Tag Archives: Christmas

Winter Break Fun

There are really and truly few things I enjoy more than spending time with my children.  But they have been on school break since December 15th and we still have five days left before they go back and hoooo, boy am I ready for them to be at school all day for a few weeks.

My kids, at ages 13, 11, 9 & 7, are pretty self-sufficient in terms of entertaining themselves.  Because there are four of them, they always have someone to play with. But having four kids in the house all day, every day ALSO means they always have someone to annoy and argue with.  Always.  Like, every hour of the day.  Which makes me abso-freaking-lutely insane and despite the fact that I know I should let them solve their disputes themselves, I end up mediating and then losing my patience and shouting at them to stop bickering over and over.

The kids get up before me most days on school break and make their own breakfasts.  Five years ago I could only dream of the day that would happen, and make no mistake, I appreciate it.  But they eat like locusts.  We’re going through food at a rate so alarming, I am almost afraid someone is hoarding it in a cupboard upstairs somewhere.  And although they are reasonably okay at cleaning up after themselves after making a meal…actually, no.  Not true.  They’re generally rubbish at cleaning up and I end up reminding them kindly and patiently several times a day and then screaming and yelling like a lunatic to just put the bread away already, goddammit.

Luckily it’s not as cold here in England in winter as it was in D.C. (or is on most of the east coast of the U.S. right now) so the kids can still play outside for a few hours almost every day.  But it IS wet and rainy and that means it’s muddy and I don’t mind them playing in mud and getting dirty until it’s time to do laundry and I discover that they’ve actually worn three different pair of warm-ups and two different pair of socks each in a single day because they kept getting wet and dirty and then changing and leaving their dirty, wet clothes on the floor.  Then I give long lectures on making unnecessary work for other people when you could just wear one outfit a day or two AT MOST and not go back out once you’ve already changed into clean dry clothes.  And then I spend twenty minutes teaching people how to do their own laundry.  And then we all spend an hour every other day folding and putting away clean clothes while I threaten the lives of the children if they don’t stop changing outfits multiples times a day.

So.  Winter break has been fun.  Lots of fun.  Lots of movies and baking and cooking and board games and reading and laughing and good times. 

But my goodness, I’m ready for the fun to end.

English Christmas Traditions

Traditions are the foundation of memory.  What we do, year after year, what we look forward to and repeat and hold dear and celebrate, is what shapes how we remember our lives.

As parents, Matt and I have worked over the past decade-plus to create traditions, especially around celebrations like Christmas and birthdays, that define our family.  We want our kids to look forward to what they know is coming; we want them to rely on the fact that we will do certain things on certain days and in certain seasons and that those things will be done with love and excitement and joy. 

Anticipation and reassurance are wound up together in tradition.

Our family celebrates Christmas with a few unchanging traditions. Our Christmas calendar hangs in the kitchen and the children take turns adding ornaments every day.  This year, Matt couldn’t find it in our basement when we first got all the Christmas stuff out and we didn’t actually have it up until the first of December; as we decorated the rest of the house, all the kids asked where it was.  It was the most important decoration of all.

Every Christmas Eve we have a sibling gift exchange – one of my very favorite of all our traditions.  Each of the kids gets a gift for each of their siblings that they have to think of themselves (although Matt and I always provide advice and ideas). Some years, the kids have MADE the gifts, other years we’ve purchased them, but the beauty of it is how excited they always are to GIVE their siblings something they know they’ll love.  So excited, in fact, that it overshadows the fact that they’re also getting gifts.

We usually have some kind of Italian food on Christmas Eve – lasagna or baked ziti or something like that.  We watch White Christmas.  The kids all sleep in the same bedroom and wake up early and Matt and I make them wait on the stairs while we put the coffee on and get the camera ready.  I force them to take turns opening presents so they can see what other people are getting and also so the whole present opening isn’t over in 8 minutes flat.

But these are all traditions we’ve made as a family and they’re not the same for every other family – in America, it seems, Christmas traditions are more personal and less widespread.

In England, though, Christmas traditions are pretty set in stone; there are things that every one here just does. 

Advent calendars are huge – everyone has one it seems, kids and adults alike. I’ve seen some pretty amazing grown-up versions with make-up samples and wine and designer gifts in each little compartment. 

In England, Christmas dinner is unvarying: turkey, brussels sprouts, red cabbage, roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, pigs in blankets (which in England is sausage wrapped in bacon, not bread).  I’ve yet to see a variation on it; it is simply Christmas dinner. 

Dessert is mince pie and Christmas pudding and a yule log.  You drink mulled wine and prosecco (although to be fair, in England, you always drink prosecco).

Christmas crackers adorn the table and everyone wears the paper crown they find inside for dinner.

Everyone goes to a pantomime in December – a spoof play that’s basically a comical version of a well-known story where the characters are all in drag and semi- (or completely) inappropriate jokes are sprinkled throughout the show.

People wear Christmas jumpers (sweaters) non-ironically.  Or at least somewhat non-ironically.

