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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

Xmas
Movies and TV, My LA story, Posts

Christmas in the US of A

Is it that I’m always coming back to the movies that we often think there’s nothing like Christmas in the US?  Of course Europe is where Christmas started and has the Christmas markets down but when it comes to packaging it in a nice white box (think Apple Marketing) then the US has it all wrapped up—with a perfect red bow on top.

Christmas in the US of A

Last weekend we got our Christmas on and went down to the local Christmas tree “farm” to pick out a tree.  The local Christmas tree farm, by the way, was formerly known as the Pumpkin farm (ie last month).  This year we were a lot more organised so got to pick from a vast number of superly (I know it’s not really a word) perfect trees.

Xmas trees

Love these Xmas tree “farms” where you come and pick your own tree | It Started in LA

 

On our way home my daughter said, “Remember last year we were on the freeway and someone’s tree fell off their car?”

“No,” I said, which didn’t surprise me because unless I’ve got a photo of it (& posted to Instagram) then I struggle to remember.

“Oh wait,” she laughs, “that was on Modern Family.”

(Is it just us or does that happen to you?  Here it helps that everything looks so familiar and “like it does on TV or the movies” but it’s funny when a show you watch feels so familiar it’s as if it’s happened to you first hand.)

Not unlike every other “holiday” here the Christmas theme gets a workout.  There are the usual Gingerbread men and Gingerbread houses, advent calendars (although I haven’t really seen as many as we have back home in Australia), holiday-scented wood (not joking) and lollies—lots and lots of special-edition lollies.

Candy

Like other holidays the Xmas-themed lollies come out to play | It Started in LA

Elf on the Shelf

But to me by far the most American thing I’ve seen is the Elf on the Shelf.  Seriously cute this company puts American Girl to shame.  Not only is everyone Instagramming and Facebooking the creative things they’ve done with their elves, there are websites and Pinterest boards guaranteed a lot of hits this month.  Not only that they have apps, adoption certificates, outfits, books, games and even a birthday edition.  Yep, I’m with you: why didn’t I think of that?

A quick look through its website and I couldn’t really see how the phenomenon started and grew into the hugeness (another made-up word) it is today but it is huge.  I’m so jealous of the creativity that goes into the elf’s daily (nightly) adventures but for us it’s all a little late so we’re just going for the least creative options in our house and just happy there’s an elf in our house.  Who knows though as we become more Ausmerican we might just surprise you!  Oh, and I have seen the elves popping up in Australia proving that the most successful marketing concepts can’t help but catch on in the rest of the world.

Elf on the Shelf

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

 

There are lots of well-decorated houses around but I want to say not as many as I thought.  But when they do it, there’s no in-between.  The easiest thing about going all out with your Christmas lights here is the thriving labour market (if I was to be un-PC then I’d just say there are lots of Mexicans happy to do the job and create work opportunities but just as well I’m not).  Like everything here it’s so much cheaper and more convenient to get someone in to do it rather than worrying about it yourself.  God Bless ‘Merica.

I nearly forgot to mention the Holiday cards.  I love receiving cards from my American friends with pics of their family on the front–especially as you see the kids growing up (and maybe even graying hair!).  This year I thought I’d do an abridged version with a pic of us (preferably a selfie) during the year.  That was quickly poo-pooed by mini me because we hadn’t had the photo shoot specifically for the card.  (Lucky I didn’t mention the selfie).  Here’s the photo I would have picked (still might truth be told!):

Xmas card

Christmas Card too much? I agree you can never have too much | It Started in LA

Quintessentially Cliché NYC Christmas #QCNYCC

It’s too long to hashtag so we’ll have to abbreviate it.  We’re so excited here in 90210 because the kids are getting to live the dream and head to New York in the hopes of celebrating a white Christmas.

In fact it’s so exciting that it’s hard to write about without going back into Safari and checking out tickets to this, booking restaurants so we secure a coveted table and work out who’s open and who’s closed for Christmas.

Our #QCNYCC bucket list/ must-do list includes:

  1. Ice-skating at the Rockefeller &/or Central Park on Christmas Day
  2. Seeing the Rockettes Christmas Show
  3. See a Broadway Show
  4. Strolling the Upper East Side and staring in amazement over the wonder that is the Christmas windows.
  5. Looking for Eloise at The Plaza
  6. A bit of Seinfeld & Sex & the City spotting
  7. Visit Dean & Deluca perhaps even trying to spot Felicity
  8. Obligatory tourist stuff: see the Chrysler Building, climb the Empire State Building & visit the 9/11 Memorial
  9. Eat at a couple of iconic restaurants
  10. Play in the snow on Christmas Day!

