Thursday 25 December 2014

All Things Christmas [Part Three – Various Traditions]

In addition to the Festival of Lights, I have a few annual Christmas traditions which add a lot of love and fun to the holidays. Isn't that really what the season is all about? Spending time and making memories with those we love? 

Shopping with Nanny: Up until I was 7 years old, my dad would take Adam and I shopping for our mom. Each shopping trip followed the same pattern – go to the mall, hit the main box store (Sears, Zellers or The Bay), go to housewares, pick up a pot or something kitchen related, buy it, then head to an electronic store to look at the remote control products. I was against this for a number of reasons – First, mom didn’t even like to cook. Secondly, I hated remote controlled anything. And third, I wanted to look around and find the perfect gift. I don’t know exactly how it happened but I eventually complained to Nanny about the injustice of it all and from then on she would take me shopping. I treasured these Nanny-Chantal trips as we would spend hours at the mall going from store to store. She never rushed me and put up with my obsessive need to keep looking (usually only to go back and buy the first thing I saw) and we would usually stop and have lunch or pie at Gallentry’s (man, I miss that place!). Once I was older I tended to shop more on my own, but every Christmas there is at least one day that we go shopping together. Usually Mom and/or Aunt Honey join us, but the fact remains its still our tradition and has always been “our” thing! (Eventually Dad and Adam stopped with the kitchen-related gifts and began actually picking out things mom would actually want/enjoy!)

Christmas Shopping with my Brother: While on the topic of shopping traditions this is another one I have. Adam and I are very different. That’s not to say we don’t get along but we don’t really have many similar hobbies or interests. A few years back we started spending one day together at Christmas and shopping for our parents. A few times these shopping trips resulted in brother-sister arguments over what to get them (the worst one being when we both refused to budge and my dad ended up with a monkey table and a wine holder) and more often then not they ended with older sister picking up the tab amid promises of “I’ll pay you back later!” Regardless of all that, they are moments that will always have a special place in my heart because it was just us.    

This was what Adam ended up getting Dad the year we had a huge argument over gifts. I personally hated this thing and still do, but Dad loves him.  

Cookie Baking with Amanda: For about the last 6-7 years Amanda and I have gotten together to spend a day baking. She makes her usual short bread cut outs and I usually make something else – this year it was my Nutella cookies. We spend the day hanging out in yoga pants, drinking wine, eating some incredibly bad for you-yet-delicious take out and being silly. A few years back she gave me these ABC gingerbread men cutters (Already Been Chewed) and someone else bought me a set of Ninja Gingerbread Men ones. Most years our cookies end up being a strange mix of traditional and silly. This year Amanda confessed that she absolutely hates baking these cookies, and only does because it’s our tradition. That’s definitely a sign of a true best friend! 

Distillery District Christmas Market: For the last few years Brian and I have been going downtown for this. It’s Toronto’s version of the European Christmas Markets with little booths set up selling handmade products/edibles and various food/drink vendors. We’ve always gone on the weekends and it’s been packed with swarms of people – couples, friends, families – it’s become a huge tourist attraction. This year was by far the worst. I don’t know if its because we went closer to Christmas or because it was a Saturday night – but either way it was chaos. The booths are all full of interesting and unique items but the prices are often insane so we don’t tend to spend a lot of time looking at them anymore. Usually we only visit the beer gardens to have a quick drink or sample something (the Cider and Mulled Wine being my favorites) and go elsewhere for food but this time we decided to eat there. That was an adventure in itself! We each had a traditional sausage and shared some fancy poutine – both of which were good albeit over priced. Then Brian spied these huge Turkey legs and wanted one as well. We waited in the 30 minute line up only to realize it was the only booth that didn’t take debit. Brian ran off to find an ATM and I remained in line letting people go ahead of me. I think there were about 5-7 people who didn’t realize I was in line and letting people go ahead of me, and these people started throwing fits that I was “budding in” – That was fun. Meanwhile Brian went to the 4 ATMs on-site only to find them ALL out of money and he ended up having to leave the site and find a bank. He had been gone about 50 minutes and was just heading back when the booth announced they were down to their last 10 turkey legs. At this point I pulled out an American $20 and used that to secure one of the 10. This sucked for me as it was taken on par, at a time when the US dollar was much higher then ours. But Brian got his turkey leg – which unfortunately looked a lot better then it tasted! We didn’t stay much longer after that. The crowds were making it impossible to move and it just wasn’t as fun as it had been. Next year we will go back but we will make sure to go earlier when they first open – and we will probably go back to eating elsewhere. Still its a fun tradition that we have. 

