing bubbly personality,” says Marchese. “Little did I know that would be the summer that never ended.” She began her career as a tour guide and is now the Vice President of Archives and Exhibits, overseeing displays from conception to installation. “I like to say I get paid to play with Elvis’ stuff,” she says. Visitors to the mansion will pass the front yard nativity scene first placed there in 1969, as well as the Santa, reindeer, and a Merry Christmas sign all dating to 1957. In the dining room, original ornaments decorate the tree. Another fun story involves the blue lights that line the driveway. When Elvis spotted a California home with holiday blue lights, he called his father, Vernon Presley, and said he wanted to have the same lights at Graceland. “Vernon’s only concern was that Graceland is located so close to the airport that he thought the planes might mistake the driveway for a runway,” Marchese says with a laugh. 24 DeSoto
Marchese believes Graceland is particularly special at Christmas. “It’s festive and there’s music on the plaza. The family still comes home on Christmas Eve to gather and exchange gifts just like when Elvis was living. It’s still all about following tradition.” Graceland owns approximately 1.5 million artifacts that belonged to Elvis including clothing, costumes, records, letters, and memorabilia. According to Marchese, Elvis never threw anything away so the collection is massive. Unlike the mansion that remains largely the same to reflect exactly how Elvis lived, the museum and exhibitions located across the street at the Elvis Presley’s Memphis Entertainment Complex serve as homes for rotating exhibits. “Guests may not realize that we’re constantly changing the exhibits in the museum,” Marchese says. “Even if you’ve visited the complex before, you’ll have a chance to see something different on your next visit. We want to shape our guest experience through the collection and tell stories that both entertain and educate.” This month marks the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ visit to the White House and his meeting with President Richard Nixon. That meeting occurred on Dec. 21,1970, just before Christmas. “I asked about the most requested photo from the archives. They said it’s the photo of when Elvis and Nixon
met.” Marchese also had the honor of carrying Elvis’ suit that he wore to that meeting back to Washington, D.C., for an exhibit. Over her career, Marchese has helped install Elvis Presley’s collections around the globe, including England and Brazil. Despite the changing seasons and years, Marchese says the goal is still to share the Elvis story, even if how it is shared is changing. “In 1989, many guests still had memories of Elvis and knew him so our words were, ‘You remember when...’ or ‘Remember when?’ Today, many guests don’t have those memories so our storytelling sounds more like, ‘Let me tell you about this... .’” Marchese has witnessed and participated in Graceland’s growth over the years and expresses a profound gratitude at watching plans, like the museum and visitor’s complex, become a reality. With Covid-19, Graceland has also adjusted with an ironic result. “It’s magical to take a tour at Christmas. With limited capacity and social distancing, it’s almost like taking a tour by yourself now.” Marchese cherishes her role as a memory maker. “I’m able to provide new memories, relive old memories and help guests discover Elvis. That one high school job became my endless summer.” graceland.com
Freelance writer and editor, Karen Ott Mayer, works from her farm in Como, Miss., just 40 miles south of Memphis — and Graceland.
exploring art | ALEX LADNER
Alex Ladner’s Treasured Collectibles Michele D. Baker | Photography courtesy of Alex Ladner Art
Artist Alex Ladner’s Christmas-themed art has evolved through the years and now includes unique glass ornaments in addition to his signature dough bowls. Visual artist Alex Ladner has become known for his soft colors and Christian focus. The Lumberton, Miss., resident works in various mediums, but his textured Christmas paintings in dough bowls and on wood are treasured collectibles throughout the Mid-South and beyond. Ladner has always been uniquely creative and Christmas holds a special magic for him. “As a child, I was the one to make sure there was a Christmas tree up at our house, and at Grandma’s,” he remembers. “I made sure the presents were wrapped and the house was decorated. Most of the gifts
were things I’d made.” After graduating from college, Ladner married and got a job. But that creative spark was always there, and soon, he was making art full-time. “In the beginning, I did festivals,” he says. “I set up a tent and sold my art. I did it all.” Ladner’s star rose ever higher as stores asked him to sell wholesale, and he eagerly accepted. Strategic small changes each year allowed him to keep up with new trends and styles, but his work maintained a unique texture. “I use lots of mixed materials and paints – but you can definitely tell it’s an ‘Alex DeSoto 27
Ladner’,” he says with a laugh. Then came the wooden bowls, which are his signature pieces. His Christmas-themed art has also evolved through the years – from brighter to softer colors. Many pieces feature Nativity scenes: the full scene, or just baby Jesus in a manger. Also, on offer are two-by-three-foot canvas board Nativity scenes in light blue, cream, and gold. “And for 2020, I’ve brought back my Christmas trees, which have historically done well,” he says. Ladner is also branching out into something new this holiday season: tree decorations. “This year, I’m trying glass ornaments. There’s a Nativity scene on a white ball, and there are angels on the blue ornaments. They should sell well as gifts,” he believes. “They come boxed with my label, and I’m excited about them because they’re different and new,” he says. “Stores are putting in large orders, which scares me a little, too, because of all those little details.” Ladner handles every role, from taking and delivering orders, keeping all the financials, and ordering supplies. He is the sole artist as well, and his creative process can be quite timeconsuming. “First, I cover the bowl or canvas with sheetrock mud,” he explains. “Then I draw a scene into the mud and let it dry. In winter that takes several days. Then I paint the scene with acrylics. I sand the edges and remove the extra paint, and finish with an oil-based polyurethane. It takes three or four days to finish each piece. But I do hundreds of Christmas pieces at a time, so it works out.” Although he loves being an artist, the constant pace is sometimes a challenge. “For the past several years, I’ve been so busy, I’ve had no time to stop and just create,” he laments. “It 28 DeSoto
bothers me because I have so many different ideas going on in my mind.” The artist is as busy as ever. In between the constant demand for his art and filling Christmas wholesale orders, Ladner opened Southern Oaks, a retail store in Purvis, Miss., and the home of Alex Ladner Art. The shop also carries gifts, home décor, art, outdoor items, and fashion for all ages. With his artist’s eye, the entire world is a source of inspiration for even more art. “While traveling I saw all these old, abandoned churches. I was fascinated and inspired by them, so I started painting churches. Now, as I drive across Mississippi every month delivering my orders, I’m getting more ideas by looking out the window at the scenery.” The varied and beautiful landscape really starts his brain buzzing. Ladner intentionally keeps his Southern themes although he sells across the world. “In the spring I do a lot of blue hydrangeas. And there’s always cotton, of course,” he says. As the world evolves, so have Ladner’s art and business. This year, the artist has created a range of animal-themed gifts – fish, ducks, crabs – intended for men’s Christmas gifts. “Whatever comes to my mind, I try it. If someone buys it and likes it, then I’m glad. Like always, I just try to make Christmas the best for my family and for everyone.” In addition to his Facebook page (AlexLadnerArt), his art can be found at Cynthia’s Boutique in Hernando; Southern Traditions in New Albany; The Snooty Owl in Tupelo; Square Arts in Batesville; Occasions Gift Shop and Clothing Boutique in Starkville; and Rubies Home Furnishings in Laurel. Michele D. Baker is a freelance travel writer and blues music lover in Jackson, Miss. She has three cats, too many books, and loves Christmas cookies. Her website is www.MicheleDBaker.com.
exploring books | LULLABIES
Lullaby and Bonsoir Cheré Coen | Photography courtesy of
Years of research into Cajun and Creole songs sung by mothers to their children produces a unique book of lullabies and ballads. Jane Vidrine and Ann Savoy of Louisiana’s all-woman band Magnolia Sisters received a grant to research, find, and compile old Cajun and Creole songs, many of which were sung to children by their mothers and thus lost over the years. Savoy, a musician, author and cultural ambassador of South Louisiana culture, collects old songbooks and regional music, plus the two immersed themselves in the numerous song collections at the Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 30 DeSoto
“We dug and dug and dug and found so many things,” Vidrine says. Several Cajun and Creole children’s songs, lullabies, and dances became part of “Lapin, Lapin,” an upbeat album the Magnolia Sisters produced in 2006. “It (‘Lapin, Lapin’) was more of an upbeat children’s repertoire,” Vidine explains. “And some of the songs have since made their way into the standard Cajun repertoire.”
