Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I meant to get this post out before Christmas, but then Christmas happened quite suddenly.  Nevertheless…

I’m pretty proud of myself this year.  I not only managed to make a few presents, which I’m happy to see were well received, but I also sent out Christmas cards and mailed Christmas boxes home and to friends.

This may not seem like a feat worth being proud of.  After all, people send Christmas cards all the time.  It’s the done thing.  But this has always been my trouble–I’m often one for thoughtful ideas, but I never carry them out.  I do think of all those little social niceties, but I rarely go so far as to carry them out.  I have a friend, who I greatly admire for being a pro at this.  She is the queen of finding inexpensive but awesome presents, of getting you something just because she thought of you.  When I dog sat for her once, as a thank you she included a gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure at a place we liked to go to together.

I love little gestures like this–they go a long way to making people feel special.  That’s the thing about Christmas cards too–it shows you were thinking of this person enough to hand write a message, however brief, and what’s really special in this day and age, pay for a stamp.  My husband’s family is very big on cards.  They are extremely important parts of birthdays and Christmas, and at Christmas the standard boxed cards won’t do.  They get each other the personalized ones that say “To my brother and his wife” or “To my son and daughter-in-law.”  My family is not so big on cards–in fact, I don’t think my parents have ever gotten me one and it’s never so much as crossed my mind, let alone bothered me.  On reflection, though, I think it’s part of the same thing–people like that little effort because it makes them feel special.  And that’s what makes the little gestures so important.

I’ve always recognized this, and I’ve always wanted to be the person who does those little gestures.  I get little brainstorms all the time for things I could do, but then I always fail in the execution.  My thoughtful friend has produced fantastic Christmas and birthday gifts (the coolest post it note set ever inside a box inlaid with mother-of-pearl from her trip to Syria, for example, or a handmade star from a German market are examples that leap to mine).  I know her taste exactly, partly because our tastes can be very similar, but somehow I never remember to get things in time for birthdays or Christmas.  And I always *want* to.  It just never happens.  The same is true with my husband.  I’ll be thinking I’m thirsty and yet am too lazy to get up and get something to drink and then all at once he brings me a glass of water.  I make him plenty of tea, but I never think to do it randomly, and I never do it without asking if he wants it.

I’m not entirely sure why this is.  Sometimes I know it’s a confidence thing.  I don’t want to be pushy, or ‘creepy’ as my mother-in-law uses it, meaning someone who seems to be currying favor instead of making an honest gesture.  I also hate the thought of doing something nice and having the gesture received with bemusement or contempt.  Which is crazy of course, because I well know how lovely those little gestures are.

Another part, it has to be said, is that impulse which prevents me from finishing things.  It’s laziness, but also something else, something that keeps me from going all the way through with a project.  And then there’s the fact that I tend to have very grand ideas which can’t be accomplished in time.  I used to think that each Christmas card had to have a long and thoughtful note with it.  That means each card can take as much as 15 minutes, and who has the willpower to sit there and write cards for over 8 hours?

This year, something changed.  When I was in Edinburgh, I saw something that was perfect for my friend.  Instead of looking at it and thinking how I should get it and subsequently walking away, I bought it.  I did miss sending it for her November birthday, but I got myself together enough to buy presents for her and her husband and their two small kids.  Not only did I buy them, I went to the post office and *sent* them.  I cannot stress the fact that somewhere along the way in previous years, something would have collapsed with this plan.  I would have been missing one present, or never made it to the post office.  The same is true for the Christmas cards I sent out.  I ordered little business cards with our new address for next year, and sat one afternoon and wrote out a stack of cards and then made my husband sign them.  And then they went to the post office.  Again–a Christmas miracle.  I can’t help but wonder how this happened so suddenly.

I think it’s the being away from home.  When I first got here, people would often ask me if I was homesick yet.  At the time I was gearing up for my wedding, and full of the knowledge that a good group of people who were very dear to me were on their way shortly.  I was also dazzled by the idea that I didn’t have to say goodbye to MR.  We had been so used to counting down and saying goodbye, and back in July, I was stunned that that period was over forever.

But the wedding passed, everyone came and went.  I still love seeing MR every day, but it’s not brand new and shiny–he’s becoming part of my every day life.  That’s very good, but it means I’m starting to think more about all that I left behind.  The first day of school where I taught caused me a pang.  I would kill to go out for dinner and drinks with my high school friends.  And this is only the second Christmas in my entire life that I’ve spent away from home.