Boxing Day – the day after Christmas – is ALSO a holiday.  The tradition that day, in our village at least, is to go for a long walk, presumably to work off the vast amounts of food and drink from the previous day.  The walk, however, seems to end at a pub, so I’m not sure it’s intent is purely health-related.

Although we’ve only been here three years – incredible, actually, that this our third English Christmas – we’ve adopted some that I know will follow us home.

I’d love to find fun advent calendars for each of us and have a little gift celebration every day of the month!  Mince pies and mulled wine will forevermore be included in our Christmas Day feast.  Christmas crackers too.  The sweaters are something we never did in America, but I feel like they’ve got to be added to our traditions because my kids have barely taken theirs off this month they love them so much.  And the idea of going to a play or a show every year during the holidays seems like a really lovely way to celebrate this season.

Leaving England will be hard because we’ve loved living here so much.  Hopefully bringing some of these lovely English traditions home with us will make it a little easier.

Edinburgh Christmas Market

Edinburgh Christmas Market

Our weekend trip to Edinburgh brought us to our very first European Christmas Market.  It was like a fairy tale.

Stall at edinburgh Christmas Market

Gorgeously decorated stalls stretched in every direction offering lovely handcrafted gifts, delicious food, and plenty of holiday kitsch. 


It was glorious, Christmas-carol-filled, pine-scented perfection.  And in the center of the market, a lovely little skating rink. 


I think they had fun.

IMG_6306Outdoor skating rinks seem to have become sort of an unintentional Christmas tradition for our family.  We’ve now skated in D.C., NY, and Edinburgh.  London will be added to the list soon. 


We skated, shopped, drank Nutella hot chocolate and hot, mulled wine, ate hand-twisted German pretzels and bratwurst and fresh, warm donuts, and soaked it all in.


I’d always wanted to see the Christmas markets in Europe, and this one lived up to every single bit of hype.  It was everything you’d want it to be.  (Matt says it was better than the ones he went to last year in Brussels and Brugge.)  The perfect way to start our Christmas season.

IMG_6269Edinburgh itself was just a fantastic city — I can’t wait to post all about it.  And if you ever have the chance to be there at Christmas — TAKE IT.  It was just amazing.

Also, our skating trips to DC and NYC!




When you’re far away from home and celebrating Christmas in a new country, traditions become more important than ever. 

Our tree here is trimmed (somewhat more safely than the above picture would suggest!).  We’ve decorated and purchased gifts and baked cookies.  We’re thick in the swing of Christmas, although it’s a different feeling than ever before.

There are some that we simply can’t do: we can’t make cookies with our old friends on Christmas Eve and deliver them to our local fire station.  We can’t spend Christmas Day at Matt’s parents with his cousins and their kids.  Although I think the kids are sad about those things, we’re working really hard to focus on all the FUN parts of Christmas in a new country.

Being in a new place makes the traditions we CAN still uphold even more precious; the familiar makes the holidays feel like home, no matter where we are.

Christmas Calendar

Our Christmas Calendar is the tradition that starts our holiday.  On December 1st, we begin “decorating” our little tree — each night, one of the children takes a tiny ornament from it’s little pocket and pins it on the tree.  The calendar was a gift from our dear friend’s mom, who made it by hand.  We love that calendar, and as the tree gets more and more full of ornaments, the kids get more and more excited.

We’ll also celebrate with Sibling Gifts on Christmas Eve.  There is an undercurrent of excitement in every hushed conversation between children and parents, as the kids plan just exactly the perfect thing to get for each brother and sister.  We’re almost ready for that, although we still need to make one last trip out to get the final few items.   I love the effort going into each decision and I really love the grand ideas; we did have to talk Quinn down from wanting to get Owen a horse.  Although he would certainly be excited, I don’t think we’re quite at that level of gift giving.  The thought was sweet though: there are few things on this Earth that would make Owen more excited.

And we’ll be sure to keep our more simple traditions: Italian food for dinner on Christmas Eve and my Mom’s Irish bread for breakfast on Christmas morning. 

Although they normally come visit us the day AFTER Christmas for a few days, this year my parents will be here for Christmas, so we have a new and exciting event to anticipate!  And we’re also trying out some new English Christmas traditions, a few of which I already think we’ll take home with us when we eventually return to the States.

abel and cole mince pies

The traditional English Christmas dessert is Mince Pies, and they are EVERYWHERE this time of year.  None of us had ever had them before, so a few weeks ago I ordered some so we could try them out in advance.  They are delicious!  Five out of six of us are BIG fans, but Gabe declined to try them.  I think the name throws him off; although we assured him there is no actual MEAT in the pies, he’s not completely confident that we’re correct about that. 

christmas crackers

Another big Christmas Day tradition here is Christmas Crackers.  The crackers are basically decorated paper tubes that have a joke, a party hat, and a prize inside.  They go at each place setting at the table when we sit down for Christmas dinner, then you and the person next to you each pull an end and the person who comes away with the larger half wins the prize inside.  We’re all about adding a competitive aspect to Christmas dinner here, so we’re definitely going to have these! 

It’s an interesting balance we’re trying to strike: upholding our old and much-loved traditions while embracing the new ones we’re learning about. 

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

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