The Magnolia Sisters — comprised of Vidrine, Savoy, Anya Burgess, and Lisa Trahan — then released albums more common to their folklorist genre, including two that were nominated for Grammy Awards. But when Vidrine and Savoy’s daughters became pregnant, those old lullabies tugged on their sleeves. “So, the other half of the collection was this sleepier, more lullaby side of the Cajun repertoire,” Vidrine explains. “We’d been sitting on that for a number of years even though we’ve performed a few of them and recorded a few of them over the years. We’ve never done anything concrete or comprehensive about it.” Until now. The duo pulled together 18 children’s songs, ballads, and lullabies from their 200-plus researched collection for a book titled “Fais Do Do: Louisiana Lullabies.” The small paperback includes French lyrics, translations to English, music transcriptions, and guitar chords to allow readers to sing and perform the songs, plus learn more about the tunes. In the back of the book is a CD created by Valcour Records, a label owned by Savoy’s son, Joel Savoy. Vidrine and Ann Savoy performed lead vocals on the songs with Joel Savoy adding tracks with a variety of instruments, including the unique sounds of violin, ukulele, and banjo. “He (Joel) made a really nice texture of our simplistic way of looking at our arrangements,” Ann Savoy says. “I love the way those songs came out.” Another Savoy son, Grammy-winning accordionist Wilson Savoy, offered a piano solo while Lafayette educator and classical musician Molly Goforth performed on the cello. Other guest artists joined in at Dave’s Lonesome Whistle Studio in Lafayette. “It’s a great crossroad between classical musicians and folk musicians,” Ann Savoy says of the recordings inside the book. “It was fun to watch and have that conversation about how to treat the music. For instance, Molly came in with parts written all out and after a while, she wasn’t looking at any of that, was just going with her gut.” The end result of “Fais Do Do” are soft tunes one might hear in a Cajun and Creole household, allowing readers
examples of how the tunes may sound. “Fais Do Do” in South Louisiana French refers to the songs Cajuns and Creoles would sing to their children to lull them to sleep at house dances so mom and dad could dance the night away. “This is the softer side, what a mother might be doing when her baby is going to sleep,” Savoy says. “These are things mothers would do with their children, songs that have never been published before that I know of. “It’s very peaceful,” she added. “But, it also has a depth to it.” The book has been popular with new moms and a regular gift at Louisiana baby showers. Adding to the sweet sounds in the CD-book package are historic photos of the women’s families, hand-tinted by Savoy, including one of two girls having tea, which is Savoy’s mother and aunt from the 1920s. “It’s a feminine book, will appeal to young mothers and children,” Vidrine says. Overall, both women hope to keep alive authentic Cajun and Creole songs that were previously lost to time. “That’s what Jane and I try to do, find obscure music and bring it back,” Vidrine says of their “labor of love.” Savoy concurs. “We love the old Louisiana music.” “Fais Do Do: Louisiana Lullabies” is available through the Magnolia Sisters website and through Valcour Records. Vidrine and Savoy also sell the book and CD at Magnolia Sisters performances. magnoliasisters.com valcourrecords.com DeSoto Co-editor Cheré Coen traces her French roots back 300 years in Louisiana. Although she doesn’t speak French fluently like her ancestors, she loves the old Cajun and Creole songs.
southern roots | GARDEN DECORATING
Farm Chic Christmas By P. Allen Smith | Photography courtesy of Donna Evans and Mark Fonville
The garden provides many fresh ideas for decorating and gifting this holiday season. I don’t know about you, but I’m crazy about Christmastime. Cozying up to a warm fire with a cup of hot chocolate and the smell of fresh greenery really kindles that holiday spirit. If you’re like me, you love entertaining, especially around the holidays. To decorate your table, simply use a piece of fresh greenery for a centerpiece, such as noble fir, western cedar, or juniper. Add pine cones, glass balls, and wood berries to create a cheerful table. For an impromptu gathering of friends or family, mix things up a bit by integrating the best of the old and the new. Set each place setting with simple, vintage white plates with gold or silver rims. Use modern larger green plates as accent pieces. Disperse taper or votive candles into the greenery centerpiece to add some sparkle and light. I’m an advocate of using fresh cut greenery for decorating, but I can understand why folks sometimes balk because it does require some maintenance. However, the beauty and fragrance make it well worth the trouble. And really, you only need to take a few extra steps to make the greenery last as long as possible. When you’re collecting or buying your greenery, look for pieces that are pliable, have a strong aroma, and vivid color.
To extend the greenery’s life by three to five days, give it a deep soak to hydrate the foliage. To seal in the moisture, spray each piece with an antitranspirant. This compound is applied to the leaves of plants, Christmas trees, and cut flowers to keep them from drying out too quickly. Keep your greenery away from direct sunlight or heat sources. Remember, it will dry out much quicker indoors. Another favorite aspect about the holidays is giving gifts. I like to create my own gift wrap and special gift tags that lets recipients know their special. The gift tags are an easy and creative way to jazz up your gifts, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money. One of my favorite gift tag ideas is taking precut balsa wood ornaments, applying two coats of chalkboard paint, and writing the person’s name in chalk. These are great gift tags that can later be hung on the tree. I love giving gifts that will reward the recipient well after the holidays have passed and orchids remain one of my favorites. They are wonderful holiday gifts and caring for them is so easy, even for my non-gardening friends. To make them special, I wrap several orchids to hand out to friends. Here’s what you’ll need to gift orchids to yours: potted orchids, bare branches, ribbon, silver balls, wired floral sticks, cinnamon sticks, and one of your homemade gift tags. DeSoto 33
To giftwrap the orchids, remove the original stakes and replace them with winter twigs, which can be purchased at the craft store or gathered from your yard. Tie a bow with the silver balls and gift tag to a floral stick and insert it into the pot, careful not to poke the roots. Add the cinnamon stick to make it smell like Christmas. You’re done! Giving the gift of something homemade is also a marvelous way to show someone how important they are. Cookies-in-a-jar is a sweet gift, and it’s really easy to assemble. We always have canning jars around the farm, so finding a one-quart, wide-mouth Mason jar is simple. Below is the recipe for the cookie mix. Mason Jar Cookie Mix 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/8 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup cocoa powder 1/2 cup granulated sugar 3/4 cup raw sugar 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips irections: Mix flour, baking powder, D baking soda, and salt. Add it as the bottom layer in the jar. Add layers in this order: cocoa, granulated sugar, raw sugar, and chocolate chips, smoothing out each layer with a wooden spoon. Add some nuts on top if you want. Attach a tag to the jar with the following directions: Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Combine contents of jar with 3/4 cups melted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and three eggs. Refrigerate dough for an hour. Place tablespoon-sized balls of dough on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. Let cookies cool on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container. I encourage you to fill your home with the festive scent of fresh greenery and enjoy your family and friends this holiday season. 34 DeSoto
table talk | COLETTAâ€™S ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Coletta's famous BBQ Pizza
A True Memphis Original Tracy Morin Photography courtesy of Justin Fox Burks and Coletta’s Italian Restaurant
Memphis’ oldest continuously operating restaurant has served from-scratch Italian specialties and the nation’s original barbecue pizza along with Southern hospitality for nearly a century. In 1923, Emil Coletta, an Italian immigrant who’d settled in Memphis, Tenn., started a humble traveling business to support his family. The Suburban Ice Cream Company began as a horse-and-wagon operation, and Emil circled the neighborhood, selling ice cream bars alongside Italian staples like spaghetti, ravioli, and sandwiches. When his son, Horest, entered the business — which eventually burgeoned into a brick-and-mortar spot called Coletta’s Italian Restaurant — in the early 1950s, Emil decided to focus more on the Italian food aspect. And it soon became clear that pizza might be the ideal menu addition. “Sailors from a local Navy base came in and asked for pizza, but in the ’50s, it was still an unknown food around here,” recounts Jerry Coletta, current owner of Coletta’s and
Horest’s son. “My dad went to Chicago to learn how to make pizza, and he put it on the menu. But it wasn’t going over too well, since no one knew what it was.” The tide started to shift, however, when Horest devised a savvy plan to entice the locals with his newfangled food item. Everyone in the area knew barbecue, so why not top a pizza with the Memphis food standard? Soon, the country’s original barbecue pizza was born, and Coletta’s was officially on the map. To this day, The Original Barbeque Pizza remains a true original, with the restaurant’s homemade pizza dough creating the ideal serving slab for a hefty portion of pork slathered in barbecue sauce made from scratch. The pizza is carefully crafted: First, a layer of barbecue sauce and mozzarella DeSoto 37
is baked on the crust in the oven. After emerging, the pizza is topped with the cooked barbecue meat, plus more barbecue sauce on top. “Other places have tried to copy it, but we cook our pork shoulder and Boston butts for eight hours,” Jerry Coletta explains. “We’re very generous with the barbecue pork, and the pizza is our signature item. It has kept us in business all these years.” The pizza at Coletta’s even won the approval of The King himself. Naturally, Elvis Presley was a tad too high-profile to dine in frequently, but his wife, Priscilla, would drop by for regular takeouts, Coletta recalls. “Elvis came in several times, and we gave him his privacy,” he says. “When he was here, of course the building was abuzz, and he had a bodyguard on each side of him. But back in the ’60s and ’70s, we didn’t have delivery, so Priscilla would come in once or twice a week and take barbecue pizzas back to Graceland.” Of course, after almost 100 years in operation, Coletta’s has built up its own aura of fame, both locally and worldwide. Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay visited the Memphis institution for his Food Network TV show “BBQ With Bobby Flay,” while the restaurant has been featured on the Travel Channel and tops many “must-visit” lists within the Memphis area. Now with three locations, Coletta’s enjoys a firmly cemented reputation in the Bluff City and beyond. The restaurant grew to a second spot in 1956, on Summer Avenue, which stayed open for 40 years before burning down in 1996. Ever resilient, Coletta instead reopened on Appling Road in 1998, while today a food-court outlet operates at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center on Madison Avenue, where employees sling pizza by the slice, pasta dishes, and other fan favorites for lunchtime only. 38 DeSoto
But, no matter which of its three outposts diners choose, they’re bound to leave satisfied. To ensure consistency across locations, the family oversees a commissary next to the original Coletta’s on South Parkway East. There, multiple 100-gallon batches of meat sauce are slow-cooked every week for popular homemade Italian specialties like lasagna, manicotti, and ravioli. The business remains a true family affair, now spanning five generations that have helped Coletta’s thrive for nearly a century. As Jerry and his wife, Diane, run the original location, their three children, Stephen, Lisa, and Kristina, operate the Appling restaurant. Three of Jerry’s grandchildren pitch in as well; the oldest, Lindsey, graduated college in the restaurant/hospitality field and takes the reins on customers’ frequent bookings for parties and wedding receptions. However, one needn’t be a blood relative to receive the family treatment at Coletta’s. In addition to longtime employees serving up Italian fare with a smile, customers often return for decades. Coletta himself grew up in the business, once standing on cases of Coca-Cola to act as cashier when he was a young boy. “To stay successful this long, you have to have good food — that’s what keeps people coming back — but we’re also blessed to have good employees,” Coletta says. “And a lot of customers become friends after you’ve known them for so long. Couples will come in and say they had their first date here 20 or 50 years ago. It’s exciting to talk to people who have been coming for so long and keep coming back. And we go out of our way to keep everything the same for them.” colettas.net Based in Oxford, Miss., Tracy Morin is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with a passion for covering food, beverage, beauty, and boxing.
