The Most Wonderful (and Toughest) Time of the Year
Before you read … scroll through and notice how beautiful the photos throughout this post that I’ve credited to the very talented Lori Burch are. She captures the most amazing images of details and kiddos in action! Check her out her Facebook page, Life’s Moments by Lori.
Happy (belated) new year!
We’re over halfway through the first month of 2017, and the remnants of NYE fireworks are still buried under alternating layers of snow and frost in the community parking lot down the street from our house. As I was leaving for work one morning this week, I spilled hot coffee on the hood of my car, and by the time I’d managed to extract a napkin from my purse to wipe up the mess, it had frozen solid. I ended up having to scrape it off, instead. Frappuccino, anyone? It’s been a cold January so far. I’m still getting used to these European winters.
Living in Germany for the last two holiday seasons has been a bittersweet experience. Admitting this may make it sounds as though I’m ungrateful for the incredible opportunity, but, truly, I’m not. The truth is, you can be both thankful and sad at the same time. A positive emotion does not necessarily cancel out a negative one.
While it has been a dream-come-true to live, work and play in a foreign country, special occasions never fail to remind me just how far we are from our family and friends across the ocean. For that reason, November and December tend to be the toughest months of the year. This year, the heartsickness has hung around a little longer than usual. But, in the words of one of my favorite bands of all time, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” 🙂
On Thanksgiving Day, we drove two hours to one of our favorite cities — Strasbourg, France (also known as the Capital of Christmas) — to spend the holiday with one of our favorite families (Going off on a tangent: I’ve used “favorite” three times in the last two sentences; usually that would bother me, but I’m just going to roll with it). A major perk to traveling with friends: We split the cost of renting a house that sits in a picturesque village on the outskirts of the bigger city. It was large enough to accommodate all seven of us, including three rambunctious little boys who had a blast playing together.
As soon as we unloaded our vehicles, we made ourselves comfortable in the kitchen and whipped up a traditional holiday spread: Roasted turkey breast, ham, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls and a pair of pies. The familiar flavors and comfort foods definitely hit the spot, and the meal helped keep the heartsickness at bay.
The next morning, we bundled up to attend the opening day of Le Marché de Noël de Strasbourg, the oldest and largest Christmas market in France.
We wandered the streets all afternoon and well into the evening, enjoying the sights and delicious scents, window shopping for handmade European Christmas trinkets, tasting treats and keeping ourselves warm with mugs of vin chaud (hot spiced wine, or Glühwein in German).
We ended up sticking around to watch the tree lighting ceremony in the main square, and I’m so glad we did. It was definitely a highlight of our trip, and well-worth waiting several hours in the cold to witness.
The weeks leading up to Christmas were busy, as usual. We tossed around the idea of traveling for the holiday, but we ended up deciding to stay home, and I’m thankful we did. A cozy, quiet celebration was just what our family needed this year, I think.
In addition to the traditional German Advent calendar, we picked up an Adventkranz (Advent wreath) from the local grocery store and lit one candle every Sunday to count down the weeks until Christmas. It’s a simple yet beautiful reminder of the true meaning of the holiday and a custom I hope we continue in the coming years.
Christmas Eve arrived before we knew it. We baked and decorated cookies for Santa in the afternoon. Then, we made a big pot of chili, a dozen tamales and a pan of cornbread to stuff ourselves with. Comfort food at its finest, in my opinion. Afterward, we changed into our Christmas jammies (our traditional Christmas Eve gifts) and snuggled up for the night.
Christmas morning, the boys woke up to find the living room filled with colorful packages, and they could hardly contain their excitement. This was the first year they’d both asked for a specific present (Jacob had his eye on a LEGO police station, and Logan wanted more “knight friends” to add to his Playmobil castle set), and they were thrilled to find their simple wishes had been granted. They spent the rest of the day building and playing with their new toys.
My sister, Cassy, arrived a few days before NYE. I’d been looking forward to her visit for months, and I couldn’t wait to take her on adventures around Europe. While she was here, we ate lots of schnitzel, spent an afternoon at a local Silvestermarkt (a Christmas-market-turned-New-Year’s-market), went on a day trip to France and flew to Italy for a few amazing days in Rome and Pompeii. It was our first time to go on a trip together, just the two of us, and I’m so happy we could make it happen! We had a blast! Many thanks to my awesome husband for holding down the fort so we could go.
We were all sad to see her leave last Thursday. She is one of my best friends, and the boys adore her. We are already looking forward to her next visit.
Well, folks. We made it through another holiday season: The most wonderful (and toughest) time of the year for many families (military or not). Now, we are working on getting back into a post-holiday rhythm. Instead of making specific resolutions for the new year, I’ve decided to see each day as a new opportunity to do the best I can for my family and myself.
“We turn not older with years but newer every day.” — Emily Dickinson