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Carols By Candlelight

Good luck, good health, good fortune for 2018
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Good health, good luck & good fortune for 2018

Happy New Year and welcome to 2018.  Here’s to good health, good luck & good fortune for 2018.

I’ve got a (good) feeling about 2018.  I think it’s going to be a good, good year. And if that line reminds you of a popular song you might well be right. I’m singing it as I type and it’s a clue to what’s coming up.

But first I’ve got to say I had the best break. We went home for Christmas this year–which we don’t usually do–and it was so good. It was especially good to head home to Melbourne and catch up with some old and dear friends and just hang out for a while.  Thanks to our special friends for putting time aside in their busy holiday schedules to catch up: it meant the world to us.

Holidays

It’s true us Aussies associate the end of year Christmas break with summer holidays: It’s summer in Australia, school is on break for around 6-8 weeks and the Christmas/New-Year period is a great time to unwind with many offices and workplaces closing down between Christmas and New Year.

And, in Australia as with many other parts of the world (just not America or China), shops are closed on Christmas Day and New Years’ Day (they should really be closed on Boxing Day too.) So it actually feels like a real holiday.

December (and the start of January) has been really mild for us here in LA, not like winter at all.  It’s funny that people kept saying, “it doesn’t feel like the end of the year because it’s so hot” or “it doesn’t feel like Christmas with the weather being this warm”.

But for us, that’s exactly how it feels–normal.

Christmas in July

But imagine my shock yesterday at the post office when I was posting some sneakers for a friend’s son.  I casually said I hope it’s not a Christmas present (referring to the urgency of the package).

The very friendly guy asked when Christmas was in Australia.  I thought I was hearing things so replied quietly, “The same, in December.”  It’s also not unusual for people not to celebrate Christmas in LA so I thought maybe he was one of those people.

He was shocked.

“When is it? December you say? Isn’t it May or June … July?”

“No, it’s the same: December 25.”

“Oh wow, but it’s summer there isn’t it? How do you celebrate Christmas when it’s summer? I just expected it to be in the middle of the year.”

He had a very, very hard time coming to terms with–much less picturing–Christmas being in the middle of summer.

Fascinated he continued, “What does Santa wear?”

He was most intrigued! So of course I had to tell him about one of our favourite Hi-5 songs, Santa Wear Your Shorts.  That seemed to appease him.  Somewhat!

Carols by Candlelight

I hope you clicked on that link and enjoyed a sing-a-long like I did.

Back in Australia Christmas Eve tradition has it that you watch Carols by Candlelight while you drink eggnog (or wine) and wrap presents preparing for Santa’s arrival. The kids go to bed once Hi-5 has come on.

(For those non Australians Hi-5 was/is a group of kids brought together not dissimilar to the Wiggles. They had a show on TV which we were utterly addicted to. It had puppets, singing and a bit of good old educational value for the pre-school kids. They also put on sold-out concerts which we’d go to–and loved!).

Until last Christmas Eve I forgot all about that. One of the most fun days/nights I had over Christmas was singing Christmas carols with my sister-in-law and reminiscing with kids about Hi-5 like it was yesterday. Seriously, where has the time gone?

Hot or cold?

But the thing about Christmas in Melbourne (as opposed to Sydney) is that you never know if it’s going to actually be hot or cold.  You can get cold days in December. And there’s always a chance it might rain.

That always makes it hard to decide if you’ll set the table inside or outside.  That’s called a first-world Australian Christmas problem.

So, you see, just because it’s summer, doesn’t necessarily mean Christmas Day will be a hot one.  You hope it will be so you can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.  And that’s Christmas to us.

New Year

Now it’s the new year and we’re back home.  This is the third year we’ve had a New Year’s Eve party at home and it’s becoming quite the tradition.  I grew up with my parents always throwing a party so it’s a tradition that’s dear to me.

This year, while we were down a couple of regulars, it was our biggest yet.  Being an expat in LA isn’t the easiest thing. But having fun, close friends around me made me realise how lucky I am to have them.

I’m hoping 2018 will be a good, good year.

New Year’s Day

That’s the perfect segue to New Year’s Day.  A few years ago we were invited to a friend’s house. It was very spur of the moment as her mum decided to cook some Black-Eyed Peas (we’re not talking the Band) and have an impromptu afternoon/evening with friends.

You may recall if you’ve been following on for a while that was the time we almost went head-to-head with Beyonce & Jay-Z. Still one of my personal highlights as we’d flown in from Miami that morning and it was a sign we were back in LA. Maybe also the fact Mr H wouldn’t move and good old Jay-Z reversed down the narrow road for us to get passed him.  The dead giveaway was when I got my phone out to google Jay Z and Beyonce immediately bowed her head and covered her face!

Collared greens

What I didn’t realise though, that I do now, is that the Southerners have a tradition on New Year’s Day. A tradition and a superstition.  To start the year out they eat a meal of Black-eyed peas, collard greens and Ham.  All good except up until a few years ago I didn’t really realise black-eyed peas were a thing other than a band/group.