So the Christmas cards went out, the presents got made, the boxes packed and sent because I needed to feel connected with the life I left behind.  I know I made the right decision, but after the first flush I’m realizing that moving across an ocean is no easy thing.  And that I don’t want to say goodbye forever to the people I left behind.  They still mean something to me, and I can’t show them by simple conversation or everyday activities anymore.  All I can do is send a card and write on facebook.  But it’s getting me over my laziness and shyness, because I want all those people to know I’m thinking of them.   I would quote the song in the title of this post, but that may be just a bit too cheesy and sentimental, and I don’t want to hear about it from MR, as he inevitably will read this and tease me for being a sentimental American.


Tis the season

The holidays are fast approaching, and I am getting very excited.  Many people are not, as evidenced by these tv ads:

Basically the gist is, Christmas is a pain in the ass, but in the end you get the warm fuzzies.

My husband got upset at the Asda ad (the first one) because the tagline is “Behind every great Christmas, there’s Mum.”  He tends to get up and arms very quickly when he gets a whiff of reverse sexism (something that doesn’t exist so much).  Here, though, I have to agree with him–good holidays should be a team effort from both partners, and he’s definitely going to be the one putting kids’ bikes together, and we’ll do the dinner together…

Holy crap.  I just realized I have a date for all holidays for the rest of my life.  I also have a reason to host holidays.  I think this is a watershed moment, where I realize that I’m actually an adult.  Before this, I was always at my parents’ for holidays, helping out perhaps, but never in charge.  Now I realize that things could start to be very different.

They already are.  This year I’m hosting Thanksgiving, because I can’t just not celebrate it.  I love Thanksgiving!  I love all holidays, but I’m getting to that.  Obviously British people don’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all, but for me it is a lovely meal, the start of the holiday season.  It’s about fall colors and turkeys, and, in my family, a meal that goes on for literally six hours with lots of wine.  I can’t just let it pass by and shove a Tesco curry in the oven.

So I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my in laws.  This will be a massive undertaking, since obviously I have to do it exactly like my parents do.  That means ordering pumpkin pie filling from Amazon.  But cherry pie filling can’t be obtained, and cans of jellied cranberry sauce (you know, with the rings permanently impressed into the semi-solid state of the cranberry sauce) is exhorbitantly priced.  Stuffing is also weird here, with smaller bits.  I’m used to the big cruton style stuffing.  But there will be three kinds of pie at least (apple, pumpkin, and mince), and my father’s sausage stuffing, and the turkey of course, and my mother’s orange yams, and mashed potatoes…as you can see, it’s quite the undertaking.  And yet I can’t wait.  I sit and plan in my head what I’m going to need and what I have to buy.

The same is true for Christmas.  Those ads make decorating and shopping seem a chore, but the truth is I love that stuff.  All of it.  I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for presents, because to me they’re very significant.  Someone goes out with you in mind and brings something back for you because they think you’ll like it–this is such a generous and thoughtful thing to do.  I realize that not all gifts are so personal, but I’d like to think they are.  I certainly take pride in carefully selecting presents for the people on my list, because I truly want them to get enjoyment out of these things.  When I see them doing so, it makes me happier than I can express.

But it’s not just the buying.  It’s the wrapping too.  When one of my friends moved to Germany, she gave me a wrapping station that holds all the tubes of wrapping paper, plus ribbon, plus scissors.  It was one of the best things I ever got in my life.  I couldn’t take it with me, and I was sad, but at least I know it found a good home with my sister.  Clearly I shall have to build a new wrapping empire here in England, and affordable and ubiquitous wrapping paper will make that a cinch.  The weird thing though is that the English don’t do present boxes.  Any American is familiar with the scramble to secure wrapping boxes, and the resulting stack of postcard perfect presents in perfectly square shapes.  I asked my husband about this and he was astonished to find that Americans use boxes.  He muttered about it for a good while, mostly along the lines of “Well, that just seems a bit of a waste of time.”  Nevertheless, I shall persevere and still have gorgeously wrapped presents.

I love it all, from the tree trimming to the baking to the Christmas carols in church.  Holidays fill me with cheer, and I love the idea of not only being happy myself, but also spreading that happiness to others.  What would otherwise be a very dark and cold part of the year is alight and warm with a festive spirit.  What’s not to love?

My husband, however, is not a particularly festive person when it comes to Christmas.  Gift giving to him is much more of a chore.  This year we’re treating each other to a weekend in London–he’ll get to see Professor Brian Cox and I’ll get to see Les Mis.  I’m not complaining about this arrangement in the slightest, as I get to see Les Mis and London, two things I especially enjoy.  But presents mean very little to him, and he professes to being ‘holiday-ed out’ at a certain point.  I, on the other hand, can sit for marathon sessions with my family on holidays.  It helps that as my father gets older, he gets slightly less crazy.

