If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: I love Christmas. Living in Texas, it was more rare than a blue moon on Leap Day that we would get snow or sleet on Christmas day, but it didn’t matter because I was thrilled even at the prospect of wearing a jacket instead of a t-shirt. But in all honesty, what you wear doesn’t matter: the holiday was about our family traditions.
On Christmas Eve, the kids would be home and our dad was off work. From the driveway fresh from the road, we talked about where we wanted the Christmas tree that year. Did it fit best in the front window, or maybe the dining room window, or heck, let’s put it smack in the middle of the living room! We pulled out all of the Christmas decoration boxes from the garage and had it all spread out and ready for the tree we didn’t have yet.
Dad, my sister, Caroline, and I would pile in the car while Mom started wrapping presents and off we went to find the perfect Christmas tree. We usually hit the same spot down the highway from our house, but the last couple of years, we got such a late start that the store was already closed for the night. Luck was on our side continuously though because they would toss the left over trees over the side of the fence, and we would grab whichever one looked best and off we went home with our Charlie Brown or 8 foot tall monster tree.
Only one year did we not luck out and we wound up putting a bow on a lava lamp for our holiday tree.
Dad would help us put it in the stand and get it situated before he started cooking dinner. So that left me, Caroline, and Mom to decorate with various movies playing on the TV. Our family staples are: A Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Elf, and our all time favorite: The Ref. If you haven’t seen The Ref, it is an absolute must (beware of Denis Leary).
Caroline and I would sleep in the same room the night before as a makeshift slumber party while Mom and Dad continued to wrap, decorate, and label.
Depending on the year and who was more stressed with school or work, either Caroline or I would wake up first and jump on the bed to go out and see the display. Mom and Dad always went all out for making it a game for the kids. All of our presents would match in wrapping and size, but then would be labeled in code. One year, my mom wrote numerical codes like 98642234, on all the labels to which she had the key. We had to find the matching gifts and read the codes to figure out who it went to. It was truly hilarious.
This is my first Christmas away from my parents and sister. So, Jeff and I have really tried to soak in as much European Christmas as possible. Our first foray was a five day trip to Munich to tour the Christmas markets, but then I decided to take a tour around London to see all of the lights since it’s in my backyard.
Oxford Street lit up on November 6, 2014 with giant white balls suspended over the main thoroughfare highlighting the shopping centers including Selfridges and their famous windows (pictures below).
I, then, decided to take a tour of Covent Garden with their Apple Marketplace. The giant tree in the center of the square was incredible as were the expansive ornaments and candy canes decorating the ceilings. I went during the day, but to see it night must be a true spectacle.
From Convent Garden, I wandered over toward Knightsbridge to see the Harrods windows. I was actually surprised they weren’t as nice as Selfridges. The windows looked anywhere between high fashion and childish with no in between. Pictures are all below.
Harrods is really close to Hyde Park where the huge Winter Wonderland is open to the public for free. I braved the cold and made my way over that way to get an incredible deja vu of the German marketplaces, only on English steroids. There were theme park rides and huge displays of carnival games and things to munch on. It did look like a lot of fun for kids, but I didn’t want to buy anything so wandering around was fun enough.
But the Winter Wonderland was nothing compared to Christmas at Kew Gardens. My favorite place in London is the Kew Gardens. It’s so massive and beautiful that I can get lost out there for hours. But I also love that it’s the one place I can go to take a deep breath without a lungful of cigarette smoke.
They had about half of the park set up with Christmas lights and displays. It wasn’t as big as I was expecting, but it certainly had its charms. Lit up on the big Temperate House was a timed light and fire display over The Nutcracker Suite. People were toasting marshmallows next to the Princess Diana Conservatory, and in the Secluded Garden there was mistletoe to kiss under. It was a fun night out that had to be done at least once, and it was how we spent our first anniversary together.
But that wasn’t all we did to bring in the holidays here. I booked us tickets to see Messiah performed at Royal Albert Hall. I had really wanted to see this performance space and what better way than with Christmas lights and 500 voices!
It was really something to see and was a beautiful performance, albeit much longer than I thought it would be. I had no idea it was a near three hour performance, but it was worth it when Hallelujah was sung as we stood in honor of King George II who stood for his Lord and King back in 1743.
As Jeff and I celebrate our first year of marriage and our first Christmas in Europe, we have made our travel plans to see Switzerland and the French Alps, so the next posts will be about what we see in the snow!
Happy Christmas and Boxing Day from Alison and Jeff, newlyweds in Europe.