And, I wondered what on earth collared greens were. Could it be a generic name for green-leaf vegetables. Is there some significance to the “collar?” Was there something I was missing?

Apparently there was. There is no collar on those greens but it is a generic name of sorts.  Collared greens are in fact collard greens.  Learn something new every day!

Good health, good luck & good fortune for 2018

This year we were lucky enough to be invited to our in-laws place (my son’s girlfriend’s family) to ring in the new year with the good luck-/health-/fortune-bringing meal.  We had Bloody Mary’s, a beautiful meal and played some games.

(On a side note we played lifesize Jenga Australians versus Americans and for the third time–or is it fourth–the Australians won. Pressure’s on next time for sure!

Here’s a sneak peak at the deliberation of which Jenga block to remove to avoid the spill!

 

And, I have it! Footage of the Jenga fall. Aussie win!

 

And let me leave you with the meaning of those meals.

Black-eyed peas: Good luck

Collard greens: Good fortune

Ham: Good health

Apparently you can’t have collard greens without cornbread so we had that too. And no American meal is complete without Mac and cheese so we had that too!

So that’s why 2018 is going to be a good, good year. I hope it will be for you too.

Happy New Year everyone!

xx It Started in LA xx

xmas
Posts

What Christmas looks like in our house

I was more than a little bit excited when the marketing director from Patience Brewster wrote to me and asked me if I was interested in writing a post about our family’s Christmas traditions.  Yay!  Someone new has found me!  Yay!  A paid post—my first!

Well, not quite.  It is simply an idea as the company is so passionate about Christmas—Patience is an artist who makes beautiful Christmas ornaments—that it hopes I’ll be inspired to write more about Christmas at my place.  Which I did.  And here I am.

Christmas traditions

I never thought about writing about our Christmas traditions.  And it’s funny I’ve been asked to write about our traditions now because never has it been debated more in my family than it has this year.

My daughter started Christmas discussions early.  “I’m not going away for Christmas this year,” she announced in no uncertain terms.  “I’m sick of my Christmas being ruined because we’re always away.”

Mr H and I met in Melbourne, Australia where we both grew up—him more than me but that’s always been our Homebase as we expated around the place.  We moved to Sydney for his work and we bought our first house there.  We had our kids there and bought a beach house in the stunning Jervis Bay so Sydney is home.  We used to go to Melbourne for Christmas and even spent a couple of Christmases in Wales (where my parents ended up moving).

As the kids got older it became apparent to us that we needed to spend Christmas in our own home and wake up in our own house rather than other people’s.  Add to that the fact that bringing all the presents down and carrying ours back up again was a logistical pain in the backside.

When we bought a beach house Christmas would be spent down there; it’s Australia after all and Christmas is directly associated with summer and the beach.

Well, according to my daughter that there is where the problem started—the beach house.  While Mr H and I considered it home—and being home—she didn’t share our sentiment.  To her being home was in the primary house she spends her time.  And nowhere else.  (But we didn’t really know this at the time.  OK we might have but we might not have taken her that seriously).

Where to spend Christmas

Cut back to last year when we moved to LA and Mr H and I just wanted a resort holiday for Christmas.  We’re used to moving in down at our beach house and spending the better part of six weeks down there (it’s our summer break) and we were missing that this year.  Add to that the kids didn’t have an American summer break (they finished school in Australia, had a week or so off then started a brand new school year) so we decided a relaxing holiday doing absolutely nothing but eating, drinking and lounging by or in a pool was just what the doctor ordered.

I had never been more relaxed.  I didn’t have to worry about cooking, instead spent the day by the pool and got myself a massage.  What could be better?

Well apparently to the rest of the family a lot could be better.  They could be playing with their new things while they watch me cook a Christmas feast; they were missing their traditional Australian Christmas.  My son (who rarely has an opinion on anything) announces.  “Mum, next year I want pork, ham and turkey for Christmas please.  At home.”

Well one out of four being happy is good enough for me!

Traditional Christmas

As we “discuss” Christmas this year it’s interesting to see everyone’s take on it.  The rules of engagement for Christmas in our house are pretty much as follows (and the list of “demands” set out by all and sundry in order for Christmas to feel EXACTLY like Christmas Day).

In the eclectic inner Western suburbs of Sydney (or controversially the glorious beachside suburbs of Jervis Bay) there lived a family of four and their Cavoodle.  (Assuming we’re actually in the beachside suburbs of Jervis Bay ruining my daughter’s life..) our Christmas starts on Christmas Eve.

We all drive over to our close friends’ house in a neighbouring beachside suburb and usually attend Mass.  I’m not sure why but my recollection of these Christmas eve Masses is generally associated with rain.  I’m sure it doesn’t rain every year.

After Mass we head to our friends for Champagne.  This is always quite a highlight.  Then it’s time to head home and Christmas Eve dinner can be anything from nothing (we ate enough at our friends) to takeaway to a meal at the local Pizza Restaurant.  We always like to be home in time to watch Carols By Candlelight—a Melbourne tradition at the Myer Music Bowl for as long as I can remember.

