My wife calls me Scrooge -- with more than a little justification -- and I guess that says it all about my feelings concerning the Christmas season.
In my defense, I can only say I find it difficult to get excited when the spirit of the season has been distorted by sales promotions. It occurred to me, however, that my attitude might be jaded because I live in a city. Perhaps, I mused, there are places where the celebration of Christmas still has the storybook character we all dream of -- and so rarely find.
A little research revealed that my instincts were correct. There are folks who've kept the holiday season warm and hospitable, and places where year-end celebrations are both exuberant and exhilarating. So what follows are suggestions for Christmastime surroundings with special appeal. Be aware, however, that these places are hardly unknown, and that reservations for them are normally made at least a year in advance. But it's often possible to luck into a last-minute cancellation, so it may be worth a try at finding a room in one of these inns, even this year. You just might end up believing in Santa Claus.
The English have never made much of a fuss about New Year's, but the Scots have been celebrating it for centuries. To find something approaching an authentic Scottish New Year's on these foreign shores, you'll have to visit this inn during the Scottish Merry Month, which lasts from the second Sunday in December to New Year's Day. There's tree trimming, a band of pipers and a corps of carolers, a Scottish Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, and a celebration on Christmas Eve of the laying of the Yule log. Christmas Day Dinner includes all the traditional fare, and there's an Open House with eggnog and bagpipers, to which the admission fee is the contribution of one ornament for the tree. There's lots of dancing, a seemingly bottomless wassail bowl, and a 10-course New Year's Eve dinner that includes all the elements of a genuine Hogmanay Ball.
Highlands Inn, Box 1700, Carmel, CA 93921; (408) 624-3801.
The Colonial Williamsburg Restoration celebrates Christmas with particular fervor, with cannons booming and candles lighting every window. Balladeers and carolers move from house to house toward the village square, amidst wreaths and garlands of pine, pomegranate, boxwood, and holly.
The holiday season begins on December 14 with a Grand Illumination. Each of the town's inns offers its own recipe for potent Christmas punch. There are worse ways to welcome the season than by making an independent appraisal of these competitive grogs.
Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Accommodation Service, P.O. Drawer C, Williamsburg, VA 23185; (800) 446-8956 outside Va., (800) 582-8976 in Va.
Government Camp, Oregon.
This magnificant relic of the WPA days of the 1930s, perched on the slope of mighty Mount Hood, was the setting for the film The Shining. But never fear -- it's not haunted. Year-end festivities last for two weeks, starting seven days before Christmas. They include a Santa who arrives in a sleigh pulled by real reindeer, and lots of other romantic stuff, such as a Christmas Eve candle ceremony: A single lighted taper is carried through the pitch-black lobby, and each guest in turn lights his candle from his neighbor's. When all the candles are burning, the collective blaze is dazzling. A lump in the throat is not unusual.
It's not surprising that families find this an irresistible place. Devotees come year after year, and my favorite group of regulars is the horde of Hawaiians, who make the pilgrimage to ski the surrounding terrain.
Timberline Lodge, Government Camp, OR 97028; (503) 226-7979 for reservations only; (503) 272-3311.
JARED COFFIN HOUSE
The Christmas season on the wintry island is observed with celebratory excess beginning December 21 and ending on Epiphany Sunday. On the first day, there's a lovely Yule log ceremony, a boar's head procession, and a wassail party before the festive dinner. Each night features a new menu in the tradition of a different country; Christmas Day is All-American, with turkey and pheasant and the conventional trimmings. But mostly this is a place to rest and relax by the fire, to listen to caroling by local groups, and indulge in such nontaxing activities as bridge and backgammon. What could be better than burning logs, flowing Christmas punch, echoing carols, and the distant sound of crashing surf?
Jared Coffin House, 29 Broad St., Nantucket, MA 02554; (617) 228-2400.
Yosemite National Park, California
The public rooms are mammoth, the better to hold the enormous Christmas tree that usually scrapes the ceiling 24 feet above. Much of the basic appeal is the very present danger of getting snowed in: Guests often hope they'll be marooned in this extraordinary landscape. On Christmas Eve, after the lighting of the Yule log, there's the sound of jingling bells as Santa Claus arrives to hand out stockings to the assembled youngsters. Santa also skis in every Christmas Day (he's one of the local ski instructors) at Badger Pass, and hands out more goodies to the kids. But the most famous Christmas function is the Bracebridge Dinner, recreating an episode in Washington irving's Sketchbook, where the characters share their Yuletide feast with villagers and friends. Reservations are at such a premium that there's a lottery for places at the three seatings.
Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Park & Curry Co., Yosemite National Park, CA 95389; (209) 372-1000; for reservations only, (209) 373-4171.
Sugar Hill, New Hampshire
This charming 10-room farmhouse, on 200 acres of rolling New England countryside, has been operated as an inn by the same family for a hundred years. So the feeling of warmth and graciousness stems from a century of hospitality.
There are not one, but two Christmas trees. The one in the dining room is decorated all in white; the other, in the living room, is decorated with dolls from all over the world. Christmas dinner features roast turkey and dressing, homemade pastries, and boiled cider applesauce. There's skating and cross-county skiing, and Cannon Mountain -- the largest ski resort in the region -- is only 10 minutes away. Christmas breakfast offers souffles, baked beans, sausages, homemade maple butter, creamed beef, and hot breads. Dieters had better make reservations elsewhere.
The Homestead, Sugar Hill, NH 03585; (603) 823-5564.
Conspicuously absent from this list is the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt. Crippled by a fire about a year ago, the main lodge will probably not reopen until the spring of 1982. This would, however, be a good time to make reservations for Christmas 1982.
Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, VT 05672; (802) 253-8511.$