When I saw the Christmas tree in the lobby of the Westin Kierland Villas this past weekend, I was reminded of images of trees from holiday stays at various resorts and hotels over the years. Many of these hotel lobby trees were elaborate, sparkling masterpieces of decoration. Others were homespun and simple — inclined to make one think of home. Some had local, cultural charms and appeal, to inspire a memory of your destination.
One memorable tree stood in the Eagle’s Nest Lounge at the Prescott Resort and Conference Center when we stayed there at Christmas time from 1998-2004. This spectacular tree rose at least two floors and it almost could be spotted from Gurley Street driving back from Courthouse Square. When there weren’t any company parties booked in the lounge, guests could sit and listen to holiday favorites played on the grand piano, relax and warm up in front of the stone fireplace and sip hot beverages laced with mint, chocolate and Baileys Irish Cream.
Another resort Christmas tree that comes to mind was the tall ‘tannenbaum” at the entrance to the atrium of the Barcelo Ixtapa, Mexico. The tree was a beacon to every room level and it echoed tidings and joy throughout the resort. January 6 (Epiphany) is observed in Mexico as Three Kings Day — as it is also celebrated in other parts of the world. While we were there, we feasted on Rosca de Reyes, the bread ring of the Three Kings. At the Barcelo, the huge ring of sweet pastry made a circumference around the entire Christmas tree.
On a recent Maui December vacation, the Christmas tree at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas seemed almost out of place among all the tropical plants, birds, sunshine and bikini-clad tourists. Still, it was very pleasant to recall how we would sit on the sunny terrace for breakfast, admiring the Christmas tree while dining on fresh pineapple, watching the toucans and flamingos and listening to the faint chime of Bing’s or Buffett’s version of “Mele Kalikimaka.”
But nothing anywhere among my hotel Christmas tree memories can compare to the story this week I watched on a NBC network news broadcast about a family spending their Christmas at a Holiday Inn in Hazlet, New Jersey, whose home had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. They had no home, no spectacular Christmas tree and certainly no possibility of any Christmastime vacation. For them, there would be no lounging at a Maui hotel swimming pool, sipping cups of warm Irish cream in a cozy Prescott Arizona lobby or jetting off to an Ixtapa, Mexico beach resort. Instead they would nestle in a simple, but warm Holiday Inn two-bed room in undoubtedly cramped quarters. Rather than making resolutions they will be laying out hope for a better year in a stack of FEMA applications, insurance paperwork and housing relocation plans. And these are the fortunate. Consider the many displaced by Hurricane Sandy who don’t even have a Holiday Inn to return to each day.
Many of us who travel regularly can imagine that small round table near the front window of almost every typical motel room. That’s the place we take for granted: where we sprawl travel brochures, business papers or our laptop. It’s the place we unload the Chinese take-out or the Starbucks coffee. But for that one family on the news report affected by Hurricane Sandy, this would be the prime spot for their foot-high Christmas tree, with homemade decorations and makeshift lights. If there’s any image or memory of a hotel holiday tree best depicting Christmas — I’d say that would be it.