The beautiful Christmas Tree! 
The end result of the Turkey Leg Drama 
One of the cute booths - this reminded me of the market in Budapest where I bought a bunch of handmade products as souvenirs. 

A collage from last year's market! 
Christmas Light Drives: I love driving around the area and checking out all the amazing Christmas light displays. It’s a fun way to spend the evening – sipping a candy cane hot chocolate and seeing all the bright lights. The brighter and crazier the better is my motto. Brian is much more into the traditional décor – white lights, classic and simple – but I love seeing the various colors and the whimsical decorations and absolutely love the over-the-top houses. I've already told him that when we have a house of our own I'll have dad send him out of town for "work" around Christmas and when he returns our house will look something like these! This year I found the show "The Great Christmas Light Fight" which quickly became my new favourite holiday TV Show! 

On the topic of Holiday drinks - I did find a new favourite at my beloved Starbucks - a Chai-Nog Latte. Basically it's a chai tea latte made with egg nog instead of milk. WOW! It's pretty much the most amazing drink I have ever tasted and made some of my holiday traditions extra special.  

Gingerbread House Decorating: This was a new tradition Brian and I started this year. I had actually never decorated a Gingerbread House and wanted to give it a try. We wanted to actually bake our own houses but no matter how hard I searched I couldn’t find the cookie cuter set that would make that possible, so we settled on a kit from the store. We each got a house and spent an afternoon gathering up supplies from the Bulk Candy store. I managed to find one of the rare stores in the area that carried Necco wafers as according to Brian they are a crucial element to Gingerbread roofing. Looking back, I took this way too seriously. I think because it was my first time doing it I was both overwhelmed and hit with the desire to make the perfect house. I am a little ashamed to admit this but I re-roofed my house 4 times! Once I managed to let it go a bit, I had a lot more fun. Brian’s house was a bit more traditional – he did the Necco roof and made it very simple with a bit of candy mixed in. Mine however was a bit over the top and became a house worthy of being a palace in the Candyland Realm!

I learned a lot from this attempt and will definitely give it a try next Christmas. One main thing I will keep in mind is that sometimes less is more!   

My Candy Palace! 
Brian's traditional house!
Watching Sappy Christmas Movies: Sappy Christmas Movies are my guilty pleasure. I spend all of Nov/Dec searching the TV guide and taping movie after movie. Often Dad and I watch them together – or at the very least discuss which ones we have seen. While there are ones that air year after year, there always seems an abundance of news ones to choose from. The Hallmark Channel isn’t something we get here, so usually we are a year behind in terms of those Holiday movies. But the W network and Showcase always have a great selection. Of all the movies I saw for the first time this season, the following were my favourites:
The Christmas Shepherd, Window Wonderland, Christmas Hope, Christmas at Cartwrights and The Christmas Ornament. Of course I also have a list of ones I watch year after year like The Sound of Music and Love Actually.

Pottery Painting: A few years ago I took Paige to a local paint-your-own-pottery studio so that she could make some Christmas gifts for her parents. Now it’s become a tradition that we do annually. This year we tried a new place that is closer to where I live – The Clay Emporium. I am so glad I found this place! While I liked where we used to go, I much prefer this place. Not only is it closer, but it is much larger and better laid out. The tables/chairs are more comfortable and the selection of pieces and colours is much better. Over the past few years we are joined by other family/friends - this year it was Paige, Amanda, Nanny and myself. I am not really the most artistic person but I love pottery painting! It is such a fun activity and an opportunity to be a little bit creative. This year Paige painted a beautiful mug for her dad and a purse bank for her mom. I did a mug (it didn’t turn out how I planned) and a trinket box for Paige. Nanny made a vase and Amanda did a mug and Christmas ornament.

Overall it was another wonderful Christmas season filled with some amazing and fun times. I really am blessed to have such great family and friends to share the holidays with.

Me and my Godmother!

The Scottish song that we sing every Christmas Eve - "You Canny Shove Your Granny Off a Bus"
Christmas Themed Girls Night 

Pappy and his Granddaughters!

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