Christmas without my family was weird, and I definitely got emotional about it a couple of times. Overall, though it was new and strange and there were far too few people, it was a good couple of days filled with family, food, and lots of joy and laughter.
Before I left for France, my mom and I were shopping and I decided I would really like to make Christmas cookies while in France — something to remind me of Christmas at home. We bought cookie cutters to bring to the kids in France, including a plane, a train, and a princess crown (not holiday — but more personal and likely more interesting for the kids). Friday, I decided, was the day. I made the dough in the early afternoon, and invited all three little ones into my apartment later to cut out the shapes. Everything was going surprising smoothly until I opened up my fridge and a bottle of champagne that Fede was keeping in there crashed onto the floor, shattering and cracking a floor tile. It was terrible. Thankfully Fede was super sweet, saying that accidents happen, and brought towels and her mop to clean up my mess. Matt kept repeating “mom, she didn’t mean to, I promise she didn’t mean to” and it was so cute. The rest of our time cutting out cookies went remarkably well, and soon we had forty trains, planes, crowns, trees, snowflakes, and gingerbread people. When Fede came to gather the kids a while later, the first batch had just come out of the oven, and I asked her if she wanted to taste one. Apparently Italians and French have been deprived of Christmas cookies all their lives, and Fede seemed surprised that it tasted so good. She kept telling me, “Allie this is good! No really, these are really good!” Later that night, she asked me if she could have the recipe once I leave (she liked that it was something I could do with the kids while I’m here). After dinner, I went back to my apartment to decorate all the cookies with royal icing and some Christmasy sprinkles I brought from home, and finished them the next morning. Here was the finished product:
Fede’s mom and brother, Max, arrived on Christmas Eve afternoon with 4 cakes, like 2 kilos of chocolate, a lasagna, a quiche, beef roast, and a fish entree. The kids are so excited to have Ton Ton around, and it was fabulous to have the kids calling out his name and jumping all over him for a change. I brought my decorated plate of cookies, and everyone was super impressed with them (looks and taste). I can’t tell you how many times I was told “bravo!” It was kind of surprising, to be honest, because Christmas cookies are so common and so simple. But I was super happy that they were such a hit.
[actually at one point Fede was like “I didn’t know you could cook! What else can you cook? It’s a shame we didn’t know you could make cookies like this!” I explained that Christmas cookies are for Christmas, but Fede and Jeff both said I should be able to make them year-round, as long as I used non-Christmasy shapes. I don’t think it will be long until my next batch, because all 40 cookies were gone by the end of Christmas. There were 5 adults.]
After playing for a while, it was time for dinner. There were bread crisps (not actually sure what they’re called) topped with a selection of cheeses, fois gras and pickles, or butter and smoked salmon; an artichoke quiche; a cheese crepe dish; a fish entree with olives and tomatoes; bread (of course), and for dessert, cakes and my cookies.
After dinner, Fede and grandma put the kids to bed, while Max and Jeff finished wrapping a present in the garage. Then it was time to play Santa. My task: if any of the kids start making their way downstairs, make sure they stop. Seriously the fate of this family’s Christmas was in my hands. So I sit on the couch watching the stairs, and Fede brings the first load of presents through the front door (which is literally at the bottom of the stairs). Just as she made her way across the living room into the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of two little feet pitter-pattering down the stairs, and Matt’s little voice “mama, calin?” (hug mommy!). Leaping from my post, I raced toward him as he stepped from the staircase, and whipped his little body around as quickly as possible. “No Matt. Go upstairs. Right now. Upstairs.” I’m honestly surprised the uncharacteristic urgency in my voice didn’t have him immediately suspicious. But he turned around. In the meantime, Liam, too, was making his way down the stairs, but thankfully grandma stepped in to bring them back upstairs and started reading them another story. I remained at my post at the bottom of the stairs while Fede, Jeff, and Max brought in more piles of gifts. Seriously the most terrifying experience, knowing that if those kids decided to move even a few feet, Christmas would have been ruined. Thankfully, after that one incident, the gifts all made their way across the house and under the Christmas tree without any hiccups. And can we just take a minute to appreciate this?
The other adults drank a beer while I facetimed Taylor and my parents. Then it was time for the adults to open their gifts. Fede handed me a small wrapped box, and they set a chair in front of the Christmas tree for me. Then, I found this:
And then, this:
The picture doesn’t do this sparkly rose gold bracelet justice. Seriously not even sure what could have been a more perfect gift. This summer I told the family about my obsession with Michael Kors once, and how I treat myself to one item from the brand per year. And they remembered. Seriously these people are the sweetest. Everyone else opened up their gifts, we had a lot of laughs, and then I retired to my apartment for the night.
On Christmas morning, I walked the few steps over to the house at around 8:45, right before the kids were going to open their presents (at 9). I can’t even explain how excited I was to watch these kids open all their gifts. SO EXCITED. For the first time in my life, I had played my small role in bringing Santa to children. I was there as they tore off the papers and yelled about what an amazing toy they had received. I cut open boxes, freeing new toys, and even got to help put together Mila’s new, amazing, My Little Pony castle. It was actually wonderful. They were so overjoyed and you can’t help but be overjoyed with them. And it brought back memories of how joyfully I used to leap out of bed on Christmas morning to rip open my gift from Santa.
After gift opening and toy discovering, we sat down to our main Christmas meal: pear, pecan, cheese puff pastry appetizers; along with the artichoke quiche; truffle cheese and fresh bread; more fois gras-, smoked salmon-, or cheese-topped bread things; spinach lasagna (real Italian lasagna — SO GOOD) and beef roast (also AMAZING); and oranges, bûches de Noël (the quintessential French Christmas cake, in the shape of a log), and my cookies for dessert. After lunch we played a little more and then all took a break, mine back in my apartment.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty much the same — lots of playing and yelling and listening to (much too loud) music on Liam’s new CD player. Dinner was a repeat of lunch, minus the appetizers and a few other things. After dinner I skyped my giant crazy family gathered back at home, got to open my secret santa gift through Taylor, and watched my cousin open the secret santa gift I got for him. Chatted with some of the fam, made my way upstairs to see all the food and say hi to more family members. Hung out in my apartment for a little while, then called back to listen to my aunts sing Christmas carols while cleaning the dishes, and found my saved seat at the dinner table. Facetime sure made being away from home easier — now if only they could find a way to transport smells and tastes!
Today (Monday) I was able to sleep in and chill. I caught up on some cleaning in the apartment, did some journaling, and wrote this post (obvi). I skyped my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, nieces and nephew today while they were celebrating their Christmas. Tomorrow Papi (grandpa) arrives for a few days, and next week we leave to spend a week in the Alps!
Hope you all had joyful, family-filled holidays!