So now that I’m a grownup, and in charge of my holidays, I have to work on getting him more into the holiday spirit.  This is not so much for his sake as for our future children’s.  I want them to think of holidays fondly, as a good time for my family.  This is even more possible since I’m married to a man who does not tend towards semi schizophrenic rages.  But still, he does need some get up and go when it comes to holidays to make it something truly merry.  The question is, how do you get someone into the holiday spirit when they’ve never really had it?  That is the real puzzle.  Meanwhile, I will be happily purchasing Christmas bows to coordinate my wrapping paper.

Magical bling bling

So I’ve noticed that the majority of conversations when you get engaged go like this:

Person X:  Hey, how was your break?

Me:  Really good, actually.  I got engaged.  *smile and coy blush*

Person X: Oh my god, congratulations!  (If I know them well enough, hug)  Let me see the ring!

Seriously, everyone asks to see the ring.  This strikes me as oddly acquisitive.  I mean, I love my ring (more on that in a minute) but I’m much happier to have the fiance. It just seems like an odd tradition to go flashing jewelry around. Besides which, I don’t really see the point of having a giant rock on my finger.  Years ago, I read an article in Glamour from the guy’s point of view, and the columnists was writing about how he found huge rocks a waste of money, and he would rather have a down payment on a beach house.  I read that and thought–I would like to have a beach house too!  At the same time though, I definitely didn’t want a ring from Wal-Mart either.  My family thought I was being a snob, but honestly, if you can pay for an engagement ring along with some beef jerky and hemherroid cream, then that officially kills romance.  I wanted my ring to have a story.

My ring is extremely special.  Every time I look at my left hand, it makes me smile–and not just a little smile either, a big, goofy grin.  It’s very subtle, though, and not very showy.  I know a woman at work who has a glacier on her finger, the stereotype of engagement rings, and therefore what I imagine people are expecting to see.  Several people have looked at my ring and go “Oh…that’s…pretty.”  At which point I usually want to tell them to fuck off, I didn’t get in this for jewelry, but instead I patiently/ happily explain the story of the ring, which is awesome.

Leading up to Christmas, the (then) bf told me in no uncertain terms not to expect a ring.  He even told me he was buying me a small present, but I should not get excited about it, because it’s not what I think it is.  I believed him, but then thought it over and wondered.  Maybe he was fooling me?  But maybe not.  But he likes to tease…  Finally Rooty, our official matchmaker, decided to do some investigating, and she came back with a report that he is very traditional, that he doesn’t believe in proposing until you’ve known each other a year.  That put a proposal back to April at the earliest, or if he was going with first physical contact, over the summer.  I admit to a little sweep of disappointment at this thought.  But I told myself that I would enjoy his visit, that a proposal would come when it came and it was more important to enjoy my time with him.  I was glad I found out early so I could get my disappointment out of the way.

He really wasn’t planning to propose.  While he was thinking about it, and planning when and how–one romantic idea was that when I visited him in February, he would book a seat on the flight back and show up next to me and pop the question.  But in the end, he was driving down to Heathrow on Christmas Day and he wondered to himself, “If I know I’m going to do this, why put it off?”  He decided that it seemed silly to delay happiness for some randomly prescribed reason.  So when he arrived at the airport, he went to the Tiffany’s in Terminal 3 and bought a ring.

With this story, my ring could have come out of a Cracker Jack box and I would still think it gorgeous.  But there are a lot of reasons to love my ring:

  • It’s subtly beautiful.  It’s got a diamond inset, so it’s not a flashy solitaire, but the diamond is gorgeous–it’s always catching the light in a hundred different ways.  I totally get mesmerized by it.
  • It’s really comfortable.  It never scratches me and it fits just right, therefore I never have to take it off.  I find the perfect fit rather symbolic for the marriage.
  • Speaking of symbolism, it’s from the airport.  I call it my duty free ring, and the fiance jokes that he got 300 cigarettes and two bottles of Jack Daniels along with it.  That’s a good line, but also, I find it immensely fitting that in a long distance relationship, my engagement ring comes from the airport.
  • It’s got a really romantic story, one that I can pass down to my children and love regaling to anyone who will sit still and listen (or read–thanks!).
  • It comes from the most classic of engagement ring stores, Tiffany’s.  No denture paste bought along with the ring here.  It may be a bit snobbish of me, but I like that the store it comes from is a little special too.  And yes, I saved the box.
  • The fiance loves it.  He was so proud of picking it that it was clear he put a lot of thought into it and really cared about how it.  That I find very touching, and it makes the ring even more dear.

So all said, my ring is perfect.  Maybe that’s not immediately apparent to others, but it is to me, and that’s the only important thing.