January 2nd had a whole new look this year!
For my entire life, January 2nd has always signaled the "back to school" after Christmas break. As a student, I remember the dreaded morning wake-up call on January 2nd, just a mere week after playing with all my new Christmas toys and visiting with family and friends. Then fast forward to my 1st job teaching 5th grade as a newly married 22 year-old, I can still remember that cold dark January 2nd getting up to face the world after my 1st holiday break of "adulting." Surrounded by our children for the last 14 years, January 2nd looks a lot different.
January 2nd has evolved into a signal that as a parent -
You have Survived!!
You have wrapped the presents, made the cookies, sent the cards, moved a certain someone who will not be named, captured the most awkward Christmas morning photo, attended the concerts/parties, rocked some Santa magic, cooked and cleaned your tush off, visited family, hung out with friends, found a home for all the new stuff that you can't believe you bought in the first place, hauled all your tupperware tubs stuffed to the brims with Christmas decorations back to their hiding places for another year and maybe - just maybe - got outside to take the lights down. In all that hustle and bustle, you were supposed to relax, enjoy the moments, make memories, put your feet up, enjoy a few glasses of bubbly or eggnog, and oh yeah - make some New Year's resolutions too. Sound familiar?
After all those precious holiday "moments," when January 2nd arrives, it truly feels like you have won a badge of honor as a parent for surviving . . . . this year though, our badge is totally different.
This Christmas, it was just the 5 of us and I will be honest, it wasn't easy.
We have a very tight knit family back in the states (all within a 3.5 hour driving distance) so it was extra hard not being with them. Knowing this, we tried to pro-actively attack the holiday planning at the start of December with the kids by asking them what are the most important things about Christmas that they want to continue in Ireland. We both were cringing as we were waiting to hear a list of material things, but here's their list . . . it's pretty eye-opening:
- Make/eat monkey bread on Christmas morning
- Make/eat biscuits and sausage gravy on Christmas morning
- Get a real Christmas tree
Almost ALL were food related!!
Can you believe it? As I think back to my Christmases as a child, so much revolves around the food we shared around our dining room table on my Mom's Christmas Lenox. Whether it was my Great-Aunts ceregi cookies (anyone else out there who is Slovak and knows about these cookies??) or the mounds of Christmas cookies my Mom and Grandmom would make, the sugary smells of Christmas mixed with a freshly-cut evergreen tree resonate in my memories.
They didn't say the "P" word
I must admit that I was thrilled the kids didn't say mountains of presents (the "p" word) or other crazy material things. They know we are on a tight budget plus we can't get the "stuff" back home so they were very practical with everything they asked for. Brianna wanted black running pants, a powerful portable charger for her phone and a really good clear toiletry bag for traveling. Billy asked for new boots (cleats), new runners (sneakers) and new running pants. All of these things, we would have bought them anyway for "life" but it was so refreshing and comforting to see that they 'get' what this year is all about. Now, Alyssa on the other hand is still a hard-core believer, so her list involved way too many plastic surprise toys that you unwrap but hey - she's 10!
Christmas in the City
Being in a city is a magical time of year, so we tried to capture all the unqiue events that happen at Christmas time in Dublin. After doing some online research and getting help from The Independent and Visit Dublin, we made a list of must-dos.
From lights to shows and of course seeing the big guy in Red, we had a full plan of things to tackle for December.
If you are ever in Dublin during the holiday, be sure to check out our Christmas favorites!
1. The lights switching on over Grafton Street
Our cousins arrived from Las Angelos just in time to join us as we saw the lights switch on in City Center Dublin over Grafton Street! It was a perfect way to kick-off the holiday season . . . can you tell from those smiles??
2. Attending our 1st Pantomime
Do you know what a Panto is? We had no idea but headed out with friends anyway to see Polly and the Beanstalk on opening night and had the absolute best time! The Pantos have been going strong since 1873 and they are a mix of a slapstick comedy with audience participation. We laughed, sang along, yelled back at the actors, and laughed some more. If you are in Ireland during the holidays, you gotta hit a Panto!
3. Santa Experience at Dunnes Stores
As a child, I remember attending every year the Christmas experiences at Strawbridge and Clothier in Philadelphia. My Father worked there for over 20 years, so seeing the department store light-up at Christmas was always extra special. I fondly remember their Charles Dicken's Story, and of course sitting on Santa's lap. These Christmas visits for my brother and I were always followed with a lunch at Strawbridge's restaurant. My heart still swoons remembering those moments with my Mom and brother and being so proud to be at my Dad's store!
