December 26, 2012

A relaxing and low-key Christmas

I have to admit, Christmas has never been my favorite holiday. First of all, my early Christmases were celebrated very differently than my friends’. My father is from Warsaw, so growing up, we went to a family friend’s home for “Wigelia,” the traditional Polish feast. In Poland, Christmas Eve is far more important than Christmas Day, and the tradition was to celebrate with a big feast that lasts until the wee hours of the morning. As a little kid, I would freak out about the fact that I wouldn’t be home and in bed at midnight – after all, isn’t that when Santa comes? – and I hated having to stay up late and get put to bed in someone’s guest room while the adults celebrated.

Even once Christmas Day arrived, I was always dismayed that I had such a small family to share the holidays with. To me, the most fun part of Christmas is getting to see everyone else’s joy when they open their presents. I’m not very materialistic (BF and his coworkers laughed for days over how the top of my Christmas list featured such practical gifts as a showerhead and a kettlebell), so opening lots of presents never really appealed to me. Give me a Thanksgiving feast and sharing a big table with friends/family any day!

Now that I’m grown up, though, I get to make my own decisions on how the holiday should work – and I was thrilled to start some new traditions this year. For starters, instead of working right up through holiday time, BF and I took off work a few days before Christmas and went on a Caribbean cruise!

Boarding, pale as a ghost!

Some glitches in the weather and itinerary meant we didn’t come home with the tans we wanted, but it was so relaxing to get away for a few days. No internet meant I didn’t feel obligated to use the time catching up on anything at all, and it was pure bliss! The cruise was a bit chillier than we would have liked due to some crazy winds, but I read a ton of books (expect some reviews/references coming), drank a lot of wine, and generally enjoyed the quiet time I got to spend with BF.

View from the deck in the Bahamas, where we stopped after an unexpected rerouting from Mexico. Insert joke here about we were afraid to be too close to the end of the world.

We arrived back in NYC the afternoon of Christmas Eve, where my mom was sweet enough to pick us up from the airport. Upon arrival, she was surprised to learn that in a very un-Laura-like move, I hadn’t planned anything at all for the next few days! Usually I have things plotted out on a spreadsheet, but this time I hadn’t even figured out what I was cooking for Christmas Eve dinner or what we would do on Christmas Day. I don’t know if it was the relaxation of the cruise or what, but instead of this realization sending me into a tizzy, I decided not to stress about my lack of planning and just to improvise. Whatever would be, would be! (Apparently I need to take vacation more often, as this is not my normal mindset.)

For Christmas Eve dinner, I chose to stick with the Italian “Feast of the Seven Fishes” theme and make a Venetian-style cioppino. I may not have any Italian heritage, but I do love seafood! After dinner, we settled in to watch Elf – a movie I hadn’t seen but some of my friends are obsessed with watching. I have no idea how I missed this before – cutest movie ever! I am not going to lie, I teared up at the end (but then, I have been known to cry at cute TV commercials). What a perfect way to spend Christmas Eve – if I were near a Clausometer, Santa wouldn’t have had any trouble flying!

On Christmas Day, we woke up and decided we weren’t hungry for the scones I had thought I’d make for breakfast. Instead, we made coffee, dressed up (and bundled up!), and headed off to church. The priest gave a lovely sermon about the tragedy in Connecticut and what Christmas means, and I loved getting to sing Silent Night during communion. As a special Christmas surprise, I happened to turn around mid-Mass and saw one of my best friends and his family there at the same service. New York may be a big place, but moments like that make it seem like a really tight-knit community!

After returning home, I popped the apple-cranberry-stuffed strata I had prepped the night before into the oven, and 45 stress-free minutes later, we were enjoying a deliciously sweet-but-healthy brunch. I had made a different strata once before, and I think they are my new favorite dish – just layer the bread and toppings into a Pyrex baking pan, pour on an egg/milk mixture, and pop it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. The actual prep time was only about 10 minutes or so, but the strata came out oh-so-delicious, kind of like a stuffed French toast. Next up: prepping one of these with Nutella and bananas to host my fitness buddies after a weekend long run!

Present time came next, but it was definitely a minor part of our day – and that was just the way I liked it. And for the rest of the day (and night)? An epic eight hour Risk battle, after I pulled out the family favorite board game my Dad gave me for Christmas a few years ago. The game was broken up by cooking and sitting down to dinner (holiday ham, roasted brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, and my family recipe for fresh cranberry sauce – similar to my Thanksgiving menu, but cooked in a refreshingly low-key state of mind)… but really, it was one long day and night of friendly competition and lots of hilarious attempted negotiations for “The Asian Pact” and the “Treaty of Greenland”. BF quickly learned that my mom’s biggest weakness was feeling sorry for anyone who was losing, and he exploited that to his advantage by persuading her not to completely wipe him out – resulting in a three-way tie – mostly because we were falling asleep at the table by then! “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night,” indeed.

Overall, I just can’t believe what a wonderful Christmas it was. It’s so easy come holiday time to get stressed out and end up snapping at our family members (just me? Nope, LC does it too!), but this Christmas, I finally managed to relax and actually enjoy some quality family time. I hope that you were able to do the same!

Happy holidays 🙂


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