Had we known our last Christmas in London was actually going to be our last Christmas in London, we probably would have done things quite a bit differently, but as it was, we only found out about our impending move to Singapore just four days before Christmas Day. Being able to spend almost the entire holiday season without the pressure of knowing it was our last in the UK ended up being quite the blessing in disguise, though.
No doubt, had I known we’d be leaving six months later, I would have spent the whole month of December running all over London doing all the Christmasy things, seeing all the Christmasy streets, and eating all the Christmasy treats, thoroughly exhausting myself and the rest of the family by the time December 25th rolled around. Instead, we got to spend the holidays in blissful ignorance, carrying on with our usual London Christmas traditions as if we’d be doing them for years to come, and enjoying every minute of what ultimately became our last holiday season as expats in the UK.
PICKING OUT THE PERFECT TREE
The weekend after Thanksgiving, we headed over to the Christmas tree lot in front of our favorite grocery in Chiswick to pick out the pine-scented beauty that would be coming home with us to drop needles on our floors (and thus ending up in our socks, beds, and other unexpected locations) for the next four weeks. (I’m joking. I mean, real trees do drop needles like you wouldn’t believe, but they are so worth the hassle!)
Just like the previous year, it took us three times longer than any other customer in the lot to find the One Perfect Tree that would neither blow our entire holiday budget nor leave us with a comically small, destined-to-lose-all-of-its-needles-before-Christmas-Day Christmas tree to arrange our presents around. Plus, the tree also had to look like it wanted to come home with us, too. (Don’t ask me how I can tell. I just can.)
CHRISTMASIFYING OUR FLAT
After getting our new coniferous family member set up in the only corner of our living room not already filled with a heavy piece of furniture and far enough away from the radiators to keep the risk of burning down our building appropriately low, we began the process of Christmasifying our flat.
We have clearly defined roles in this process, by the way. Cory is in charge of hanging the twinkle lights on the tree and around our windows. Lexie is the official tree ornament placer. And I place a few knickknacks on shelves and then watch everyone else finish their jobs while eating the rest of the marshmallows left over from Thanksgiving. (You call it laziness, I call it management.)
It never took much time to decorate our small flat, but the difference it made was undeniable. When you live in a place filled with someone else’s furniture and decor, it’s easy to feel like a visitor in your own home, but that temporary feeling always went away when our flat was filled with all of the many worn-out, mismatched Christmas knickknacks we’d been decorating our homes with for the past 10+ years. So many memories in so many homes. (I think at this point in our family’s timeline, this was our 9th home in 13 years!)
ICE SKATING AT THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
As it turned out, I was only in London for 12 of the 24 days prior to Christmas, which limited the amount of time we had to enjoy our usual traditions, but we managed just fine. The previous year we’d gone ice skating for the very first time at Somerset House and loved it so much that we vowed to make it an annual thing for as long as we lived in London. In keeping with our promise, we did indeed give ice skating another go, but this time at a different venue.
The night before leaving on my 8-day cruise down the Danube, we made our second attempt at ice skating, this time on the rink outside the Natural History Museum. Almost as beautiful as Somerset House, the rink at the Natural History Museum continuously ranks on London Christmas lists as one of the top places to ice skate in the city. And I’m sure it is great…when it’s not an unseasonably warm 55° F outside, turning the ice skating rink into an ice skating rink with a 3″ deep swimming pool on top.
Being whatever the opposite is of a family of Olympic skaters, we struggled to stay upright as we circled the rink, our skates making tiny waves as they parted the water on top of the ice. All around us, people were falling and then standing up completely soaked from head to toe. I was just praying I didn’t fall and break something, seeing as I had the trip of a lifetime waiting for me the next day. I can’t say I was particularly sad when our time on the ice was up. We decided after that unfortunate experience to reserve ice skating only for days when the temperature stays low enough to keep the ice frozen!
SEEING THE NUTCRACKER BALLET
When I was younger, my parents took me to see The Nutcracker ballet at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I’d guess early elementary school since my most vivid memories of the experience were the excitement of getting dressed up to go somewhere other than church and then the absolute terror that ensued upon seeing the Nutcracker himself. (To this day, I still don’t like those things.) However, I am proud to tell you that after my second screening of The Nutcracker, I did not get sent home with a parting gift of nightmares for the next six weeks. Instead, it was one of my favorite things we did for our last Christmas in London.
We were lucky enough to snag tickets to The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum for a matinee performance on Christmas Eve. (Something I’ve always wanted to do since The Nutcracker story takes place on Christmas Eve!) We’d just returned from Poland, a place I’d been wanting to visit for years, but one that hadn’t exactly left us in the most Christmasy of spirits, so seeing the ballet was the perfect thing to snap us back into holiday mode.
The ballet performance by the English National Ballet was even more beautiful than I expected it would be, and having all of the familiar songs from the ballet fill the theater as we sat in the middle of the dress circle above the orchestra in the stalls made the hairs on my arms stand up. I can’t imagine we could have come up with a better way to celebrate our Christmas Eve!
Looking at these pictures gives me all the warm fuzzies – we had such a lovely Christmas morning full of presents and cookies and treats mailed to us from back home! We spent our last Christmas in London almost identically to how we spent our first Christmas in London – with a late morning present exchange (which is really just where Lexie opens all of her gifts since Cory and I don’t get each other anything), followed by the kickoff of our annual Harry Potter movie marathon (literally the best Christmas tradition ever), and then Christmas dinner prepared by yours truly while everyone else relaxes all day. (I guess it’s fair. I was the one eating all the marshmallows while everyone else decorated.)
It’s strange because almost two years have passed since this day, but I can still remember it like it was yesterday. It was our second time to celebrate the holiday with just the three of us, and while a little bit of the novelty of that had worn off, we were still very much enjoying our low-key Christmas. But there was a lot of uncertainty underlying the holiday, too. We’d heard just days before that if we wanted to move to Singapore, we could. We could stay, or we could go – the decision was ours. If there’s one thing that can shift me out of the present and onto a one-way street looking towards the future, it’s hearing there’s a possibility of a move ahead. Both Cory and I struggled to think about anything else, so by the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, the decision was made. We were moving to Singapore!
NEW YEAR’S EVE
Just like Christmas Day, we celebrated our last New Year’s Eve in London the same way we celebrated our first – from our building’s rooftop terrace. It doesn’t compare to seeing the fireworks right by the London Eye, but it’s still pretty cool to be up high enough to be able to see all of the different fireworks shows across the city at the same time!
Just ten minutes before midnight, we headed up to the terrace in our pajamas and found a good spot looking towards the London Eye. (This year we weren’t the only ones celebrating from the rooftop!) There was definitely no mistaking when the clock struck midnight, because as soon as it did, the booms and cracks of at least a dozen different fireworks shows began and colorful sparkles filled the night sky. I made the mistake of trying to photograph them at first, only to quickly realize they’d never compare to last year’s fireworks photos, so I put the tripod away and just watched the city say hello to the new year in its usual high-spirited fashion.
2016 was going to bring a lot of changes our way, but we were so ready for them.