Details: Old World towns in the Midwest
To achieve this Christmas wish, I could write a letter to Santa and hope that he’ll send me an open-jaw ticket to Europe. The downside to this plan: finding an open square on the Advent calendar for travel abroad. Instead, I relied on my own elf smarts and saddled up my horse-powered sleigh for a tour of American towns pickled in Old World traditions.
I drove into the heart of the country and the holiday, to Minnesota and Wisconsin, where Swedes, Swiss and Germans immigrated more than a century ago, moving from one wintry landscape to another. Though the 19th-century settlers left behind their homelands, they did not abandon their holiday customs — or characters. At this time of year, Samichlaus, Tomte and Sankt Nikolaus all come out to play.
They were exactly the toys I wanted for Christmas.
Mall of America
No disrespect to the Founding Fathers, but we are a nation based on the economic principle of shopping and the dopamine rush of snagging a bargain. Over the holidays, we can justify our shopping habits on spiritual and family pretexts. It’s God’s, and Granny’s, will.
The holy church of retailers is the Mall of America, which claims to be the largest shopping and entertainment emporium in the country. The Minneapolis-area mall contains 520 stores, plus a Nickelodeon theme park and an aquarium. If you feel guilty for shopping instead of going to the gym, don’t: Walk a lap on each of the four levels and you just completed a 5K. Ask the information desk for the 10K route.
Before tackling marathon shopping, I needed to warm up or else risk a cramp outside Victoria’s Secret. To stretch my legs, I headed for the rotunda to stroll among the 44-foot-tall Christmas trees draped like divas in white lights. For shelter from the unchanging mall temperature of 70 degrees, I ducked into a gingerbread-style house erected by HGTV.
A diminutive man not made of sugar and spice enrolled my name in a contest for various prizes, including furniture and flooring. I have no qualms about regifting when the giver is a cable network.