exploring destinations | BIG CEDAR LODGE
Chapel of the Ozarks
Top of the Rock
Lakeside Cabins in the winter
Ozark Retreat Jackie Sheckler Finch | Photography courtesy of Big Cedar Lodge
Big Cedar Lodge nestled in the mountains outside Branson honors conservation, family traditions, and a chance to reconnect with nature. As soon as I arrived, I knew Big Cedar Lodge was my kind of place. The rustic stone fireplace was ready to light. The curtains were open to glimpse mountains in the distance. And a plate of fresh-baked gingersnap cookies waited on the kitchen table. “The ginger cookies have become our tradition,” says Janet Glaser, public relations manager for Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Mo., near Branson. “We make ours in the shape of a cedar tree.” Known as Pepparkakor, the “wish” cookies also come with an old Swedish custom. “You place the cookie in the palm of your hand,” Glaser says. “Then you make a wish.” Using the index finger of your other hand, tap the cookie in the middle. Swedish tradition says that if the Pepparkakor breaks into three pieces, your wish will come true. Worked for me. My appropriate wish was to return to Big Cedar Lodge for an even longer visit.
Tucked deep in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, the Big Cedar region attracted Native Americans who once roamed the hills and hunted the abundant wildlife. Outsiders were slow to arrive since the land was accessible only by horseback or foot. After the turn of the 20th century, however, railroads began chugging through the Ozarks, turning it into a vacation paradise. In the 1920s, two Missourians — Jude Simmons and Harry Worman — built luxurious homes on the land known as Big Cedar Hollow. Then the Great Depression hit. The Simmons and Worman families spent less time at their country retreats and eventually abandoned them altogether. A logging company took over the property and stripped the towering trees. Heavy rains washed mud and gravel into streams, clogging once crystal clear waterways. Concerned conservationists brought the land’s plight to public attention. In 1947, businessman Dan Norris bought the property, DeSoto 41
Ice skating rink at Big Cedar Lodge
added a lodge, swimming pool, and stable for a resort. When White River was dammed in 1958 to form Table Rock Lake, another jewel waterway was added to the Ozarks, enhacing the resort’s attraction. Forty years later, Bass Pro Shops’ founder and noted conservationist Johnny Morris bought the property in 1987 and set about making it a premier wilderness resort. With conservation his number one priority, Morris created a destination that is both rustic and elegant. “An avid outdoorsman, Johnny Morris was inspired by the majestic beauty of Table Rock Lake and his own childhood memories of family fishing trips,” Glaser says. “He decided to create a place for all families to reconnect with nature and established Big Cedar Lodge as a wilderness resort where conservation and family traditions come together.” Built to embrace the natural landscape of the Ozark Mountains, Big Cedar Lodge offers 317 accommodations across three grand lodges, cozy cottages, private log cabins, lakeside glamping and camp cabins. Exclusive accommodations include the Carriage House Cottage, the Spa Cottage, Governor’s Suite, and Jack’s Cabin. Many guest cabins have been named to honor people, legends, and organizations that have ties to Big Cedar Lodge. Ernest Hemingway, Kevin Costner, Jack Nicklaus, and Waylon Jennings are among those honored with cabins. “Waylon Jennings and his wife Jessi Colter were friends of Johnny Morris,” Glaser says. “The Goin’ Jessi, an exact replica of a 1934 Chris Craft that is named after Waylon’s wife, will take you on an hour-long cruise of Table Rock Lake.” Popular activities at Big Cedar Lodge range from fishing and water sports on the 43,000-acre Table Rock Lake to golfing on five world-class courses; indoor games and activities 42 DeSoto
at the Fun Mountain entertainment complex; horseback riding and wildlife tram tours at the nearby Dogwood Canyon Nature Park; and the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail cart tour and impressive Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum at the Top of the Rock Ozarks Heritage Preserve. For dining, Big Cedar Lodge offers a diverse array of dining venues including Truman Café and Custard, Osage Restaurant, Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl & Grill, and Devil’s Pool Restaurant, which got its name from the famed Devil’s Pool about a stone’s throw from the restaurant. When the holiday season rolls around, Big Cedar Lodge transforms into a winter wonderland each November and December with beautifully decorated Christmas trees in cabins and cottages. Millions of twinkling lights, a Winter Wonderland ice skating rink with illuminated lights and music, holiday light tours, and Christmas tree lighting ceremonies are part of the holiday celebration. “Festive holiday activities include ornament decorating, a Sleigh Bell Scurry which is a fun holiday scavenger hunt, gingerbread build-offs, elves and Santa visits, and more,” Glaser says. Big Cedar Lodge appeals to people of all ages, Glaser adds. “It is a place that invites guests to unwind, connect with each other and to the great outdoors while exploring the beauty of the Ozarks and making memories that will last a lifetime.” bigcedar.com An award-winning journalist, Jackie Sheckler Finch loves to take to the road to see what lies beyond the next bend.
on the road again | PASS CHRISTIAN, MISSISSIPPI
, n a i t s i r h C s Pas pi p i s s i s s i M
8:15 — Greet the morning with a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico at Pass Christian Books and Cat Island Coffeehouse. This combination bookstore-cafe serves up great reads by local authors, specialty coffees and locally made Cat Island cookies or cheese crackers. The café pays homage to Frenchman Nicholas Christian L’Adnier who gave the town its name. 9:30 — Walk about before shops open and check out the historic hamlet once home to actress-comedian-writer Tig Notaro and “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts. Traveling east along Scenic Drive, visitors will pass numerous historic homes, plus the Pass Christian War Memorial Park with its gazebo, workout stations, and walking trails. 10:15 — After the shops have opened, stroll down Davis Street to peek inside boutiques such as Pass Olive Oils and Vinegars, Sara Kate Boutique, Cigar’s on the Pass and the delightful Robin’s Nest in the Pass, owned and operated by Dorothy Roberts, sister to Robin Roberts. Noon — Enjoy lunch and drinks at Bacchus on the Beach, across from Hotel Pass Christian and a short walk from the town center. If the weather’s agreeable, boat drinks on the deck can be delightful. Bacchus also offers daily specials. 1:30 — Want to tap into those dreamy Gulf waters? Several charter services are available for fishing out of the Pass Christian Harbor. 3:00 — Check into one of two boutique hotels in town — Hotel Whiskey and Hotel Pass Christian. The two-story, 11-room Hotel Whiskey overlooks Davis Street in the heart of town and features a restaurant and bar. Hotel Pass Christian contains 10 comfortable coast-style rooms. Both are a quick walk to the new Pass Christian Harbor restaurants and shops. 4:00 — Head east along Scenic Drive and discover more historic sites, including St. Paul Catholic Church with its 18-foot-tall Our Lady of Guadalupe statue on the front lawn. Historical markers run the gamut, from the Mississippi Blues Trail to the site of the former Dixie White House, where President Woodrow Wilson once stayed. 5:00 — Take a sunset stroll along Pass Christian beaches where Gulf waters are shallow and dunes provide safe havens for shore birds. This time of year provides for great birding opportunities. 7:00 — Select whiskey and prime steaks are naturally on the menu at Whiskey Prime, a small intimate restaurant inside Hotel Whiskey that also includes a well-stocked wine selection. The restaurant on Davis Street is open from 3 - 9 p.m., Sundays through Thursdays, and from 4 - 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays.
To plan your visit: www.gulfcoast.org/
Upcoming Events: Holiday boat parades Holiday festivities take to the water along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Boat parades include Christmas on the Water on Dec. 5 on the Biloxi Channel between Beau Rivage and Golden Nugget casinos, and the Christmas on the Bayou on Dec. 12 on Bayou Bernard. A boat parade without water (think decorated boats pulled by trucks) occurs Dec. 5 in the annual Sea Santa Sail-A-Bration in Long Beach.
