Saturday, January 3, 2015

Saturday, January 03, 2015 - No comments


My first Christmas away from home involved palm trees and a barbecue on a hot Mexican day.  I remember being excited to be with old friends in the new city I'd just moved to, but also thinking that t-shirt weather and carne asada, tasty as it may have been, just didn't feel like Christmas.  

Fast-forward fifteen years and almost half that many Christmases spent somewhere other than home in Canada with my family.  Much as I miss listening to Amy Grant's "Home for Christmas" album with my Mom, the star decorations they've have up at Blundell Centre every single year since I was six and keeping warm with "the fireplace channel" (and watching for The Hand to put another log on every hour or so), I love the fact that I have a community here in Turkey that truly is like family.  After so many Christmases together, we've gathered our own traditions, and now there are certain things that, while they were never a part of my holiday must-do's growing up, are now on my "It's Not Christmas Without ________" list.  

This was a particularly fun Christmas as I got to spend it both with my "family" here in the city where I live, as well as with some of my best friends who live in another city a short flight away.  In honour of the traditions we've kept and the new memories made this year, here's a little collection of some of my favourite Christmas-ing highlights from this year:

Kicking off the “waiting season” with the first Sunday of Advent (celebrated on a Tuesday) with three of my best friends as we gathered from our various corners of the globe for four precious days together.  Singing Christmas carols along with YouTube videos and cracking up when, in the middle of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, in place of the lyrics, the screen simply read “musical interlude”.  Sipping spicy Russian tea and eating our sugar cookies piled high with icing and iced lebkuchen.  Reading the prophecies of the foretold birth in Bethlehem, my heart waking up to the anticipation and the mystery of a promise on the edge of being fulfilled...

Sitting in front of the tree(s) with said best friends, trying our darndest to get a Really Really Ridiculously Good Looking selfie.  Inevitably one of us (who shall remain nameless) coming out looking like a duck, or another like a photo-bombing creeper, and the laughter that ensued making for the best photos of the night.  After several days of disciplining over-tired children, making meals and having “adult conversations”, it felt so good to be loopy and silly and us.

Christmas Bazaar-ing
Cramming five adults, two kids, a massive bag of popcorn and a whole lot of Christmas cookies into the car and driving an hour and a half to the Turkish version of a Christmas bazaar in a nearby German expat-laden city.  Highlights:  bratwurst, mulled wine, some very un-Christmasy Pink Floyd covers, and the jolly, rotund Englishman who led us in a rousing chorus of “Now, bring us some figgy pudding!”  (It’s quite possible we ended up on TV for that one - the camera seemed to always be on us, as we were the only ones who knew the words.)

Joining an estimated 40% of the world’s Swedish population in watching Kalle Anka, a 1958 repertoire of Disney cartoons, at precisely 3:00 Sweden Time (4:00 here) on Christmas Eve.  (Most of my Turkish Christmases over the years have been celebrated with Swedish friends, and I’ve happily adopted this tradition, despite the fact that I can’t understand a word.  Donald Duck is still Donald Duck in any language!)  Feasting on moose-shaped gingerbread, borscht, and Christmas tea by candlelight with dear friends, and Facetiming with those Swedes who are now back in the motherland and no longer here to enjoy cartoons and Glogg with us.

Progressive Carolling
Singing, candles in hand, at the doors of several foreign friends, as we’ve done every year for the past eight.  Feasting and playing games when we gather at the last house, and the obligatory mint fudge.... :)

Hide-and-seek-ing, tea-partying, reliving the whimsy that is Candy Land and killing myself laughing over the long, creative stories a certain three-year-old came up with while playing her new Show and Tell game.  (“Once upon a time there was a sheep, a frog and a hippopotamus and they all lived on an iceberg and they had no mommy and daddy......”)

Baking and decorating a bajillion cookies with finger-licking kids and friends who start off putting pockets on their gingerbread men’s clothes and then run out of steam and wind up going for the “just “throw a handful of sprinkles on there and call it a masterpiece” method. 

White Elephant-ing
The annual “steal game”, a.k.a. purging of weird stuff we’ve collected over the last twelve months, carefully wrapped with a teaser of chocolate tied onto the outside in hopes of tricking someone into taking whatever “recycled treasures” are inside.  This year’s biggest victory:  passing off the gaudy golden angel statue that a neighbour (who has since moved away and therefore won’t notice its absence) thought would “look good in our living room.”

Skyping with my Mom and enjoying her surprise and delight over the Shutterfly book I made her for Christmas.  Sharing heart-stuff on a kid-free walk with my kanka (best friend) on Boxing Day.  Finally getting to meet my other best friend’s baby on a video call.  Opening yet another best friend’s (I have multiples) gift on Christmas morning and being reminded that far away isn’t really so far away after all.  

Bartering for wheat and ore in Settlers, relishing the satisfaction of slyly dropping the Queen of Spades on an unsuspecting opponent in Hearts, and subjecting the kids to pantyhose antlers in a “build the best reindeer” contest.

Memory Lane-ing
Opening a new Hallmark ornament from Mom, who never misses a year.  Quoting along with “It’s a Wonderful Life” while decorating the Christmas tree (taking breaks during the swimming pool scene and the telephone kiss, of course.)  Getting choked up during Home Alone as I did my Christmas baking.   And missing Mom during all of the above.

Elfing (and Being Elfed)
Cooking and creating and coming up with fun gifts for under the tree.  This year’s favourites:  Vanilla Chai Sugar Scrub, Pear Cinnamon Caramel Sauce and peppermint, chili and espresso truffles.  (And, yes, I kept some for myself!)

The kids in my life are at that age where they’re into making (or buying) gifts themselves, and I was SO blessed by how thoughtful they are and how well they know me!  I got a macaron-shaped compact, a chocolate bar-shaped bookmark and a poster covered in things that remind one sweet girl of me.  For a homemade-love sort of person, this totally made my Christmas!


So... thanks to all of those on both sides of the globe who have made my Christmases past and present something to savour and to look forward to living again!