‘We hope Santa Claus approves’ — Charlotte family turns garage into to-go Christmas.
If this were a different year than 2020, 96-year-old Gwin Dalton would be putting the finishing touches to her family's Christmas party. The house in the Wendover-Sedgewood area would be perfectly decked out with Christmas decorations in every room, including the largest Christmas tree that could be found.
Dalton would add the dining table top and expand it to 16 guests. She would cover it with a lace tablecloth and then carefully arrange the crystal and china.
She would make sure she'd invited any neighbors who otherwise spent the holidays alone. There would be homemade eggnog - a family recipe - and a traditional Christmas dinner. It would also set a kids table and a fun vacation activity - planned by Dalton, of course.
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"It's always been such a close family tradition and lots of laughs and fun," Dalton's daughter Dede Caughman told CharlotteFive. "An all day event."
But this is not a different year - this is 2020, and Christmas, as it always has been done, is not an option.
In accordance with the modified North Carolina Stay-at-Home regulation - effective December 11th - there is a nightly embargo period during which some businesses must be closed to the public between 10:00 PM and 5:00 AM. In addition, all residents must stay at home - or where they will be staying - for the same period. The collection limits remain the same - 10 people for the indoor area and 50 people for the outdoor area.
The deadly virus inspired Dalton to think outside the box.
"I just thought," How on earth are we going to celebrate Christmas this year? "She said." How can we see each other on Christmas Day?
Gwin Dalton is in the garage of her house in the Wendover-Sedgewood neighborhood. Her daughter, Dede Caughman, created a massive mural inside.
These two questions made Dalton think of their garage, certainly a non-traditional hangout. Still, there was something brilliant about it. When the door opened, she remembered that this was the most ventilated room in her house. Could it possibly be the place for a family Christmas party? From there a new tradition began to form.
Instead of decorating the whole house, looking for the largest Christmas tree, expanding the dining table and covering it with lace, crystal, and china table settings, the family spends the days leading up to the celebration preparing a new room.
Enter, 2020 Christmas at the Dalton House: A socially distant, mask-wearing vacation in the garage.
Dede Caughman painted a mural for Santa's workshop in her mother's garage in Charlotte.
But garages traditionally aren't pretty, and this was no exception. Dalton had never thought of its interior design, the color of the walls or the feeling of space. And who would? This is where you can usually park a car, store a lawn mower, maybe a treadmill that you never use, and if you're lucky, a place for a beer fridge. But it's traditionally not a place to think of to host a special dinner.
At least something could be done on the walls. Dalton's daughter Caughman happens to be an artist. How about a festive scene, maybe a mountain village, speculated Dalton with their grown child who lives in Washington, DC.
Caughman did what daughters do, of course. She made it happen. To do this, I had to travel twice from Washington DC to bring her mother's vision to life and paint her first mural (canvas is her usual backdrop). She spent the first mornings drawing fir trees and mountains.
Gwin Dalton stands in her Alpine-style garage, which has banquet tables set for family members to pick up groceries in disposable containers on Christmas Day.
Dalton thought it was great to add Santa's workshop. So Caughman sketched the workshop and Caughman's daughter sketched the toys. Then the fun part started - painting. Dalton directed the creative process, even painting a tree and softening any areas that needed it.
Include the children
With COVID-19 logs high on the list of priorities, the family has set itself the goal of doing everything possible to make the children, who have been involved from the start, fun to celebrate.
"I have nine great-grandchildren," said Dalton. “Seven of them are here in Charlotte. Everyone contributed in some way. "
Whether painted a reindeer, snowman or present, every child has left their mark, with the youngest of them scribbling at the bottom of the mural.
Every family member was involved in preparing the garage space for Christmas Day.
Some of the children spent the days leading up to Christmas preparing centerpieces for the two long banquet tables. The inspiration for the centerpieces comes from Caughman's childhood. When she and her sister were younger, they would collect pine cones and decorate them with jewels. Dalton wrapped small sugar cubes with decorative adhesive tape and placed the "presents" under the "trees".
The same sister, Millie Cox, taught the kids how to decorate 10-inch pine cones with green spray paint. The children's creations will sit on a white felt tablecloth that Dalton's mother made before Christmas. The red pompoms are perfect for informal occasions.
Christmas to go
On Christmas Day there are two Alpine-style banquet tables in the garage. The food is served in disposable containers and with plastic on one end and homemade eggnog on the other. Each family will go through the garage at set times, and not all families will arrive at the same time. All elves must wear masks and keep their distance.
"The whole point is that everyone is safe," Caughman said. "But we don't want anyone to miss our traditional Christmas dinner."
Gwin Dalton's family put COVID-19 protocols high on their list of priorities and then worked to make the Christmas party fun for the kids.
When the weather is bad, everyone takes their food and presents home to have dinner in front of their Christmas trees, Dalton said. When the weather is fine, socially distant tables are set up outdoors for family members who are comfortable and distant outdoors.
"It'll be fun," said Dalton. "I think they'll all say, 'Can we have Christmas in the garage next year? "
Fortunately, Dalton has no immediate plans to treat creation with Alpine themes.
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