When I heard about the Dunne's Christmas Experience, I knew this was something I just had to do with the kids. Unfortuantely, we all couldn't make it (our guys were off making a bow for a suprise Christmas present for Billy), but Brianna, Alyssa and I got to relish in the magic and of course we had to top it off with a delicious stop to Brewleys!
4. A Christmas Experience at Airfield Estate
This year, we are extremely blessed to live in Airfield Estate, which is a 38 acre working farm, gardens, restaurant and heritage experience. Since we live directly on the estate, we had behind-the-scenes privledge to see Airfield transform into a magical Christmas Wonderland. It also had it's perks for the kids who hit up the Elfs in the hot chocolate area on their way home from matches to warm-up ;-) Finally, right before Christmas, we had our chance to be actual visitors of the Christmas experience and I must say, I was blown away with the level of creativity, attention to detail, thoughtful interactive activites (from food to crafts to Santa to hot mulled wine to keep the parents happy), and true Christmas magic.
If have believers in your house - make sure you visit Airfield Estate to experience a "country Christmas" right here in County Dublin!
Adding Some New Traditions to Our Holidays
1. Christmas Eve Icelandic Tradition
For the past 10+ years, Christmas Eve has traditionally been the time we celebrate Christmas with Bill's side of the family in New Jersey. The day is full of family fun including opening presents, taking the treasured Grandparent/Grandchildren photos, eating loads of delicious food and traditional family Christmas cookies (shortbread, pizzelles, snowballs . . . I'm getting hungry just typing this!), and most recently, playing some silly game that make us all collapse into a fit of giggles. Now, we are across the pond with no family around so how to fill this special day?
We stumbled across this Iceland tradition and I have to be honest, the kids were not very excited with the idea of reading on Christmas Eve, but then we told them about the chocolate twist and they quickly changed their tune ;-) We took the LUAS into Dublin and visited Hodges & Figgis, a huge bookstore that has been in Dublin since 1768. Everyone picked out a book for Christmas Eve night and of course we stopped for some special chocolate to accompany our new book selections.
2. Christmas Stockings . . . Actually no - I mean Christmas Socks!
Billy's Mom has knitted us all beautiful Christmas stockings that are treasured family heirlooms. There was no way we could replace them this year with other "stockings." It just wouldn't be right! We also didn't want to waste the money on something we would not use again . . . so as we were walking through Penney's, I had a lightbulb moment. We can hang Christmas SOCKS instead of stockings. Just a twist on a classic Christmas tradition but it worked out perfectly! We opened our socks first so everyone could wear them for the rest of Christmas Day!
3. Our Christmas Tree Surprise and Borrowed Decorations
In the States, we have a lovely tradition of filling up travel mugs with homemade hot chocolate (x3) and fresh coffee (x2) then heading out to a local tree farm to cut down our Christmas tree. This year, that was all going to be different. Since there are no farms to cut trees by us in Ireland (or at least that we found), we debated getting a fake tree to make things easy. Then we went back and forth about the cost because it seemed like a waste of money to buy a fake tree or tree stand for a real tree only for the year.
You can imagine our surprise then when we got back from Germany and Airfield provided us with a tree compliments of Howbert & Mays Gardens! They also gave us a tub full of ornaments and decorations so we could transform our house with some holiday lights, greens and sparkles. Plus two families from Alyssa's class gave us a bunch of Christmas decorations so we were completely outfitted for the holidays, all thanks to the kindness of friends.
Check out the video below to see the surprise plus a time-lapse of us decorating the tree!
A Delicious Christmas Tradition We Had to Continue in Ireland!
Since we have been married (going on #18 this summer), we have always had homemade biscuits and sausage gravy for Christmas morning breakfast. It is something that our whole family looks forward too . . . but we've had to add a sweet component to our Christmas morning brunch - Monkey Bread! My Mom had gotten the monkey bread pan when she worked at Williams Sonoma and since then, it has become a staple on our Christmas morning table. We stop halfway through opening presents to enjoy all this sweet and savory goodness.
Check out the video below to see how the kids made sure to continue this special Christmas tradition in Ireland!
When January 2nd hit this year . . . I had a new kind of "I survived the Christmas season" feeling.
It didn't revolve around moving the thing-that-can-not-be-named (he got lost in the mail, so couldn't do it this year) or hiding, wrapping and then putting away heaps of presents. Instead, it focused on making memories, continuing important traditions we all loved, and creating some new ones we can bring back to the states. The 5 of us hung out the whole Christmas day - in our PJs - eating, drinking, playing games, facetiming with family back home, reading and honestly - on devices too. I gotta remember this relaxed, content feeling next year, because this is what I want Christmas to feel like from now on . . . a month full of moments, memories and time with family and friends.