There are a bunch of photos in this post, but if you reach the end and are still wishing there were more, I've included a link at the bottom to the Christmas 2006 photo album.
This year we got our very first Christmas tree. We've always spent a lot of time around the holiday visiting family so it never made sense to decorate at all before. It was very special to experience the excitement with Andrew and Elijah as we watched Greg wrestle the 15-foot tree out of the van and up the stairs to set it up in our sun-room.
Christmas tree photos courtesy of Greg (take photo at slow speed while camera is set up on a tripod, to recreate the light effects seen here.)
These ornaments were purchased at a Christmas market in Trier that we shopped at a few weeks ago:
The bells, balls and drops are handpainted and glittery, cream and burgundy. We loved them as soon as we saw them.
This set was bought around the corner, and as soon as I saw the colors I knew that they belonged on our tree:
See if you can spot Greg in this ornament.
No? Here, look a little closer:
This month, I've worked a lot on making this holiday really meaningful for our little family. I discovered just how important that was when our attempt to celebrate Thanksgiving on our own in November ended feeling a bit hollow. From December 1st, I had the boys open a chocolate advent calendar, one day at a time, and told them the story that makes Christmas meaningful to our family; Jesus' birth, etc. We printed out coloring pages that I found online, and stopped often at the large nativity scene displayed in the store window across the street. I also told them about who St. Nicholas/Santa was (I related one of the many stories surrounding his life, where he anonymously gives gifts to an orphanage), since Andrew was asking "what's that guy doing?" about every Santa statue and picture we saw set up in town.
Here in Germany, they celebrate Christmas for three days, and we did the same. On Christmas Eve we ate a light breakfast and the boys opened some gifts.
Hannah and I then threw ourselves into preparation for one hell of a brunch: fried or scrambled eggs, home-fries (chunks of potatoes fried in butter and a few spices until crispy and cooked through), Schenkin Spek (might be spelling this wrong -- I probably am, but it's sort of the German answer to American bacon, which you can't find here. Very very salty, almost no fat, kind of similar to prosciutto. Pretty much just super thinly sliced cured ham), and cinnamon rolls. Very tasty. Dinner was a light, spicy shrimp stew over basmati (Gourmet recipe).
The next morning, Greg went to pick up my brother Jonathan (Jom) at the airport, and they were back here towards lunchtime. Hannah and I once again cooked like mad, this time all day. Our Thanksgiving meal in November had flopped in several ways, mostly due to the fact that we didn't take into account some German ingredients, and also the size of my oven (for some reason we chose to make a whole lot of baked dishes, and my oven is tiny and has only one rack). For the big Christmas dinner, we decided that we would plan things out as carefully as was humanly possible.
We started by choosing dishes based on the ingredients available to us locally, as well as things that would remind us of home enough to feel traditional. We sourced our family cookbook as well as the Christmas issue of Gourmet for this. Our menu ended up looking like this:
Flank Steak (Grandma's recipe, which is marinated and broiled -- delicious!)
Braised red onions (from Gourmet, and uses fresh Thyme sprigs and apple juice -- ends up coated in this syrupy glaze)
Smashed potatoes (Greg's recipe with dried oregano, tons of sour cream and butter, plenty of salt, and some potato skin throughout)
Cracked Wheat Rolls (Moosewood Celebrates: buttery, slightly sweet, and crunchy with Bulgar -- always a huge hit, no matter who I make them for)
Sweet potato souffle (from our family cookbook -- we have no idea why this is called a souffle when it's actually a casserole of mashed up sweet potatoes with a sugar/pecan crust on top. Hannah made it better than ever by oven roasting the sweet potatoes instead of using canned, and holding back on some of the sugar, which brought out the tuber's earthy flavor.)
Caesar Salad (Our family recipe, modified slightly because we didn't have enough cheese to make it the "right" way, but it ended up tasting even better with all of the rich food we'd been eating)
For dessert I made cranberry cupcakes with Dulce DeLeche frosting (Gourmet recipe), and Hannah made an apple pie. We also had countless dozens of cookies, which we had made for neighbors and friends, but somehow still had too many of.
(Colorful Rice Crispy Treats, Molasses Crinkles, Fig Swirls, Shortbread-Dolce DeLeche-Chocolate Bars, Chocolate-Hazlenut Crinkles)
We planned out to the minute what time each thing would hit the stove or oven, and shockingly enough, even with all of those different dishes and mostly just the two of us responsible for it all, we pulled it off without a hitch. It was the most fantastic dinner that Hannah and I have ever made, I think, and we got it on the table before 6pm. We were terribly proud of ourselves. (In our family, holiday dinners are usually served rather late, because there's always *something* that needs to be done, or the person responsible for a particular dish isn't being...well, responsible.)
(Elijah, eating the frosting and pecans off of a cupcake)
After dinner we still had time to eat dessert with the boys, sing some Christmas carols around the piano, watch Andrew and Elijah open the rest of their gifts, and have them call family back home to say "thank-you" and "Merry Christmas".
We put the little people to bed, ladled out mugs of Glu-Wine (spiced, sweet mulled wine, pronounced "vine") which had been warming in a crock pot, and opened the rest of the gifts. The evening was lovely, and I feel like we were all able to enjoy the true spirit of Christmas, as believed by our family.
(Hannah opens a tiny album I made for her out of a tic-tac tin, sort of similar to Grace's -- sorry, I forgot to get close-ups.)
The next day was relaxed, full of left-overs, new toys, and tons of good conversation. (If you know my siblings and I at all, you will realize that the latter is never difficult to achieve.)
Two days after Christmas, Greg drove Jom and Hannah back to the airport for their flight to Italy, where they will spend the next few weeks before Hannah returns to school and Jom comes back here for another week or so.
The day after they left, with Greg back at work and siblings traveling, I was more aware than ever of my roll as "house-wife", "stay-at-home mommy of toddlers", and "pregnant person". This plunged me down the steep side of an emotional roller-coaster, where I wondered if I was even a real person, and was certain that my identity as "Faith" had been lost entirely. It's rather cool how pregnant hormones can let me feel things so starkly. Oi. Thankfully Greg is amazing, and a good listener. I wrote a bunch in my journal, and was over it in about a day. Now on to New Year!
Still want to see more? Click here for extra photos.