Even though we moved to the UK a full nineteen months ago, this was our first holiday season to spend the entirety of it in London. Last year, we took off for Memphis during the holidays to spend Christmas with our families, but since we had used up our one trip back per year during the summer, we weren’t able to do the same this year. I’ll admit, at first I was a little concerned we’d made the wrong decision. We have never, in 31 (32 for Cory) years, spent Christmas away from our extended families. In fact, we’d often do crazy things like drive thirteen hours straight through the night from Florida to Tennessee just to be with everyone for the holiday. So, this was not just our first Christmas in London, but also our very first Christmas celebrating with only the three of us.
To make sure we didn’t regret using our trip back to the U.S. in the summer, we filled the entire month of December with exciting, new things that, were we here long enough, I’m sure would become regular traditions – buying a real Christmas tree, admiring London’s best Christmas windows, and ice skating at Somerset House, but we also made sure to keep up some of our old traditions, too, particularly on Christmas Eve.
Back in Tennessee, Christmas Day is a rather chaotic affair involving at least three very large meals and shuffling food and gifts between four different households, and so we’ve always tried to make Christmas Eve just for us, when we can. Christmas Eve morning is when we make our cookies for Santa (and try not to eat them all before bedtime). After countless fails in the kitchen since moving to London, I didn’t have high hopes for our Christmas cookies this year, so I stuck with my simple, go-to sugar cookie recipe and, with a few minor tweaks to account for the differences between American and British flour, they actually turned out fantastic this time! Between the three of us and Santa, we had polished them off entirely by the day after Christmas.
Christmas Eve is also when we watch one of the greatest holiday movies ever made – It’s A Wonderful Life. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. (That’s saying a lot, coming from the girl who would rather switch off the TV completely than watch a movie in black and white.) We always save the best for last on Christmas Eve, but all throughout the month of December we always try to watch some of our favorite Christmas classics – Elf, Home Alone 1 and 2, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Love Actually to name a few. (I was not the least bit disappointed to discover that the creepy 1964 version of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer doesn’t air on British television. That one scares me just as much now as it did when I was a kid!)
On Christmas morning, we slept in and didn’t start celebrating until almost 10am. (I do not miss those 5am wake-up calls when Lexie was younger at all.) Because Christmas for us is more about being together than the gift-exchange, most of the gifts under the tree were for Lexie from family back home, but she did get something extra special from me and Cory this year – her first iPhone! For now, she’ll only be able to use it around WiFi because we don’t have it set up with a phone plan yet, but that was neither here nor there for her. She was just excited to have a phone, even if it is an outdated 4S! (It was a very merry Christmas for me, too, this year when my iPhone 6 showed up on Christmas Eve. After UK customs held it hostage for three weeks, I wasn’t sure it would make it here at all, not to mention in time for Christmas!)
After all the presents were unwrapped, instead of rushing off to get dressed and load up the car, we plopped down on the sofa with a giant bag of homemade Chex Mix (courtesy of my mom) and, having exhausted our stockpile of Christmas movies, ended up spending the whole day watching the Harry Potter series. We never changed out of our jammies, and judging by the state of my hair, I think I might have even skipped using a hairbrush all day, too. With the tube and buses being down and just about everything outside of a few pubs being closed, we couldn’t have gone anywhere even if we’d wanted to. There were a few half-hearted mentions of taking a walk mid-day, but none of us felt like bothering to make ourselves presentable, so we stayed right where we were, parked on the sofa, until it was time to start making dinner.
Speaking of dinner, it was an exact repeat of Thanksgiving – a few of my grandma’s recipes and a few of my own. Simple, but delicious. It was at dinner that I definitely missed our families the most. (And not just because they’re all better cooks then me!) Thankfully, we got to FaceTime with everyone just before we ate, so even if we couldn’t hug their necks, we could still see their faces! This was definitely the most unusual Christmas we’ve ever had, and we all missed being surrounded by the madness a little bit, but I could get used to this more laid back way of celebrating, too. It allowed us the opportunity to make some of our own family traditions for the first time, something we should have done when we became a family eleven years ago.
When you become an expat, you’re essentially signing an agreement that, for however long your contract is, you’re going to be missing out on things – weddings, birthdays, new babies, Christmases – and you have to be okay with that. But the longer I am an expat, the more I’ve begun to realize that as much as this lifestyle “takes away”, it gives back so much more. Our little family of three is tighter than it’s ever been before, and the credit for that definitely goes to the fact that this is the first time we’ve ever felt like we’ve truly been on our own. In the absence of long-time friends and family, we depend on each other more than we ever did before, and we’re so much closer because of it. That is definitely what I’m most thankful for this year! I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season this year, too!