The holidays were quickly approaching and our house was abuzz in hectic energy. My 10-year-old son, Owen, handed over his Christmas list and I was focused on designing the perfect holiday decor and menu for our annual Christmas party.
That night at dinner, I looked up from my email to find Owen immersed in a game on his tablet. My husband, John, and I made eye contact and he motioned toward the kitchen.
“We need some time together as a family,” he said, and I nodded.
“Let’s drive somewhere this weekend,” John continued. “What about Omaha, to see your mom? It’s only three hours away.”
“Great idea,” I said, feeling a little guilty about my own recent distractions.
I called my mom after dinner and she was thrilled. “Let’s meet at the Durham Museum on your way into town,” she said. “I want to show Owen the tree at Union Station. It is truly spectacular. Love you, honey!” We were on the road the next morning despite Owen’s plea to stay and go to the movies with his friends. I knew he’d end up loving our impromptu getaway.
My mom was right; the tree really was a sight to see. We walked into the massive Art Deco-style Union Station and were greeted by the 40-foot tree decked out from trunk to crown with bowling ball-sized ornaments, lights and tinsel, and a children’s choir singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
My mom was standing under the tree with a huge smile and arms flung wide; Owen ran over to embrace her.
“Nanny, this tree is huge! Is it real?” Owen asked.
“I knew you would love it,” my mom said. “Real as they come. It takes a crew of workers five days to decorate and they use over 1,000 feet of lights.”
“I read on the way down here that the tradition of the tree dates back to when Union Pacific would harvest a tree from the Pacific Northwest and bring it to Omaha by train,” John said.
“It’s a very special tradition,” my mom agreed. “It was put on display for travelers to admire as they came and went through the station.”
“Can we get in line for Santa?” Owen asked, and John and I exchanged smiles. It was fun for us that he was holding on to the magic for at least one more year.
Santa, with Mrs. Claus at his side, sat atop the carved wooden throne and looked as if they just flew in from the North Pole. The carols in the background, the twinkling of the lights, metallic globes, oversized candy canes and the smell of fresh pine wrapped me in the warm embrace of Christmas and my to-do list at home on the kitchen counter was the last thing on my mind.
“Mom, he looks like the real Santa!” Owen said. “It’s not just the elves here, it’s Santa, too.”
The four of us crowded around, Owen on Santa’s lap, and posed for a picture. Then we left Owen in private to discuss his Christmas list.
“I think we should make this a tradition,” John said. “This place really puts you in the Christmas spirit.”
We walked around the Durham galleries, admiring the many trees decorated to represent Christmas traditions around the globe. We stopped to snap a picture of my mom and Owen in front of the Nebraska tree.
“If you come back at the beginning of December, they’re having the Ethnic Holiday Festival with dancers, costumes, singing, food and crafts,” my mom said. “I remember watching the Mexican dancers last year. The women in their bright red dresses and the men in their decorated sombreros were my favorite.”
“Maybe I could come by myself and stay with Nanny,” Owen said, grinning at my mom.
As a surprise, my mom had secured matinee tickets to see A Christmas Carol at the Omaha Community Playhouse. We found our seats—front and center—and Owen settled in, resting his head on my mom’s shoulder. He was loving all the special attention.
“Owen, did you know that going to A Christmas Carol was a tradition that your mom and I held every year until she went off to college?” my mom said.
“Can we start that tradition again?” Owen suggested, excited at the idea.
“It’s a deal,” my mom responded. She caught my eye and we both smiled, knowing how meaningful it was that my past Christmas tradition would become one of Owen’s.
The curtain came up and it was just as I had remembered. My mom and I had gone to 15 consecutive productions of A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse and it felt good to be back. I let Charles Dickens ease me back into my childhood through the enchanting music, beautiful costumes, storybook sets and the special effects that kept even Owen’s attention.
When the final curtain came down, we strolled back to our car together and I watched Owen talking excitedly with my mom about his favorite parts of the production. Their matching smiles told me that our trip to Omaha had been a great idea. I had just watched as Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come and I knew that a trip to Omaha would be a new tradition for all of our own future Christmases.