Snowflakes and Sugarplum Festival On Dec. 5, the Christmas Parade (this time, on land) rolls through Bay St. Louis, followed by pictures with Santa, the Dream Castle Bounce Village, H&H Express Train, and live Christmas music. The free fun happens from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival Mississippi’s largest holiday display with more than 1.5 million lights over 40 acres runs through Dec. 31 (closed Christmas Eve) in Jones Park, across from the new Mississippi Aquarium. Enjoy a heated trolley, food, children’s activities and attractions, and, of course, Santa. Admission is $10 adults, $5 children ages 5-12 with children under 4 admitted free. www.gulfportharborlights.com
Catch a Train Gulfport’s Mississippi Coast Model Railroad Museum presents “35 Days of Christmas and Trains” from 5-to-9 p.m. nightly through Dec. 31. You can also visit the museum during the day from noon-to 5-p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, where you can see the state’s largest LEGO railroad display. www.mcmrcm.org Compiled by Cheré Coen
greater goods | CHRISTMAS DECOR
1. 11-Piece Nativity scene, Mimi’s on Main, 432 Main Street, Senatobia, MS 2. 7 Piece Nativity, Magnolia Lighting, 470 US-51 N, Hernando, MS 3. Chinoiserie Christmas Trees, Keep it Casual, 106 S Industrial Rd, Tupelo, MS 4. Christmas Candles, The Speckled Egg, 5100 Interstate 55, Marion, AR 5. Holiday Wreath, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 6. Stockings and decor, The Pink Zinnia, 134 West Commerce Street, Hernando, MS 7. Art by Alex Ladner, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 8. Cocktail napkins, Social X Saint, 2353 Hwy 51 S Ste. 2, Hernando, MS 9. MudPie serving bowl and spoon, Paisley Pineapple, 6542 Goodman Road, Olive Branch, MS 10. Pillow, Retro Rooster, 125 S Market St, Holly Springs, MS 11. Pillow, Mimi’s on Main, 432 W Main St, Senatobia, MS 12. Wooden decor, House to Home, 8961 US-51, Southaven, MS 13. Tea Towels, Mimi’s on Main, 432 W Main St, Senatobia, MS 14. Wood Sign, Magnolia House, 2903 May Blvd, Southaven, MS 15. Hand Painted art, Ultimate Gifts, 2902 May Blvd. Suite 102, Southaven, MS 16. Wooden Blocks, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 17. Pillows, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS
greater goods | ORNAMENTS
1. Buffalo plaid ornaments, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 2. Assorted Ornaments Magnolia Lighting, 470 US-51 N, Hernando, MS 3. Baxter & Me ornament, Mimi’s on Main, 432 W Main St, Senatobia, MS 4. Cardnial ornament, Ultimate Gifts, 2902 May Blvd. Suite 102, Southaven, MS 5. Coton Colors Ornament, Merry Magnolia, 194 E Military Road, Marion, AR 6. Embroidered Ornaments, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 7. Etta B ornaments, Paisley Pineapple, 6542 Goodman Road, Olive Branch, MS 8. Glass snowman ornament, Magnolia House, 2903 May Blvd, Southaven, MS 9. Hand Painted ornaments, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 10. Light Up Ornament, Merry Magnolia, 194 E Military Road, Marion, AR 11. Mississippi State ornmanent, Ultimate Gifts, 2902 May Blvd. Suite 102, Southaven, MS 12. Ole Miss Ornament Paisley Pineapple, 6542 Goodman Road, Olive Branch, MS 13. Santa Ornament, Mimi’s on Main, 432 W Main St, Senatobia, MS 14. House ornaments, The Pink Zinnia, 134 West Commerce Street, Hernando, MS
m o r f s a m t s i r h C Merry ! e n i z a g a M DeSoto DeSoto 47
Driving Through the
By Tom Adkinson Photography courtesy of Shelby Farms Park, Bob Bakken/Visit DeSoto County, Tylertown Times, New Orleans City Park, Callaway Gardens and Resort
MILLIONS OF LIGHTS
ARE HUNG AND READY TO HELP BRIGHTEN OUR SPIRITS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, AND WE DONâ€™T EVEN HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE CAR TO ENJOY THEM.
Celebration in the Oaks, New Orleans
Fantasy in Lights, Pine Mountain, Georgia
Fantasy in Lights, Pine Mountain, Georgia
Nobody will dispute that 2020 has been a stinker of a year and that no benefit comes from enumerating the reasons. That’s why we need a boost. “Now more than ever, people are looking for something normal. They want experiences that are heartwarming, enjoyable, touching, and traditional. They want things that are familiar. Dazzling holiday light displays deliver those feelings,” says Sonny Horton, general manager of Callaway Gardens in Georgia, which happens to have a rather amazing festival of lights. All around the Deep South, you can see a glow in the evening sky, and when you reach the sources, you find people enjoying that heartwarming, touching, and traditional experience Horton described — family time amid millions of colorful lights. Here’s a look at five events where participants may drive through to enjoy, allowing for social distancing. They range from big cities to a tiny town whose light festival attracts many multiples of the town’s population. Get ready to ooh and ahh and to shout, “There’s Santa!” STARRY NIGHTS/MEMPHIS shelbyfarmspark.org/starry-nights The holidays aren’t complete in Memphis without the twinkling experience of Starry Nights at Shelby Farms Park, one of America’s largest urban parks. Shelby Farms is huge — 4,500 acres — but the holiday focus is on two miles of colorful and diverse lighting displays you experience from the warmth of your vehicle. “It’s an entirely drive-through experience this year because of pandemic considerations,” says park communication specialist Rebecca Dailey, explaining the absence of Mistletoe Village. “We have immensely increased the amount of lights and displays, and we’re packing as much as we can into a two-mile drive — and it’s all in LED lights.” Starry Nights has its roots in an event that pre-dates the creation of Shelby Farms Park in 2007, and Dailey said the biggest request from the community when the park was formed was to flip the switch on Starry Nights. It quickly turned into the biggest fundraiser for the nonprofit Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, which operates the park. See Starry Nights through Jan. 3, 2021. DeSoto 51
Fantasy in Lights, Pine Mountain, Georgia
SOUTHERN LIGHTS/SOUTHAVEN, MISSISSIPPI visitdesotocounty.com Barely 25 miles away from Starry Nights in Memphis, but across the Mississippi state line, is another excuse for a family outing — the 20th celebration of Southern Lights in Southaven’s 116-acre Central Park. There’s a “good deed” twist to Southern Lights because every night benefits a different charity, according to Kim Terrell, director of tourism at Visit DeSoto County. Depending on which night you visit, visitors will support bigname causes such as Make a Wish, the American Cancer Society, and the Humane Society or more local organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, high school clubs, and DeSoto Grace, a nonprofit that builds relationships between people. An archway with two towering toy soldiers marks the entrance to the 500,000 lights of Southern Lights. Tune to any of five FM radio stations broadcasting music appropriate for your drive. Showing the down-home spirit of Southern Lights is the declaration that you are welcome to arrive via car, van, bus, motorcycle, or hay wagon. Southern Lights runs through Dec. 30 except for Christmas night. CHRISTMAS IN THE PARK/TYLERTOWN, MISSISSIPPI co.walthall.ms.us Tylertown is a tiny spot on the map closer to New Orleans than to Jackson, where a tight-knit cadre of volunteers pitches in every year to stage a holiday event of major proportions. In a community of 1,500 people, more than 30,000 people attend Christmas in the Park. “There are a zillion lights,” said volunteer Tammy Tolar with a wink and a smile during an interview about Christmas in the Park. Nobody will try to curb her enthusiasm after viewing the 12 Days of Christmas, a manger scene, ice 52 DeSoto
skaters, carolers, Christmas trains, a gingerbread house, and Santa’s elves — and that’s just some of the holiday-themed displays. Add to that Noah’s Ark (complete with several pairs of animals, including two elephants), the Iwo Jima Memorial, and Toyland. Christmas in the Park, which takes over the 40-acre Holmes Water Park east of downtown, had simple beginnings in 1998 and has grown into an event known throughout Mississippi. Area residents donate many of the displays, and festival setup begins every September. However, volunteer organizers work practically year-round finding ways to add to the zillion lights total. Christmas in the Park runs until Dec. 31. CELEBRATION IN THE OAKS/NEW ORLEANS celebrationintheoaks.com In a city known for throwing big parties, visitors should expect nothing less from the 34th annual Celebration in the Oaks at New Orleans City Park — even in a pandemic year. Celebration in the Oaks normally is a multi-faceted collection of events in several locations throughout the 1,300-acre park (including the Jingle Bells and Beer party for the older set), but crowd-producing attractions aren’t in the cards for 2020’s drive-through festivities. “We’ve basically put everything we have on the driving tour,” said Julie LaCour, who has overseen the event since 2006, explaining her desire for a big “wow factor.” She says it’s practically a year-round endeavor to design, build, install, and dismantle the light displays, which are packed along a 2.25-mile route this year. There are six new displays of major proportions, including a 24-foot-long whale, a 15-foot-tall waving Santa (tucked away since Hurricane Katrina), and a special salute to the city’s medical community that features caduceus symbols
and hearts. LaCour promises an individual surprise for every vehicle, which is why visitors are asked for passengers’ names when purchasing timed tickets. While Celebration in the Oaks is important as a spirit-lifting holiday experience, it’s also vital to park operation. It produces about 15 percent of the budget for a park that includes the world’s largest stand of mature live oaks, a botanical garden, a sculpture garden, and an amusement park. The event runs until Jan. 3, 2021, except for Dec. 24 and Dec. 31. FANTASY IN LIGHTS/PINE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA callawaygardens.com Callaway Gardens, the destination resort 85 miles southwest of Atlanta, originally was famous for glorious spring and summer floral displays of azaleas, hydrangeas, and magnolias, but plenty of people know it now for the blazing colors of Fantasy in Lights, a holiday festival highlighted by a driving tour through the Georgia hills. Fantasy in Lights is substantial enough that you can drive your own vehicle or hop aboard a Jolly Trolley to see 15 elaborate scenes and more than 8 million lights. The event includes a 10-story-tall Christmas tree, which the resort labels the tallest in the South, located at one end of a new display called the Magical Field of Lights, almost 600 feet long. That’s two football fields worth of sparkle. Lights are imbedded in the ground and illuminate in undulating patterns set to musical selections such as the “Hallelujah Chorus” and the “Carol of the Bells.” Beyond the nighttime driving extravaganza, a Fantasy in Lights ticket also includes Christmas Village for shopping, dining, and a visit with Santa, plus admission to Callaway Gardens for strolls or bike rides on a 10-mile trail system through the resort’s 2,500 acres. Special Fantasy in Lights events include a New Year’s Eve Party. Fantasy in Lights runs until Jan. 4, 2021. Tom Adkinson has childhood memories of waiting in a long line of cars to see a department store’s massive Christmas display across the front of Nashville, Tenn.’s, replica of the Parthenon. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, he wrote “100 Things to Do in Nashville Before You Die.”
