This was really, really excellent, because without it, there was a possibility that I wouldn't be allowed back into the country come January. (It's apparently supposed to be 90 days in, 90 days out.) So this was a giant relief. And then, December 20th arrived and I said a temporary auf wiedersehen to Kassel and flew home to the sweet suburbs of Washington, DC, where my family (and favorite people) were waiting for me.
The days leading up to Christmas were like a nonstop whirlwind. My parents held an open house wine-and-cheese party two days after I arrived. I wrapped presents, played with my nephew, told Germany stories (the few that I have so far), and made food, ate food, and cleaned up food.
Christmas Eve for my family is always very special. We have a lot of traditions that need attending to, and this requires some serious time management! This year, my sister and I also managed to make a veritable army of Christmas cookies.
In the late afternoon, we open our stockings.
Stockings for us have become rather more epic than what might be considered usual, because of my father's "Stocking Quest", which he began way back when we were kids. We haven't had a Stocking Quest in several years, since we've not been able to all be together. But this year, of course my Dad couldn't resist and the Stocking Quest was reborn! And just what is a Stocking Quest? It's a giant scavenger hunt, and it begins with a riddle in the form of a poem, hidden in the toe of our stocking. This year's first riddle was written in the style of the Scottish poem, "Twa Corbies".
‘In behint yon auld stone dyke
I wot a spot for something they’d like;
And naebody kens that it lies there
Save us, the creeping jenny and three hearts laid bare.’
Take thee out to the dark and dare
To descend to the realm of the chipmunk and hare.
So off we went into the backyard to find the next riddle (and gift that was hidden along with it) and so on. The second riddle took its inspiration from none other than J.R.R. Tolkien.
Prizes for the young ones under the sky,
Some for the air lord in his cloud halls on high,
Many for the ladies, sweet as pie,
One for the little man of peace, by and by,
In the Land of Squirrels where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to lead you to them, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring you to them and in the darkness light them.
From north to south the pendulum seat carves its arc,
It is to the east that you must go, in the dark.
It goes without saying that the whole family always has a complete ball with this. There's a lot of laughing and charging around. And it makes for a very memorable Christmas Eve!
One of our more recent traditions is that after dinner (Mom made amazing steaks!), we visit our neighbors across the street for wine and dessert. And then, when we come home, Dad reads Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory". I've linked to this before (probably last Christmas), but it is just the sweetest story, and we all get weepy at the good parts (except my brother-in-law, who thinks we're a little weird). The Stocking Quest is good romping fun and makes Christmas Eve epic, but the fact is that the evening simply would not be Christmas Eve without my father reading this story. And finally, the rest of the family tromped off to bed and I looked through our Christmas in America coffee table picture book, one of my own private little Christmas Eve traditions.
After all of that, Christmas morning and day is pretty damn chill. :) Personally, I always consider Christmas to be a success if I get to stay in my pajamas all day. Everyone takes their time waking up and getting settled, and then we open presents.
After all that, and breakfast, and cleanup, I took a nap and I think other people took walks and/or made Christmas crafts. In the evening there was dinner: turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, string bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, and roasted winter vegetables. Amazing.
And that, pretty much, was Christmas. The only thing I wish we had done was take a picture of all six of us!! Oh well. If that's the only thing that went wrong I think we can still call it a pretty unqualified success. It was fantastic to have everyone together for our favorite holiday. As always, I feel very blessed!
Post-Christmas, things calmed down. Eve and her family went back to Pensacola, and the folks and I spent two days not doing much of anything. I even made banana daiquiris one afternoon which they both shared with me! It was really nice to have some unwinding time after the frenetic happy chaos of Christmas.
New Year's Eve rolled around, and a friend of mine came to stay from out of state. We visited a couple wineries, watched some hockey, and generally caught up. It was great to see him. To ring in 2014, we got dolled up and headed to this truly incredible NYE party that some friends in Gainesville throw every year. This year, the theme was 1920's Mardi Gras, and they outdid themselves!
|Beer Pong in the basement's "jazz club"|
To all of you out there in internet-land, I hope you were able to spend a few happy and peaceful days with your loved ones as well. Here's to 2014!