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The Holidays Northwest Arkansas style

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By Wayne Bell

Well it’s that time of year again. Every day when I come home from work, I have an assortment of magazines from Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Dean and Deluca, and others with all of their new holiday merchandise. I must admit, I truly love this time of year. I think that we would be safe in calling it the holiday period, because it essentially starts in late September and goes through New Year’s.

Starting with the period before Halloween and ending with the New Year’s celebration, its just three months of parties, celebrations, friends and family. It seems to all blur together. Of course the granddaddy of all of this is the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It can get a bit hectic and crazy. Between the office holiday parties (which always seem to resemble the ones from the show “The Office” to family functions) it can be exhausting. However, here are a few great ways to take some time and enjoy the Ozarks this holiday season.

START SPENDING

It’s not some sort of urban myth. Truth is…the economy is less than desirable right now. I think everyone is feeling the pinch. However tight we may be, we do always find a way to spread our funds out at the holidays.

I would never encourage you to go into credit card debt, but I would encourage you to spend what you can. The economy really could use a healthy holiday season this year. If you haven’t noticed, the devil store Wal-Mart started holiday sales in October in an attempt to get people spending earlier this year.

Traditionally the holiday season boils down to three days. The first (my favorite) is Black Friday. This is the day after Thanksgiving. I know that in my family, it is a tradition to get out all the papers on Thanksgiving evening and scout out which sales that we must hit the next day. As much as we do this, one store always seems to reap the reward—Target—and I don’t think that will change this year.

The second major day is the Saturday before Christmas. In all reality, it seems to be every Saturday during December. If you have ever shopped Northwest Arkansas Mall or the Promenade on a Saturday in December, you know what I’m talking about. A lot of people dread the crowds, but I have always embraced them. There’s something very cool about knowing that all of those people are on the same mission you are…to bring joy to friends and family.

Of course, the last major period is the 23rd and 24th of December. There is a whole group of people—like my brother-in-law—who love shopping this close to Christmas and swear that that is when you get the good sales. I am way too much of a cynic to believe this, but it’s because of people like this, that the stores stay open so late right before Christmas.

We in Northwest Arkansas are so lucky to have a variety of big box shopping options that we didn’t have, a few years ago. From Williams-Sonoma to Bath and Body Works, we have a huge selection. I would suggest take a Saturday to check out the Promenade. There’s something really cool about shopping in the brisk conditions and enjoying a cup of coffee at the Promenade Starbucks that has become a new holiday tradition for me.  A word to the wise…make sure to get to Mimi’s or PF Changs early…it’s CRAZY at the holidays.

That’s the mall experience. In a few week’s watch the Free Weekly for a story on great local shopping options.

GET OUT OF TOWN

I’m not going to lie…the idea of traveling to Eureka Springs or Branson used to scare me a bit. They both used to be chock full of “senior activities” that ended each day by about 7 p.m. Eureka is still a quiet retreat; however going over for a weekend to a bed and breakfast is a great way to enjoy the holidays. Soaking up the lights and having a fantastic meal or two is a real treat during the holidays. Eureka Springs has a fantastic assortment of fine restaurants including Autumn Breeze, Ermelio’s Bavarian Inn, Rogue’s Manor and the Crescent.

However, the big news is Branson is alive and kicking. It wasn’t so long along that I went to Branson and it was endless theatre after theatre promoting a near death performer. There’s still some of that. However, now Branson has the awesome Branson Landing. I went up a few weeks ago with my mother and had to pick my jaw up off the floor. There is a whole strip of great restaurants, shops, and bars (in Branson). The new Branson Landing is flagged with two Hiltons, 40 or so shops and some great restaurants including Sullivan’s Steakhouse (what the hell happened to the one in Rogers?), Joe’s Crab and the amazing Cantina Loredo (prepare to wait) out of Dallas. Take a weekend and see the lights at Silver Dollar City and enjoy some really amazing shopping and dining. Also, check out the Piano Bar on the Landing. It’s a nice touch in a town that used to close at seven.

Branson is of course, also known for its outlet shopping. Many outlet malls have come and gone in Branson, but the biggie is still Tanger. With Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic, Harry and David, and the new Nike outlet, it is a day’s worth of shopping. Be aware with outlet malls though. Sometimes the merchandise isn’t of the best quality, and often the merchandise is actually produced for the outlet stores. For instance, Gap and Banana produce most of their outlet clothes…specifically for the outlet stores. If you have ever tried to return something you bought at one to a regular store, you know this.  Therefore, those “steal” items aren’t always a true bargain. Just be careful and enjoy outlets for what they are.

STAY PUT

Perhaps the greatest thing you can do this holiday season is stay put. Our beloved Fayetteville does the holidays up right. First off, there’s always the square. Starting in mid-November, the square becomes alive with thousands of lights. The farmers market is replaced with hundreds of spectators enjoying the view.

There are a ton of local charity and volunteer opportunities in Fayetteville during the holidays. A great tradition to start is to volunteer for Salvation Army. It only takes a few hours, but ringing that bell for Salvation Army is a wonderful winter activity that I really enjoy.

There are also plenty of reasons to get dressed up during the holidays. From the Red Cross’ “Taste of the World” on Dec. 1 to the Walton Arts Center’s New Years Celebration, there is no shortage of great charity fundraisers which also allow you to partake in some holiday cheer (yes…that phrase came out of my mouth).

My favorite thing to do during the holidays is to go to a great local coffee shop like Arsaga’s, Common Grounds or La Maison and just enjoy a hot drink and people watch. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by holiday sweaters on a brisk Saturday morning. Go to La Maison or Greenhouse Grille and get yourself a cup of warm soup and just people watch. Or better yet, just grab a book and enjoy the environment.

My favorite mandatory holiday read is “Holidays on Ice” by David Sedaris.  If you haven’t read it, go to the library or bookstore immediately. It’s a tiny little book that will become a part of your annual celebration. You will never see a department store Santa in the same light again.

Another great way to celebrate is to stay home. Put some real effort into decorating your home this year. We only get to do this a few times a year, so embrace your inner child. There is nothing like coming home at the end of a rough day to a pumpkin display or a tree or whatever.

Of course, a great way to pass the time while decorating and celebrating is to pop in a holiday movie. Some of my favorites are those Peanuts Holiday specials, “Home Alone 1 and 2” and “Home for the Holidays.” If you have never seen the later, I would defiantly recommend it. Director Jodie Foster’s 1996 tale of Thanksgiving in a truly dysfunctional family has become a classic in my family—and painfully realistic. Of course don’t miss out on some others like “National Lampoons Christmas,” “The Family Stone” and “Bad Santa.”

TIS THE SEASON

Perhaps the greatest thing you can do this holiday season is just relax. Take a moment to breathe and reflect on this past year. Northwest Arkansas is moving pretty fast these days. Enjoy the calm that you can make for yourself. Whether you drive to Eureka, go shopping at the Promenade or stay put in Fayetteville, take a minute to truly enjoy the beauty that we have in Northwest Arkansas. It’s a really wonderful time of year in Fayetteville, and should not only be appreciate, but be embraced. Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year…Happy Holidays!

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