Finding Comfort and Nostalgia with
C hristmas Movies
By Mary Ann DeSantis Photography courtesy of Gaylord Opryland and Warner Bros. Consumer Products and screenrant.com
Elf at Gaylord
Holiday films offer the warmth, comfort, and predictability we need this year more than any other, but even the â€˜classicsâ€™ are changing with the times. DeSoto 55
It's A Wonderfull Life
Christmas isn’t complete in my house without a viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the 1946 movie starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. And apparently, I’m not alone when it comes to watching my favorite holiday classics year after year. “T he experience of viewing Christmas films that we know and adore almost inherently lifts our spirits and taps into emotions of comfort and nostalgia,” says John Rash, instructional assistant professor and director/producer for the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss. Classic films, explains Rash, never seem to go out of fashion and repeat viewings are often part of holiday rituals. “We appreciate knowing their stories by heart and take comfort in the anticipation of returning to those classics and all of their familiar conventions year after year.” With so many people not able to travel or visit family this year, holiday movies can foster an appreciation for things taken for granted – especially loved ones and interpersonal relationships. And even if you are spending the holidays with family, sharing a laugh over a favorite movie is a positive experience that often helps us see ourselves in similar situations. Christmas movies have happy endings and reaffirm positive feelings that everything will turn out OK – an emotional response much needed in 2020. “The cinematic experience taps into our intimate individual emotions while at the same time creating an environment to laugh together, cry together, and to engage in conversations about the shared emotional journey we have taken together while viewing a movie,” says Rash. “Watching Christmas movies provides an opportunity to emotionally check-in with those relationships and helps us to find comfort in simply being near our friends and families.” Just like great songs with sing-along choruses, classic movies are always in fashion. Rash says cinematic classics have quotable lines, instantly recognizable characters and scenes, and they become part of the cultural fabric over time. But the classics from yesteryear are being replaced by newer flicks that are speaking to more modern-day issues, like the dysfunctional relatives in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or terrorists disrupting a Christmas party in DeSoto 57
The Polar Express
A Christmas Story
“Die Hard.” Both movies are scheduled as part of the Oxford Film Festival’s drive-in theatre offerings in December. “Hollywood responds to trends in society and therefore even these [holiday] films will reflect contemporary culture in their updated storylines,” says Rash. A child of the ‘80s, Rash remembers “Christmas Vacation” as his favorite holiday film. Chevy Chase’s vacation movies were comedic favorites for his entire family. “It was the first film I remember seeing that exposed the anxieties of family gatherings. I don’t have a large family like the one portrayed in ‘Christmas Vacation,’ but the tensions displayed by Griswold’s overcompensating to create the perfect holiday experience is both universal and hilarious,” says Rash. “I can laugh away my own anxieties just knowing that at least I don’t have to worry about Uncle Eddie showing up and parking an RV outside of my house at Christmas.” Rashna Richards, associate professor of Film and Media Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, agrees that contemporary filmmakers have tried to break away from the saccharine look at family gatherings and tree lightings. “Again and again, films of the last two decades seem determined to undermine the traditional spirit of Christmas and show that all isn’t as joyful as it seems,” explains Richards. She adds that “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which was a box-office flop, became the quintessential Christmas classic by accident. A clerical error prevented the copyright from being renewed and the film ended up in public domain in 1974 and was shown repeatedly on TV around the holidays. But even Frank Capra’s classic had a dark dream sequence that he “pulled back for a rosier ending.” Melanie Addington, executive director of the Oxford Film Festival, adds that classics like “White Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” may feel nostalgic, but the themes are actually much darker than newer movies like Gremlins or Klaus. They still have redeeming qualities, though. “One thing all these types of films remind us is that giving is better than receiving and those we love matter to us and us to them,” says Addington. “In such a difficult year for everyone, these types of films remind us that what truly matters are those in our lives.” DeSoto 59
For those who love older Christmas films, it may be time to look for some new favorites because newer films will permeate the culture and even displace the older classics due to changing cultural trends and values. “Older classics passed down by our parents may evoke nostalgia but may not carry the same cultural relevance of contemporary works. Films like “Elf ” and “Love Actually” are contemporary classics that seem to have found their way into our holiday tradition for generations to come, but their permanence is somewhat uncertain due to the pipeline of newer films that could possibly take their place in the future,” Rash says. “As difficult as it is to imagine, it is likely there will come a time that ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ isn’t as recognizable by younger generations due to their interest in more contemporary holiday films, if we aren’t there already,” he adds.
OXFORD FILM FESTIVAL PRESENTS CHRISTMAS CLASSICS
Put some hot chocolate in your thermos, and head to Oxford, Miss., for a pop-up drive-in theater where several iconic holiday movies will be shown on weekends in December. Last March, the Oxford Film Festival had to pivot when the pandemic hit and move its programming to a virtual festival in April – one of the first festivals in the nation to do so. Drive-in movies were offered in the summer and have become so popular they have continued. Presenting sponsor Cannon Motors hosts the screenings at its lot at 100 Thacker Loop in Oxford, beginning at 7 p.m. Admission is $20 per car. The holiday line-up includes “Gremlins,” Dec. 4; “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” Dec. 5; “The Santa Clause,” Dec. 11; “Elf,” Dec. 12; “Die Hard,” Dec. 18; and “A Christmas Story,” Dec. 19. While some viewers may be surprised to see “Die Hard” in the mix, Executive Director Melanie Addington explains it’s indeed a Christmas movie. “It is about an estranged dad trying to make it home for the holidays,” she says. “In this case, terrorists have stopped him instead of a flight delay. But it is still the same premise. We wanted some classic nostalgia for this year, and we also tried to pick some fan favorites.” oxfordfilmfest.com 60 DeSoto
I LOVE CHRISTMAS MOVIES
Gaylord Opryland Resort is welcoming guests to “step inside” their favorite holiday movies with an immersive pop-up exhibition that is open until Jan. 3, 2021. “I Love Christmas Movies” is a never-before-seen experience that features 13 fully immersive scenes from “The Polar Express,” “A Christmas Story,” “Elf,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” Covering 17,000-square-feet at the Nashville resort, the exhibition – in collaboration with Warner Bros. Consumer Products – will feature replicas of film props, audio clips, and more. Plenty of opportunities for selfies are available, including capturing a moment in front of the Griswold’s house adorned with thousands of Christmas lights. Or guests can travel with Buddy the Elf from Santa’s North Pole workshop to New York City for another multisensory experience. All are designed with social distancing measures at the forefront. In addition to the “I Love Christmas Movies” exhibition, Opryland’s A Country Christmas continues its yearly tradition with acres and acres of twinkling lights, elaborate decorations, and holiday activities, shows, and events, from ice tubing and ice skating to The Oak Ridge Boys “Christmas in Tennessee” dinner show. ILoveChristmasMoviesExperience. com A native of Laurel, Miss., Mary Ann DeSantis is the co-editor of DeSoto Magazine. While she loves “Christmas Vacation” and “Klaus,” she still has “It’s a Wonderful Life” in her que for Christmas Eve.
Lighting Up the Holidays By Karon Warren Photography courtesy of Wayne Egglestrom and Brookgreen Gardens
Brookgreen Gardens outside Myrtle Beach
transforms into a holiday spectacle with its annual ‘Nights of a Thousand Candles.’