There’s so much to fit in I’ll obviously let you know how it all goes in real life.  My cousin lives there and she’s giving us the ultimate “NYC-by-night-as-seen-by-a-local” tour which I’m most looking forward to.

What I’m least looking forward to is trying to look glamorous and very NYC while staying toasty warm.  This is in fact the ultimate challenge and I’m not sure I’ve put enough thought into this yet.  Lucky for me Princess Kate (well actually Duchess Kate isn’t it but everyone here is calling her Princess Kate) is in NYC as we speak so I can get a few style tips from her.

My Pinterest board, however, is looking quite healthy with lots of ideas on what to do and every blog and his dog’s top 10 things to do in New York so be sure to visit if it’s ideas you’re after.

Tax Time

You know you’re living in America when you have to declare to your worldwide income.  Last week we were finally all able to lodge our tax returns at the IRS.  We all had to go because, being our first time, we had to get tax file numbers.  And I guess to prove who we are had to bring our passports with us.  For MR H to lodge it on his own he would have had to bring our passports with him and leave them with the IRS for around 6-8 weeks so that meant one in all in.

Last time Mr H went on his own he got turned away.  It turns out that they already had enough customers waiting and they couldn’t accept any more for the day as there would be nobody to process their requests.  Wow.  That there is the public service for the most advanced country in the free world.

So, to avoid a repeat of that situation Mr H decided we need to queue outside an hour before.  We seriously thought he was exaggerating until we saw there were already four people waiting in front of us and many more queued up behind.  I heard one guy behind us if you don’t queue up here at this time you could be here all day.  What choice do you have?

Going into the building was interesting.  We had to go inside one by one while we went through security.  I have to admit I did think at one stage this looked like one of those scenes where some psycho comes in and open fires at everyone so the security checks didn’t phase me one little bit.

Fortunately the plan worked and we weren’t there long after all.  Now we have to wait eight weeks for processing to get a tax file number and have the privilege of lodging our Californian tax.

Sale time

We’ve all heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday but one thing that caught me by surprise was the Family & Friends sales post Black Friday and Cyber Monday offering 25% off.  I bought a new doona and sheet set for us during the Black Friday sales and was very chuffed with myself only to find the 25% Friends and Family sale trumped the Black Friday deals by another 15%.  I ummed and ahhed for a while and decided it was worth the grief at taking it all back and rebuying it again.  But, I was still a bit embarrassed that I was doing it so I sat on the thought for a couple of days.

With our tax lodged I decided to bite the bullet and do it.  It was over a $100 in savings (which could buy me a case of wine so nothing to be sneezed at).

“No problems mam I’ll simply do a price adjustment.”  Oh my god there’s a thing for it.  Of course it’s America, while I’ve been mulling it over for a few days for fear of embarrassment people do this here all the time.  There’s even a process for it; a button on the register.

I shopped the kids coats, jeans and thermals for New York in the various 25% off sales and got me a new pots and pans set so I’ve not only done my bit for the American economy but I’ve saved myself a bucket load of money to boot.

God Bless ‘Merica.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  How does Christmas look where you are?  Let me know, I’d love to hear about it (especially now that commenting works again on my site).

Easter
Differences between America & Australia

Easter in Oz v US: big chocolate eggs v little plastic ones filled with candy

I posted a status update on my Facebook page about a very special moment in time at dinner the other night: “that” conversation.  No, not the one about sex, the one about Santa and the Easter Bunny.  We pretended the kids didn’t know the “truth” while they “lived the lie” knowing that once we have “the chat” and come clean Christmas and Easter would never be the same again.

We couldn’t believe we were having the conversation–the kids telling us stories of times were we’d been so obvious and the time my mum said (practically as soon as the kids went to bed), “So should we put the presents out now?”

To which I (apparently) replied, “No, they won’t be asleep yet”.

I think it explains my daughter’s meltdowns over the last few Christmases when we had confirmed for her the dreaded truth but she couldn’t let us know we had.  She was acting up because what she wanted to be real was turning out to be a big fib after all.

It was such a gorgeous conversation but it was also melancholy that we were entering a new phase in our family life: the kids were indeed getting older.  Still, as one friend put it, “It doesn’t mean it can’t still be magical.” True enough.

Passover

This Facebook post turned into a comparison of traditions around Easter.  For many people here in 90210 they don’t celebrate Easter rather Passover–the freeing of the Jews from Egypt.  Over eight days they can’t eat bread or cereal (basically anything that can rise or has risen).  They start with a feast on the first night at sundown and the following night there is also a feast.  And I’m not quite sure what goes on the remaining six days.

