Christmas Magic


There is no doubt. Christmas and all of the winter holidays is a special time of year. It is an all too brief few weeks in each year where we open our hearts to love, to hope, to giving, and to sharing.

No where was this more evident than last year in the Port Richmond area of Philadelphia.

The headlines blared, “Mystery Pair at Diner Spark Cascade of Giving,” “Couple Pay Another Table’s Tab, and Chain Reaction of Generosity Lasts Hours.”

Here’s the scoop by Danielle Johnson,, December 15, 2009:

PHILADELPHIA — It played like a scene from a holiday movie — a mystery couple, who didn’t leave their names or numbers, walked into a restaurant, finished their meal and then set off a chain reaction of generosity that lasted for hours.

That’s just what employees at the Aramingo Diner in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia said a man and a woman did during their breakfast shift Saturday morning.

“It was magical. I had tears in my eyes because it never happened before. I’ve been here for 10 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Lynn Willard, a waitress.

Willard and other waitresses told NBC Philadelphia that the couple started the chain reaction by paying double: for their own meal and for the tab of another table of diners at the restaurant. There’s no evidence that one group of diners knew the others.

“I could not believe it. And it continued and continued — it was very nice,” said Willard. “They asked us not to say anything until they left, say, ‘Merry Christmas, that person picked up your check.’”

For the next five hours, dozens of patrons got into that same holiday spirit and paid the favor forward.

The diner’s manager said not one person was concerned about price of the check — which ran between $12 and $30.

“It was a surprise to all of us; the girls were even taken aback,” said the diner’s manager. “Those who took the check also tipped the waitress. So nobody had to do anything other than pass it on, and that’s what they did. They just passed it forward.”

It’s a true holiday story that proves how a small gesture of kindness can create some magic.

See what I mean? Magic.

Unfortunately, we don’t all get a chance to get caught up in something like this. But we can create out own brand of magic.

I have a Christmas tradition. It’s nothing big or fancy. It is  just sort of ordinary really. It all started in late November 1987. I was going to a funeral. On the way there and on a major highway I had a flat tire. This was before the days of cell phones. I did not know what I was going to do. I didn’t want to be late for the funeral.

I got out of the car and surveyed the damage. I was just getting ready to walk to the nearest exit when a car pulled over and a young woman got out. She said, “I can change your tire for you.” And she did. She had that tire changed in less than fifteen minutes. I offered to pay her. She said no, she was just glad she could help.

During our conversation while she was changing the tire I was able to get her first name and where she worked. I knew I wanted to do something for her. So I got a huge gift basket with fruit and wine, cookies and candies and all sorts of goodies.

I took it to her office Christmas week and gave it to her with my thanks. She lit up like a Christmas tree. Leaving her office I thought to myself: you know, this year was no different than any other. People do nice things for you every year all year round. Why don’t you remember and thank them every year like this, no matter when they did something nice.

And so a tradition was born.

Now, every year around Christmas time I look back on the year and I remember all the nice things people, friends, acquaintances, even ‘strangers,’ have done for me. Then I pick out the top three or four and I give them what I have come to call, “The Spirit of Christmas All Year Round Thank You Gift.”

I give home made cookies, CDs, fruit, even liqueur; anything that says, “Thank you.”

How do you make Christmas Magic?
Featured Recipe        Glϋhwein

Back when I shared the no-alcoholic punch I told you I would share a wonderful alcholic drink with you before Christmas. Well, this it it!

Glϋhwein is a German variation of hot mulled wine, with spices and fruits, usually served warm. It is a tradition at Christmas time. It makes it own special version of Christmas magic.

The recipe I share with you today is also a Christmas tradition of mine. I make it for any Christmas gathering at my place. It is always a big hit. People love this drink. I LOVE THIS DRINK!!!!!

I use a claret and beginning since I lived in California I use a Coppola claret. Yes, THAT Coppola. He makes great wines as well as great movies. This is simply the best claret I have ever had. So smooth. When I lived in California I could get the claret for $10. I have to pay $5 more here in Ohio. I guess that is inflation or transportation costs. But any claret or Burgundy will do just fine.

This recipe comes from a series of cookbooks put out by McCall’s. It was a set of 18 cookbooks. This recipe came from #15, Cocktail Time. I think they are out of print now. But every once in a while I see one or two and sometimes a whole set on ebay.

These were my mother’s. When I moved to my first apartments she gave me the set along with a James Beard cookbook. They are truly gifts that keep on giving.

This is what you will need to make 5 six-ounce servings:

4 orange slices cut crosswise

4 lemon slices cut crosswise

1 quart Burgundy or claret

6 whole cloves

3-inch cinnamon stick broken into 5 pieces

1 cup granulated sugar

I use more cloves because I like them, and a bit more cinnamon too.

Here is what you do:

Remove centers from fruit slices. Try to keep the rinds round and intact. You can put them in the punch bowl if you use one. Make every thing look so elegant.

In a large saucepan bring wine to simmering. Do not boil.

Add fruit and rest of ingredients, stir to dissolve sugar. Over low heat let stand about 10 minutes.


You and your guests will never be the same. Seconds will be demanded.

View of punch bowl from the top. Very festive, isn’t it?

A close up view of a glass. My friends love the fruit in this mulled wine, so I make sure every one has some fruit in their glass.

The rumor going round that I was tipsy when I took these photographs is NOT true. I was not!!!! I categorically deny this. That came much, much later.


4 orange slices cut crosswise          $0.79

4 lemon slices cut crosswise           $0.49

1 quart Burgundy or claret              $14.99

6 whole cloves                               $0.10*                        

3-inch cinnamon sticks                    $0.10

1 cup granulated sugar                   $0.64

Total cost = $17.11
Cost per serving = $3.42

* Estimated and approximate cost. I counted the cloves in my jar and figured from there.

Quote of the Day

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. 

Norman Vincent Peale

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