The Atlantic beachside town of Myrtle Beach, S.C., continually ranks as a top vacation destination. Visitors go for fun in the sun, but the area also offers a lot in the way of holiday entertainment, making it ideal for a winter escape. In fact, a short drive south of Myrtle Beach lies one of the region’s most notable and historic attractions. Sitting on more than 9,000 acres, Brookgreen Gardens encompasses not only botanical gardens, but also the largest collection of American figurative sculpture in the country, a Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve, and a Lowcountry Zoo. There’s so much to take in at the attraction located in scenic Murrells Inlet, it’s almost impossible to see all during one visit. Even the most ambitious visitors are likely to get delayed in the different landscaped gardens when they slow down to admire the many sculptures around every turn and or to check out the animals in the accredited native wildlife zoo. But when the holidays arrive, Brookgreen Gardens takes celebrating the season to the next level. On select nights between Nov. 27 and Dec. 31, the Brookgreen hosts “Nights of a Thousand Candles,” which lives up to its name in spades. From 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., guests can wander the grounds amid more than 2,700 hand-lit candles and millions more twinkling lights crafted into elaborate displays among the large sculptures, mature trees, and blooming flowers. From stringed lights lining the branches of the 250-yearold live oak trees along Live Oak Allée to the hanging luminaries in the Brenda W. Rosen Carolina Terrace Garden to the floating candles in the water features, the gardens are aglow from every angle. It’s a far cry from the original event, which took place in 1999. Originally called “Luminaria Celebration,” the initial event was just two nights and attracted a crowd of barely more than 500 people. In the ensuing decades, that number would swell to more than 50,000. During the month-long event, visitors may enjoy hot cider, cocoa, or wine as they stroll through the gardens. In addition, there will be food trucks on site offering a variety of tasty treats. Throughout the evening, live music fills the air with carolers, a harpist, and a hand-bell ensemble, plus, every night a live musical performance will take place at Brookgreen’s DeSoto 65
open-air Leonard Pavilion. As if that’s not enough, visitors can see artist Bruce Munro’s expansive and renowned light art installation, “Field of Light,” within the gardens. This exhibit features more than 12,000 stems of light that slowly change colors, creating a shimmering, mesmerizing effect. Not surprisingly, “Nights of a Thousand Candles” has received a number of accolades that include being named “Best Christmas Lights in South Carolina” by Travel+Leisure Magazine and receiving the 2018 Charles A. Bundy award for excellence in tourism from South Carolina Parks Recreation and Tourism.
Interestingly enough, Brookgreen Gardens was never intended to be open to the public. It began as a private escape for owners Archer Huntington and his wife, noted sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. The couple bought the property in 1930 as a retreat for Anna, who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and wanted a quiet place to recover. Just a year and a half later, though, those plans had changed. On July 13, 1931, the property was incorporated under the laws of South Carolina as a private, not-forprofit corporation. The goal for Brookgreen Gardens was to collect, exhibit, and preserve three distinct components: American figurative sculpture, plants of the Southeast, and animals of the Southeast. In doing so, it became America’s first public sculpture garden. Within the botanical gardens, you’ll find individual gardens such as the Brenda W. Rosen Carolina Terrace Garden, the Palmetto Garden, the Muses Garden, the Huntington Sculpture Garden, and the Dorothy P. Peace Garden Room for Children. More than 2,000 works by 430 artists are seamlessly displayed among the flowers, greenery and trees, providing a beautiful complement to nature. There are also indoor galleries, including The Bleifeld Gallery and the Rainey Sculpture Pavilion, that showcase smaller sculptures, paintings, etchings, and other works. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Lowcountry Zoo is home to native animals to the region that were either bred and raised in captivity or have a major disability due to injury and can DeSoto 67
no longer survive in the wild. Some of the animals you can visit include alligators, grey and red foxes, bald eagles, white-tailed deer, and river otters.
This year’s pandemic continues to affect public outings, and a visit to Brookgreen Gardens for the “Nights of a Thousand Candles” is no different. To help protect both visitors and staff, Brookgreen has implemented several COVID-19 safety measures to promote social distancing and help with crowd control. For this year, nightly admission has been reduced by 50 percent; however, to accommodate as many guests as possible, Brookgreen has doubled the event’s number of nights to offer the same number of tickets as previous events. In addition, guests are strongly encouraged to practice social distancing at all times and wear masks in the outside gardens. Masks are required in all indoor venues. Pets are not allowed on the property but service animals are welcome. For Brookgreen Gardens members, tickets to “Nights of a Thousand Candles” are $20 for adults and $12 for children. Tickets for nonmembers are $25 for adults and $15 for children. Because space is limited, all tickets must be purchased before arriving at the gardens. All tickets are nonrefundable. However, in the event of bad weather or a change of plans, you can exchange your tickets for a different night provided they are available. You must exchange your tickets no later than 3 p.m. on the day before the date of your current ticket. To exchange your tickets, call (844) 271-3410. Visiting Brookgreen Gardens for “Nights of a Thousand Candles” is sure to be a momentous occasion, a holiday celebration like no other. brookgreen.org/events/nightsthousand-candles-2020. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Karon Warren loves to garden and travel, especially when the two come together as they do at Brookgreen Gardens.
homegrown | MARGARETES FINE CHOCOLATES
Chocolate strawberries groom cake
Chocolate Makes Every Day a Holiday By Pamela A. Keene | Photography courtesy of Margaretes Fine Chocolates
Tupelo landmark chocolate shop Margaretes spreads all kinds of sweetness for the holidays. When most people think of chocolate for special occasions, Valentine’s Day springs to mind, but according to the National Confectioners Association, more than 90 percent of Americans will give some sort of chocolate or candy at Christmas. “Chocolate-covered strawberries are one of our most popular confections for the holidays,” says Henry Daniels, president of Margaretes Fine Chocolates in Tupelo, Miss. “Followed closely by our truffles, turtles, and caramel pecan patties, these are our top four selections during December.” Daniels purchased the former Mrs. Burdens Chocolates in 1996 and changed the name to Margaretes Fine
Chocolates. He made the deliberate decision to specialize in gourmet chocolates and offers them by the piece or the pound. “Our customers can come in and buy one piece or as many as they want,” Daniels says. “During the holidays, we offer a few prepackaged baskets and gift packages, but the people who are our regulars like the ability to purchase just a few pieces if they like.” Gourmet candies include a wide assortment of truffles, crème-filled candies, molded chocolates, chocolatecovered nuts, brandy-filled chocolates, plus specialty items such as the chocolate-covered strawberries, pineapples, and caramelchocolate-dipped and decorated apples on a stick. DeSoto 71
Chocolate covered apple
“Our gourmet chocolates are sourced from several excellent suppliers,” Daniels says. “I often receive samples from companies wanting us to carry their lines, but if I taste them and don’t like them, we just don’t carry them. I’m kind of like Morris the Cat; I’m finicky about what we offer our customers, and if Morris doesn’t like them, you won’t find them here.” Many of the store’s offerings are created on site. Chocolate-covered doublestuffed Oreos, graham crackers, pretzels, and potato chips line shelves and sit sideby-side with gourmet selections on the large cooled candy cases that greet customers as they come in the door. Fresh fruit dipped in chocolate is locally sourced to assure the best quality and freshness. Ninety percent of his business is walk-in; the other 10 percent comes from online sales. “We also do special orders, from cakes topped with our chocolate-covered strawberries to chocolate-dipped grapes, pretty much anything people want,” he says. “The strawberries are made every single day right here in the store and they’re available all year long.” Growing up about 15 miles from Tupelo, Daniels spent the early years of his career in food service with Sunflower Food Stores, learning the business. He also served in the National Guard before building a business in health insurance. He shares the back-story of how he came to own a specialty chocolate store. “Margaretes was born out of love in 1996,” he says. “At the time, there wasn’t a chocolate store in Tupelo so I purchased the former Mrs. Burdens and set up the business as a partnership with a former girlfriend whose name was Margarete. We are no longer together; I now own and manage the business, which I incorporated in 2006.” Hands down, he sees about 80 percent of his customers purchase some kind of milk chocolate treat. “That’s the favorite, with dark chocolate and white chocolate each only bought about 10 percent of the time.” 72 DeSoto
Admittedly he likes milk chocolate the best, too, but he says he’s disciplined about how much he will eat. “I love my chocolate, but I don’t get carried away.” Margaretes makes and sells more than chocolate. The store packages and markets several hundred pounds of Tupelo honey each year to locals and tourists. “A product of the Tupelo white gum tree that grows in the wetlands of Florida, the honey has a unique taste, an amber color and is pure,” he says. “The tree blooms in April and May.” Daniels says it’s not unusual for people who visit Elvis’ birthplace to come by and purchase several pounds of Tupelo honey to take back home even though it’s not produced in Mississippi. As for the holidays, Margaretes can create custom gift baskets in all price ranges. “Chocolate can make any day a holiday, especially when it’s hand-made, gourmet fine chocolate,” he says. “And when you can pick exactly what you want, it’s even better.” Daniels’s childhood memories of chocolate center around the community drug store. They sold pre-determined boxes of Whitman’s or Russell Stover candy and you pretty much had to take what you got. There were a lot of candies left in the box that no one wanted to eat. Today, he’s fixed that, citing a modified line from the film “Forest Gump” as a good reason to stop by Margaretes often. “You never know what you’re going to get unless you stop by Margaretes, where you can pick out exactly what you want that day,” Daniels says with a smile. You certainly won’t be stuck with any unwanted leftovers.” margaretesfinechocolates.com
Pamela A. Keene is an Atlanta-based journalist who actually obtained permission from her doctor to eat dark chocolate during the pandemic.