After children’s group Hi-5 has had its performances it’s time for the kids to go to bed so we can start wrapping presents.  (Don’t ask why we always leave present opening until the night before Christmas.  Maybe it’s because it takes me so long to wrap everyone else’s presents I can’t bear to wrap another one until the very last minute).  We do this while drinking wine and singing carols.

In Australia Santa is left beer and chocolate balls and carrots are left for the reindeers.  This is a very important distinction and the answer to a question Australian kids have been asking for quite some time.  You see here in the US it seems Santa is left a glass of milk and cookies.  In Australia we often wondered how Santa wasn’t pulled over for Drink Driving with all the beer he was drinking.  And now it’s clear: in Australia it gets very hot over Christmas so Santa builds up quite the thirst.  By the time he gets to the US it’s much cooler and he’s left milk in order to continue to deliver presents.  It also means he can get the job done rather than giving up half way.  Makes so much sense now.

Christmas morning

In our house rule number one is no one can get out of bed until everyone is awake and we all go together.  This has been challenged over the years.  When it’s a civilised hour we can all get out of bed and sit around the tree.  We put Christmas carols on in the background and when everyone’s together we start opening presents.  That’s where rule number two comes in: we all say who the present is from then watch each open our presents.  I despise it when the kids don’t know where or who a present is from or that you’re so busy worrying about yourself that you don’t know who got what.

We wait til everyone's up, Christmas carols are playing and everyone is sitting by the tree before we can start opening presents

We wait til everyone’s up, Christmas carols are playing and everyone is sitting by the tree before we can start opening presents

 

After we’ve opened the presents we sit down to breakfast which consists of croissants, fruit and Champagne.  Then for me it’s all downhill from there.  That’s right it takes two days to prepare for Christmas lunch which is over in a matter of minutes.

Many families in Australia have opted for the more sensible seafood approach—it’s hot and it doesn’t make sense to have lunch based around those before us that spent Christmas Day in the cold.

For us it’s a hot Christmas dinner: Glazed Ham, Turkey and Pork with all the trimmings.  Until I moved to America I never thought to explain what all the trimmings are.  Now I understand I do.  We have roast potatoes (no sign of mash), roast pumpkin, gravy, cauliflower au gratin and beans.  For dessert we have Christmas cake and plum pudding.  I often try to make another desert too (sucker for punishment).  The desert of choice is Pavlova and every couple of years I get really motivated and make my favourite all-time desert, Sans Rival.  This is a Filipino torte made of layers of meringue with cashew nuts as it makes me feel like there’s a little influence of every part of us at our Christmas dinner table.

I also never thought I needed to mention that we (like all Australian &  British families) have Bonbons with our lunch.  Like a tug-o-war you both grab an end and one scores the goodies and the other misses out (or takes the contents of the next one until everyone gets something).  Let me tell you bonbons aren’t like normal things–no one ever wants two contents, it’s not one of those things.  Inside there’s usually a cheesy paper hat (shaped like a crown), an even cheesier joke and a little trinket gift (always bad and you’re lucky if they last the lunch out).

I mention it now because I realised they’re not sold everywhere so I’m wondering whether they have them here in the US as part of their Xmas traditions.  I saw them available at Target (and we saw a family crack them on Xmas night after dinner and before dessert at dinner in New York) but wonder why they’re not everywhere like they are in Australia.

Hybrid Christmas

This year we celebrated Christmas early.  On Sunday we woke up as if it was Christmas morning and did all of the above.

On Saturday night (our “Christmas Eve”) we went to a party in 90210.  A Hollywood producer, they had snow, an elf (a little man) and reindeer.  We were welcomed by carolers (you know? the ones on the movies in the 1950s) and then a photo opp with Mr & Mrs Klaus.  There was security at the door (relieved our names were actually there!) and the most amazing people watching I’ve been privy to to date.  It really felt like Christmas eve.

We love adding traditions from the places we’ve lived.  For example while we’re here in LA we’re embracing the “as-seen-on-TV” ritual of going to a farm to pick out your own fresh tree.

We’ve also embraced the Elf on the Shelf.  We’re loving seeing where the elf moves itself to when we wake each morning as it goes home each night to the North Pole to report the day’s activities (whether we’ve been naughty or nice) to Santa.  This is not something we do in Australia although I think he’s making his way over there too.

Elf on the Shelf

One of my friend’s creative elf exploits in the phenomenon that is the Elf on the Shelf

 

Just to keep it real I think it’s only fair to share with you that there are often tantrums, tension, high drama or at least moments of disappointment at our house.  For some reason the prospect and the romance of the ideal of Christmas is always far greater than the reality of Christmas.  As such Christmas Day at our place is more like an episode of the Griswold’s Christmas Vacation or Modern Family meets the Simpsons than the Brady Bunch.  Our memories are sweet but there’s always drama.

Merry Christmas to you & yours. However you celebrate it may be filled with more of the good than the bad.  And of course now I have friends who are Jewish so Happy Hanukkah to you too.

xx It Started in LA xx

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