We had kind of a weird, spread-out Christmas season. I rather enjoyed it being like this–lots of little get-togethers with people we care about, time to connect with people instead of “putting in an appearance.” But it was different from in other years. Our families are changing, and that’s making the holidays change, too. It’s fine–change can be really good! But different.
I did not get the whole thing off to a particularly auspicious start. I had high hopes and big plans of getting down the Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving. We had a clear weekend and it could have happened. We’re always awfully minimalist about decorations–we don’t even do a tree (blasphemy!). But this year, I didn’t even get out the few that we do have. I felt kind of bad about that. It took me weeks to even get out our box of holiday-themed picture books. We were gone a lot, and I was working a lot, and also, I just didn’t terribly feel like it. Maybe I’ll do better next year!
The biggest Christmas event was right at the beginning of December–a trip to WV to visit JC’s family. We had a lot of people there–his sisters, their families, his dad’s parents and sisters and their families. We didn’t even have everyone we normally do–Katie and Jeremiah stayed home because Baby Elsie was born only a few days earlier, and Catlin, Sophie, and Ashlea stayed home because Baby Luna was due any minute. Elora came without her parents, and I enjoyed having some time to get to know her better. She and Petra are getting to be better friends, too, which makes family gatherings easier.
Petra, the most extreme introvert of all of us, did an incredibly good job of keeping it together and knowing when to ask for a break.
Petra is such an individual, it cracks me up. When I braided her hair and Elora asked for it the same way, Petra took hers down. When they (and I!) both accidentally wore nearly identical dresses, Petra responded to everyone’s comments on it by pointing out the differences. I think she’s not accustomed to having someone who looks so like her around and doesn’t know how to process it. She and Silas look quite similar, but as he’s a boy, no one says anything. She was so turned around by it, I didn’t even try to get a picture of her and Elora together.
Even though Katie knew she wouldn’t be with us, she worked with Kassi to plan the table decorations, as in years past. They went with a woodland animals theme this year, leading to some amusing rounds of Animal Upon Animal.
The table was covered with paper for writing and drawing on. Silas decided to use this to make a political statement.
JC’s grandparents even got out of the nursing home for a couple hours. It took half a dozen people to get them into the not-accessible house, but we were so glad they were able to come. We all adore them, and seeing them with my kids is special.
Everyone made a fuss over baby Elizabeth. The little ones colored and played until they were about to fall over with exhaustion.
This year, we all got gifts for the children, but the adults decided to just get gifts for each other if we found something that really seemed exactly right for a particular person. Konni surprised me with a gift that I wouldn’t have ever thought to ask for, but which is unusually lovely–an Egyptians vs. Romans chess set. “I saw that and immediately thought of you–since Antony and Cleopatra has been such an important part of your year. Or your last few years, really.” And she’s complete right, it has. So we’ve been playing some chess around here. Petra likes that all the Egyptian pawns are cats.
After that, everything was a drawn out series of small gatherings.
We met up with some friends at the Mennonite-Brethren Heritage Center for their holiday event. They had lots of crafts and hands-on activities, musicians, and popcorn in the kettle. Petra wanted to do all the crafts, and Silas wanted to walk the grounds on this gorgeous day, talking about D&D with Thomas. So everyone was happy.
At home, I engaged in a bit of “hedgehogging.” Back when I had a hedgehog, she would sometimes rearrange all of her furniture at night, for no apparent reason. Every now and again, I get the urge to rearrange the furniture, as well. So one day, Silas had a friend over, and I flipped the living room around, creating a sitting area by our sunny south window, and moving the dining table over by the fireplace. I even finally (halfway through advent) got out our collection of Christmas storybooks.
Petra and I strung popcorn and cranberries for the birds. She also made some pinecone birdseed ornaments at Sunday school and at the MBHC event, and we hung all that on the tree for the birds. Petra has been very excited about the bird tree this year, and asked to make more popcorn for it several times, noticing it was eaten up.
My kids don’t get much of a “Christmas break,” as we are minimalist, but consistent, at school work. I did try to make it at least somewhat holiday themed, though…
The weekend before Christmas, we went to Arlington with Mom and Gary. They rented an Air B&B, and even thought to take a whole bunch of decorations, so that everything looked festive.
We saw The Snow Queen at Synetic Theater. I thought it was pretty good, but I’ve apparently ruined the kids on that theater. The first show we saw there was The Tempest, and I think they were disappointed that Snow Queen didn’t have a water slide….It was good, but not as spectacular.
At the preshow activities, we got to meet Santa and get some hot cocoa.
We also went to a “lights in the park” event that night. The lights were really beautiful and creative–I saw a number of displays that were different from ones I’ve seen before.
The next day, we walked all over Alexandria, on a trail I didn’t even know was there. It had historical markers about the founding of DC, and I learned a lot of interesting things. The kids were especially intrigued by the archeological evidence of a “rope walk”–a very long building for making rope.
We visited an old apothecary/pharmacy that was, for…reasons, basically sealed like a time capsule in the early 1930s. It had items that went back as far as the 1780s!
That night, we went to the Christmas event at Mount Vernon. I thought they did a lovely job with it. The interpreters were wonderful. They even had a camel on the grounds, because Washington apparently hired a camel for the amusement of his guests back in the 18th century. The kids were fascinated by him, as well as the “hedgehog cake” in the dining room (a cake made with marzipan to look like a hedgehog, with sliced almonds for quills!), and the encampment, designed to look like a Revolutionary war winter encampment.
At the end of the tour, we wound up back in the visitors center, where these two interpreters sang carols and told stories about them while we had cookies and hot cider. Silas was especially excited about “The Boar’s Head Carol,” and I heard him singing it lustily to himself days later.
After all that, “actual Christmas” was pretty quiet. On Christmas Eve, we went to a beautiful service at our church.
When we got home, we told the kids about the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, in which everyone gets books as gifts on Christmas eve and the whole country has a cozy reading evening. And then we gave them books and treats. Everyone quietly read for an hour in my new sitting area before bed. This is a tradition I can 100% get behind. The kids both said, for days later, “Thank you for the book flood! That was such a neat part of Christmas!”
On Christmas Day, the kids opened a few presents from us (their big present is that we are going to Costa Rica!), and gave JC the crystal duck they picked out for him at my Granny’s house.
Lynlee, Violet, and Jack came over. We built a fire and made charcuterie and pavlova boards. JC’s parents got us a gorgeous slate charcuterie board we wanted to try out. I saw pavlova boards on Pinterest or somewhere and they looked irresistible.
Here’s the recipe I followed, from Corey:
Have 4 room temp eggs, wipe down your mixer bowl and mixer with a bit of vinegar. Put the whites of the eggs in the bowl and set mixer to medium/high. Add 1/4 tea spoon cream of tartar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and possibly vanilla. After the soft peak business drop in a table spoon at a time of granulated sugar (until you have put in 1 1/4 cups), beat til hard peaks. Plop or pipe onto parchment covered baking sheets. Bake at 275 for about 45 min. Then turn oven off and let them cool in oven
I was nervous about them–anything with whipping eggs always seems doomed–but with the stand mixer, it was easy-peasy and delicious. I whipped some cream and added berries. They were great.
We enjoyed them by the fire while the kids ran about barefoot in the woods, read books together, and toasted “the end of the world” (?!?!).
So it was a different kind of holiday. But good, nevertheless. The only constant is change, and we find ways to make our happy space within the ever-shifting world.