southern gentleman | RESOLUTIONS
A Resolution Revolution By Jason Frye | Photography courtesy of Getty Images
Resolve to be better this year but use common sense to make those resolutions stick. Southern Gentlemen, this is a New Year’s call to arms, a Resolution Revolution, if you will. I have a plan to stick to most of my New Year’s Resolutions for more than a couple of weeks. In fact, I’m going to stick with some of them past Valentine’s Day, through spring and summer and maybe even into the fall. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to keep one or two for the full year. You scoff. Heck, I scoff. But I think that I — no, we — can do it. All of us, from the Southern Gentlemen to the Southern Scalawag to whatever falls in between, we can keep a handful of New Year’s Resolutions for a full trip around the sun. How? By making it easy. Or easier. Maybe “more manageable” is the right way to put it. Regardless, I’ve been thinking about this and I have some ideas on how to make your New Year’s Resolutions stick. 74 DeSoto
It begins with changing your mindset. Most people say they drop their New Year’s Resolutions because they set “unrealistic goals” or they simply “didn’t have the willpower.” I’ll be the first to admit my share of unrealistic goals (I do not have six-pack abs nor am I fluent in Spanish) and I’ll be the first to admit that a lack of willpower — a.k.a. “laziness” — has kept me from others (like finishing my novel or learning to play guitar). But this year, the Year of Quarantine, has taught me some lessons when it comes to resolutions: Cut yourself a little slack; try... try... and keep trying until you’ve developed a habit; and stop setting unreasonable deadlines that you must meet or else. First, give yourself a break. I want to lose weight and exercise more. So does everybody, but that doesn’t mean on Jan. 1 it’s all clean livin’ and a quick 10k jog every morning. It means you try to stick to your eating and exercise plan and you try hard, but when you fall short of perfection — and you will
— it’s not the end of the world. At the beginning of my COVID lockdown, I vowed to go for a long walk at least five times a week. For a while I did, then came the heat and humidity of summer, boredom with the routes around my neighborhood, and stress eating and sourdough baking (more on this in a moment). I gained weight, not quite the COVID 19 (a slightly distasteful but mostly funny take on the Freshman 15) I’ve heard so much about, but more than I was happy with, so I told myself it was time to get back to walking and stop the senseless snacking. I didn’t beat myself up about it, I just said that I can do better. After cutting myself some slack and dropping the guilt, I laced up my shoes, grabbed an apple, and headed out the door. Easy as that. Try... try... and try some more. Unless you’re some kind of savant you’re not going to pick up the guitar and become the next Dickie Betts, and you’re not going to learn Spanish or how to bake sourdough overnight. It takes time. And practice. And patience. It takes trying and trying again and allowing yourself to fail. Your fingers will ache, you’ll mix up tu and usted, and you’ll bake some horrendous bread. Stick with the practice and you’ll get better and you’ll get excited. Most importantly, you’ll develop the habit of practicing chords, watching the Netflix drama “Narcos” without subtitles, and properly kneading your dough. Stop setting unreasonable deadlines. This is one I had to take to heart. My work as a freelance writer is all deadline driven, so that’s how I think of everything. But sometimes the things you want to do don’t cooperate. Enter sourdough bread. My wife and I got on the sourdough kick early in lockdown and
our first attempts were flat, flavorless, disheartening “loaves” of “bread.” After a couple of weeks and a few horrible loaves of sourdough, we were ready to quit. But why? We had all the time in the world to practice and so little at stake if we failed, but this arbitrary deadline made those early attempts feel like a moratorium on our bread-making skills. We took a break, decided to try again until we got it right, and ended up making a mighty fine loaf on the first try back. By nixing the deadline, we bought ourselves the freedom to fail (or to get it right) and gave ourselves plenty of room to succeed. With these three simple guidelines in mind, I’m going to stick to my resolutions. I really mean it. I’m going to drop 24 pounds over the course of the year and get closer to seeing if I have abs hiding beneath years of food judging and restaurant reviews. I’m going to complete a draft of my novel. I’m going to play my Duolingo app every day. At the end of the year, I’m going to head into my favorite taqueria, order a reasonable lunch in Spanish, and sit down to give my manuscript a final polish.
Jason Frye made some bold claims regarding his New Year’s Resolutions. Follow @beardedwriter on Instagram to see if he’s working on that novel or posting more photos of his food.
southern harmony | ISAAC ALEXANDER
A New Christmas Classic By Jim Beaugez | Photography courtesy of by Isaac Alexander
‘Fake Snow,’ written for the day after Christmas, belongs on every holiday playlist. Christmastime, most Southerners would agree, is no time for cynicism. In our mind’s eye, it’s when Christians around the world set aside differences and unite to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Or, at least the arrival of Santa Claus and his sleigh full of really cool electronic gadgets and toys. It’s generally a peaceful time, unless you’re counting George Washington’s Delaware River crossing on Christmas night in 1776 to attack the British in the Battle of Trenton. Even the soldiers fighting along the Western Front on Christmas of 1914 came out of their trenches to sing carols and share food, bringing the barrage of World War I to a halt for a few precious hours. Since then, Christmas has seemed relatively quiet. But that illusion has allowed a more insidious enemy to take hold. Instead of fatigues and combat boots, these invaders wear turtleneck sweaters and loafers with bells that jing-jing-a-ling. We’re talking about the invasion of secular Christmas music. Bing Crosby may have been first to fire a volley into pop culture
with “White Christmas,” but the annual assault of Christmas music continues unabated every autumn. As the canon of schmaltzy Christmas songs and celebrity recordings grows ever larger, the season begins earlier and earlier. Department stores play Christmas music before Thanksgiving just about everywhere in America, and sometimes before Halloween. Musician Isaac Alexander of Little Rock, Ark., wanted to join the Ariana Grandes, Taylor Swifts, and Justin Biebers of the world and release his own album of Christmas songs. He only made it one song deep into the project, but he made it count. Instead of dipping into sentimentalism and cliché like so many who went before him, he wrote the song “Fake Snow” about what happens when Christmas festivities are over. “There’s this buildup where you’re looking forward to it, and all of a sudden it’s over,” says Alexander. “All the things you were looking forward to sort of become this big mess you have to clean up, literally and figuratively.” There’s more to it than picking up wrapping paper DeSoto 77
and washing dishes, though. “All of a sudden when Christmas is over, it’s back to reality,” he says. “You have to go back to school or back to work. It’s like anything you look forward to. Once it’s over, you have to pick up the pieces and find something else to look forward to.” Alexander is not a scrooge, despite the downer of a theme. “Fake Snow” is a chamber-pop gem, with late-Beatles orchestration, chiming bells, and melodies from the Brian Wilson school of songwriting. “I have great Christmas memories from being a kid, but this song touches on more of the adult feelings that are happening, like [how] people are generally nicer to each other,” he says. “There’s this idea that we can help each other out and be a little kinder to your neighbor during the holiday season. Then when it’s over,” he laughs, “it’s like, ‘eh, back to normal.’” Alexander has been writing songs for 25 years, a career he maintains alongside his role as co-founder of the Little Rock branding firm Eric Rob & Isaac, where he puts his graphic design and illustration experience to work. He also creates the artwork for his musical projects, including the retro album design for “Fake Snow.” “That’s a picture [on the cover] of me as a little kid with my first guitar – it was a toy,” he says. “I love the throwback thing, making things look old [and] that design style from ’50s and ’60s record art, so I wanted to harken back to that stuff.” Like most musicians, Alexander hasn’t been actively performing much since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March. Back then, he had an entire full-length album ready to release, but he shelved it for now. Instead, he’s released six of the songs to streaming platforms. “Once that happened, there was no playing live, and it didn’t seem right putting something out at the time,” he says. “So, I’ve been sitting on it, waiting on a time that feels right to put out the whole collection of songs.” Listeners can find “Fake Snow” on streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal. Jim Beaugez is a music, tech and features writer based in Mississippi. Follow him on Twitter @ JimBeaugez.
in good spirits | HOLIDAY DRINKS
The Naughty Elf
Cheers to the Season By Cheré Coen | Photography courtesy of Cheré Coen
Traditional holiday cocktails range from creamy to sugary sweet with hints of winter flavors, but they all deliver that warm, fuzzy feeling. Maybe it’s the stress of an ongoing pandemic or the numerous tropical cyclones hitting the Gulf this year, but the holidays cannot come fast enough. I’m ready for Hallmark movies, cheerful decorations, and a drink to remind me of family gatherings and the love the season brings. The big question remains: What holiday drink to choose? Traditional holiday drinks fall into two categories, those thick creamy concoctions that send your blood sugar soaring or something hot with flavors of apple, pumpkin, or, if you’re Southern, a hint of pecan. For the sugar lover, there’s eggnog with its requisite eggs, sugar, cream, and homey spices, all blended together in a frothy delight. Colorful martinis run the gamut in the sweet category. A pumpkin martini, for instance, combines equal parts vanilla vodka with pumpkin and Irish cream liqueur, topped with pinches of ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Chef Robert St. John of Hattiesburg likes to mix a half ounce of vodka and Kahlua with one-fourth ounce each of Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur and Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur with a tablespoon of Half-and-Half for his chocolate martini, the recipe found in his whimsical book, “Deep South Parties.” Talk about a delightful sugar rush! Daytime affairs that need a little kick might want to include the RumChata Mocha Fire cocktail blending 2 parts RumChata, 1 part Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire, a half part Dark Crème de Cocoa and 8 ounces of coffee. That’ll wake you up for festivities. For those cold winter evenings, when a roaring fire is in order, there’s nothing more soothing than hot cider — spiked of course, — or a Hot Toddy, which doubles as a combatant to the most virulent cold (at least my mother’s version worked its magic). My mom added honey, lemon, and a shot of whiskey or bourbon into a cup of hot tea. Milk Punch is an old holiday favorite that’s popular in New Orleans from now through the Carnival season and the following recipe created by Constance Snow, who wrote the recipe exchange column in the New Orleans Times-Picayune
newspaper, will offer comfort on a cold night. For something more spirited, try the Naughty Elf as a stand-alone cocktail or shooters. Milk Punch (Makes 8 servings) 12 ounces brandy, bourbon or dark rum for a Cuban version 4 cups Half-and-Half 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped Nutmeg for sprinkling Directions: In a large pitcher, stir together the liquor, Halfand-Half, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Serve in small crystal cups or stemmed glasses, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Alternatively, pour into a small punch bowl, float whipped cream on top, and sprinkle with nutmeg.
