WHO The Hause Family
WHERE The Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park, California
YEARS GOING 58
George Hause was three years old when he spent his first Christmas at the Ahwahnee lodge in Yosemite National Park. His mother had just died, and his father and grandmother took him there as a distraction. He still has the 1934 telegram Santa sent to all the children at the hotel: "To Master George Hause," it reads. "Meet me at 4 p.m. under the Christmas Tree in the Great Lounge."
George, a retired sound mixer for films and television, has kept the appointment for the better part of seven decades. "We don't even think about it anymore," he says. "We just go. The Ahwahnee is home, and we know every crack in the building." A 1927 lodge clad in granite boulders, the six-story structure is as rough and textured as the surrounding Sierra Nevada. There are 123 guest rooms; public spaces have raftered ceilings and soaring leaded-glass windows.
After marrying in 1960, George had to persuade his wife, Joan, to go along—she believed in spending the holidays at their home insouthern California. A single trip converted her. Their two daughters, Carolyn Hause and Karen Hause Setzer, have never known another kind of Christmas. Now the Hause party includes son-in-law Barry Setzer and the three Setzer children: Nicole, five, and twins Ryan and Kyle, 21/2.
Karen remembers how as a child she'd rush in on arrival to see the 20-foot Christmas tree in the Great Lounge, which has German Gothic iron chandeliers that look like wagon wheels. Today the lounge is in fine renovated form, with original Colonial-style furniture around the walk-in fireplace, and vintage photographs of Yosemite's wonders.
Guests spend days hiking, ice-climbing, and cross-country skiing in the park. The Hauses' favorite exertion involves the Curry Village outdoor ice rink in the shadow of the rock formation known as Half Dome—a massive sphere sliced down the middle. But sports aren't the point for them. When all the Hauses arrive on December 23, they lug ornaments, stockings, and presents to their five adjacent rooms, one of which has been transformed into a living room with a tree supplied by the hotel. That evening they throw a party, for friends who also return every year and for longtime staff.
On Christmas night the hotel throws the party: the fanciful Bracebridge Dinner, based on a Washington Irving sketch of Christmas in 1718 at Squire Bracebridge's English manor. This pageant features more than 100 costumed actors and hotel regulars performing Renaissance music, dancing, storytelling, juggling, and jesting.
George Hause's granddaughter Nicole has been in the pageant since she was literally a babe in arms. "A babysitter steers her down the aisle so that she can't see us," George says. "It would be all over if she started yelling 'Mommy!'"
559/252-4848; www.yosemitepark.com; doubles from $357; reservations taken a year and a day in advance. Bracebridge Dinner (eight shows Dec.15-25; reservations taken from mid-May), $275 per person.*
WHO The Flynn Family
WHERE The Buccaneer Hotel, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
YEARS GOING 31
What the Flynns of New York City crave at Christmastime isn't snow or the skaters at Rockefeller Center—it's tilted palms and beaches where they can swim with a hawksbill turtle or glimpse a leopard ray flying like an underwater angel.
And for more than 30 years, the family has found such attractions at the Buccaneer Hotel on St. Croix. Situated on an 18th-century sugar plantation between green hills and the Caribbean, the Buccaneer encompasses a 25-room pinkgreat house with Danish-style arches that's surrounded by pink cottages and high-ceilinged villas. The 340-acre property also has three beaches, two pools, tennis courts, a golf course, four restaurants—and countless gardens.