Easter in OZ v US

But those who celebrate Easter should do so in roughly the same way here in the US as in Australia right?  Apparently not.  Firstly, apart from Lindt chocolate bunnies there are hardly any chocolate Easter Eggs. That turned out to not necessarily be the case.  I put my heart and soul into researching this topic and found some larger eggs but by and large the eggs here are small.

The eggs are either “candy” or plastic.  The plastic eggs are filled with candy and coins and scattered around the yard for the morning Easter Egg hunt.  There are lots of Easter-themed candies and marshmallows and a few little eggs.  Naturally being America all the chocolate companies put out Easter specials so you get Reece’s peanut butter eggs and Snickers eggs and even Kit Kat bunny ears.  Sadly for my family NO Red Tulip Bunnies.

Family favourite: Red Tulip Bunny

Family favourite: Red Tulip Bunny

Even in China after the first year we managed to find chocolate eggs.  (The first year we were there I arrived just before Easter weekend.  I had smuggled loads and loads of Easter Eggs in my hand-carry and cases to make up for the fact that it was our first Easter away.  My daughter confirmed during our chat that that was THE best Easter EVER!).

Lucky for us we had a Marks & Spencer’s which eventually started carrying Easter Eggs but before that we were forced to the international hotels for their Easter eggs for guests and expats alike.

Hot Cross Buns

The thing that surprised me the most was the absence of our beloved Hot Cross Buns.  I think it’s something you just take for granted.

Missing in Action: Hot Cross Buns

Missing in Action: Hot Cross Buns

Not unlike Christmas decorations once Valentine’s Day is done out come the Hot Cross Buns (actually someone reminded me pretty much on Boxing Day they come out!).  There’s nothing better than the first batch of Hot Cross Buns but then by Easter you’re kind of over them.  Right now, from where I’m sitting having had none this year I’m craving them–so much so that I’m attempting to make them.  In fact, through Facebook a number of us Aussies living in America are collectively craving them.  Imagine, fresh from the oven, butter melting over them (tons of butter!) and a cup of (real) coffee or tea.  Look what I’m doing to myself.

Easter morning traditions

In Australia and across Britain we hunt eggs Easter morning then eat ourselves silly on chocolate and Hot Cross Buns.

Here in America eating is more central to Easter.  Like Christmas and Thanksgiving there’s a “set menu”.  A new branch of Ralph’s (supermarket chain) opened (an opening we’ve been hanging out for) and I wondered why they had stocked so much ham.  It was like Christmas in Australia.  Turns out everyone has ham for Easter; it’s the thing.  I could fully do that one.

It got me thinking that apart from Hot Cross Buns there’s no “set menu” in Australia.  As we’re usually on a long weekend we’re often away.  It’s also often the last chance we get at being at the beach so we probably just have a Barbie (BBQ), feast on seafood and generally be out on the boat or on the Beach (or a bit of both).

Like at home Easter varies from house to house but these seem to be the main differences:

  • Chocolate eggs v plastic eggs filled with candy and coins (perhaps greenbacks in 90210?!)
  • Hot Cross Buns and anything goes v Ham as part of a shared meal and lots of variations on eggs, such as deviled eggs
  • Longest weekend of the year v Friday off if you’re lucky or in some states no days off.

Who better to sum up a typical Easter feast than Martha Stewart so I’ve linked her suggestions for you to have a sticky beak (click on Martha Stewart highlighted–Blog reading for Dummies).  And if you click through you’ll see one of the desert suggestions is our very own Pav.  There you go!

I love learning about the differences in our cultures, especially that we all basically came from the Brits many years ago at different times through different reasons and from different classes yet we’re so uniquely different.

Back to the long weekend

In Australia we love a good long weekend so the Easter four-day long weekend is like hitting the jackpot in Vegas.  You can imagine my surprise then when I discovered it wasn’t really a long weekend here in the US.    It’s not until you move or travel overseas that you realise how lucky we are to have a four-day long weekend.

Many countries obviously don’t celebrate Easter.  When we lived in China I remember thinking how surreal it was that Good Friday–traditionally a day where NOTHING is open at home–was business-as-usual.  Again, you’d expect a more religious Nation like America to have time off for Easter off.  No long weekend here.  Some schools get Friday off (not all) and many offices (like Mr H’s) are business-as-usual on Friday, let alone Monday.

So enjoy your long weekend (if you’re lucky enough to get one).  My kids want to take a day off for “religious reasons” good luck with that kids.

Happy Easter everyone & Happy long weekend Australia & the UK. Bastards ;).

xx It Started in LA xx

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