The Naughty Elf 1 1/2 ounces Vavoom Vodka 1 1/2 ounces Jagermeister 2 ounces cranberry juice Directions: Combine the vodka, Jagermeister and cranberry juice in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain the ice and pour into a highball glass with new ice or into three shot glasses to serve as shooters. Because holiday drinks are so heavy, DeSoto Magazine Co-editor Cheré Coen only drinks them once a year — or when hurricanes strike.
exploring events | DECEMBER Grammy Museum Mississippi presents Stronger Together: The Power of Women in Country Music Through December 13 Grammy Museum Cleveland, MS Stronger Together: The Power of Women in Country Music will take visitors on a journey through the history of women in country music, from the early years and post-World War II, to the emergence of Nashville as a country music mecca. For more information visit grammymuseumms.org or call 662-441-0100.
Cedar Hill Farm Christmas Tree Farm Through December 20 Cedar Hill Farm Hernando, MS There is no admission to the farm during Christmas! You just have to pay for your tree, the hayride is free! Tree prices are $9.00/ft – Cypress & $10.00/ft – Blue Ice, for our choose & cut trees. The prices vary based on height for the pre-cut shipped in Fraser Firs. For more information visit gocedarhillfarm.com or call 662-429-2540.
Florida George Line’s May We All: A New Country Musical Through December 20 Playhouse on the Square Memphis, TN Streaming and in-person tickets go on sale now. For more information call the Box Office at 901-726-4656 or visit playhouseonthesquare.org.
Winter Arts 2020 Through December 24 The Shops of Saddle Creek Germantown, TN The South’s Premiere Holiday Artists’ Market presents its 12th annual showcase of exceptional & unique hand-crafted works by our region’s finest artists. For more information visit winterartsmemphis.com or WinterArtsMemphis on Facebook.
Bass Pro’s Santa Wonderland Through December 24 Bass Pro Shop Memphis, TN Enjoy the magic of Christmas with Santa’s Wonderland inside Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Stop by to visit Santa, have a photo taken with Santa and complete a Christmas craft. For more information visit basspro.com.
50 Nights of Lights Through December 31 Cleveland, MS Over 100,000 lights will transform Cleveland, Mississippi into a winter wonderland this holiday season. Join us for lights, Santa, music, shopping, dining, and more. For more information visit 50nightsoflights.com.
Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees Through December 31 The holiday season is a time of celebration, and never more so than at the Museum of Science & History – Pink Palace. The Museum is embracing the theme “CELEBRATE” throughout its programming in December. Leading the way is the annual Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees exhibit benefitting Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. For more information visit memphismuseums.org.
Southern Lights Southaven, MS Through January 3, 2021 Celebrating 20 years. Every night benefits a different charity. For more information visit www.visitdesotocounty.com.
Van Gogh, Monet, Degas & Their Times Through January 10, 2021 Mississippi Museum of Art Jackson, MS For more information visit msmuseumart.org or call 601-960-1515.
Illuminating the Word:The St. John’s Bible Through January 10, 2021 Dixon Gallery & Gardens Memphis, TN Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible presents the story of the book’s creation, exploring the relationship between faith, art, and the written word. The exhibition features more than thirty original unbound folios, including illustrations for the scriptural accounts of Creation, Esther, the Genealogy of Christ, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. For more information visit dixon.org or call 901-761-5250.
Willie Mitchell and the Music of Royal Studios Through September 5, 2021 Grammy Museum Mississippi Cleveland, MS The legendary studio that was instrumental in shaping the sound of Memphis soul will be celebrated with a new exhibit. The exhibit will tell the story of the iconic studio— one of the oldest in the world that continues to operate today—and the late Willie Mitchell, who ran the studio and produced many artists on its label, Hi Records. For more information visit grammymuseumms.org or call 662-441-0100.
Methodist Healthcare Luncheon Featuring Leslie Odom, Jr. Hosted via Zoom December 11 11:45am The Methodist Healthcare Luncheon will bring together healthcare leaders, patients, families, donors and friends for an inspiring, live virtual conversation with the Tony and Grammy Award-winning performer. All proceeds from the Methodist Healthcare Luncheon benefit the faithbased, healing mission of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. For ticket information visit methodisthealth.org/luncheon or call 901-478-0704.
Tupelo Community Theatre presents “Elf The Musical” December 3 - 5 The Lyric Theatre Downtown Tupelo, MS For more information visit tupelomainstreet.com.
“A Christmas Carol” by Corinth Theater-Arts December 11 - 15 Corinth, MS The Corinthian Christmas Classic returns! Come see Dicken's classic Christmas tale; tickets are just $10! For more information visit corinth.net.
31st Holly Springs Christmas Tour December 4 - 6 Holly Springs, MS Tour 3 beautiful homes decorated for the Christmas season, the Yellow Fever Martyrs Church Museum, and local historic churches. Tickets are $20 each for individuals and groups up to 9 and $15 for groups of 10 or more. There will be lots of interesting sights to check out from the gorgeous houses to gift shops and bazaars. For more information visit marshallcountymuseum.com or call 662-252-3669.
DeSoto Family Theatre presents “Peter Pan” December 4 - 20 Landers Center Southaven, MS Broadway's timeless classic musical whisks you away to a place where dreams are born and no one ever grows up! Limited number of tickets available. To purchase tickets visit dftonline.org or call 662-470-2131.
Sip N’ Cider December 11 Courthouse Square Hernando, MS 4:00pm - 8:00pm Visit area businesses to eat, shop, mix and mingle. For more information call 662-429-9055 or visit hernandoms.org.
Sip and Shop December 13 Senatobia, MS 1pm - 5pm For more information visit tatecountyms.com or call 662-562-8715.
Cookies with Santa December 6 Gale Center Hernando, MS Cookies, cocoa, crafts and Santa Claus! $3 - 12 and up (includes adults). Children under 12 get in FREE! For more information visit cityofhernando.org or call 662-429-9092.
reflections | CHRISTMAS MORNING MAGIC
7 Decades of Christmas Morning Magic By Connie Pearson | Photography courtesy of pinterest.com
Christmas morning magic takes many forms as you move through the decades. First, you bask in it, then you create it for someone else, and finally, you watch it from a distance. In every stage, it is still magical. The first Christmas morning I can remember with absolute clarity was in 1955. I was five years old; pastel trees were all the rage, and my ever-stylish Momma chose a baby blue one. Long before daylight, my excited little brother and I walked into our tiny living room to find bags of fruit, nuts, and sweets scattered among the presents. My favorites were the tangerines and orange slice candies, but those would have to wait. What had Santa brought me? We were a musical family, as evidenced by the upright piano and the Hammond organ sharing wall space in the room, but for this occasion, a child-size record player was my main gift. However, Santa made the tactical error of only bringing me one record, so “Johnny Had an Apple on a Stick” played no less than 100 times before breakfast. Years later, my whole family could break out singing it with only the slightest prompting. My next memorable childhood Christmas came about five years later, just a few weeks after some well-meaning neighbor kids enlightened me about Santa Claus. I cried bitterly when I had to face the truth. I was also mighty worried that Christmas Eve, because I had my heart set on a bicycle even though I knew my parents had recently endured major car repair expenses. When that shiny, blue Schwinn appeared the 84 DeSoto
next morning, I wanted to hug my parents but didn’t want to tip off my siblings about the man in red. I reveled in the Christmas magic created by my parents. The joy, the smells, the tastes, the anticipation, the excitement. All of it. Then, in a flash the tables were turned, and my husband and I were the ones manufacturing the magic for our own three children. We established our own habits and rituals. Carrots for the reindeer and cookies for Santa were requirements. We must have gone a little overboard on the “be good” and “don’t let Santa see you” parts because we walked in to get our four-year-old son one Christmas morning to find him soaking wet and freezing. During the night, he had started down the hall to the bathroom but was convinced he heard some elves, so he hurried back to his room and “couldn’t hold it.” Bless that child. Those children are grown and married now, living in different states and establishing their own family traditions with the 15 grandchildren who have been added to our tribe. When we gather, it is noisy and boisterous, but it is never on Christmas morning. That is their time. My husband and I enjoy observing the magic from afar via Facetime and Zoom. Our feelings are nostalgic but very satisfying. The magic continues.
Connie Pearson is a freelance travel writer and blogger based in Hartselle, Ala. Her blog is ThereGoesConnie.com.
Tell Santa you want something with a 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged inline-six. 2021 Toyota GR Supra A91 Edition
Merry Christmas from Chuck Hutton Toyota!
CHUCK HUT TON TOYOTA
Our goal is to provide all customers from Memphis and north Mississippi the best in new Toyota models, quality used vehicles, exceptional auto repair and car service, and high-end OEM car parts. Because we are the only locally owned car dealership in Memphis, our mission is to always treat our customers and community with the care and respect that they deserve. When you are ready to purchase a new vehicle or have your own serviced, look no further than Chuck Hutton Toyota, a family-owned dealership committed to our community.
I-55 AND SHELBY DRIVE C H U C K H U TTO NTO Y O TA.C O M
Christmas spirit, wishes and the joy of the holiday season.