Just as I experienced my first Thanksgiving, this was my first time spending Christmas in Ireland. I was a mixed bag of emotions–nervous to miss everything at home and excited to be a part of Kevin’s holiday traditions. This was the first time I was decorating my own home for the holiday.
Growing up, we had two trees full of lights and bulbs, and two rooms of magical decorations of Santa Claus and nativity scenes. It was wonderful–I admit I hated decorating because it took so long, but I loved the way it looked when finished (and I helped tear down). Now it was my turn.
Growing up my Grandma Shaw could be found crocheting. It didn’t matter if she was talking on the phone or watching tv or even just sitting around chatting; she had a project with her. She made baby blankets galore in the most beautiful patterns and colors, She made Christmas tree skirts and garland and covers for bulbs. When I was in high school, she made each of us grandkids who didn’t already have one, a full-size blanket in the colors and pattern we wanted. She thought the blanket was going to be hideous, but it was amazing. A little time later her eyesight began to fail until she could barely see. Before it went too far I asked if she would make me a Christmas tree skirt and a scarf. I managed to get two skirts from her and a scarf. I cherish them and wish I had learned how to crochet when she offered many times when I was little. So now, I made sure to bring a tree skirt and some bulbs to Ireland for Kevin’s and my first tree.
Before Christmas, my family always set aside a day to bake Christmas cookies. We made Kissy peanut butter cookies, Swedish cream cookies, holly wreaths, cereal snack mix enough to last all the Christmas visits and for our enjoyment. I was so sad to miss this tradition with my family back home. I decided to bring the tradition to Ireland with me. I made Kissy peanut butter cookies on my own. Kevin helped with the Swedish cream cookies. I also made two pecan pies since they were such a hit at Thanksgiving, but ran out of vanilla. I thought that maple syrup would be a great substitute so I just poured some in.
Before Christmas day, we had two Christmas parties(not in our home): one for the family business and one for his mom’s side of the family. The cool thing here is that some hotels hold parties for small-size groups with dinner, drinks, a live band, a raffle, and a Dj. It just so happened both parties were at the same hotel two weekends in a row. Everyone met in the hotel bar for drinks and for their group to arrive. Then a hotel staff member walked through ringing a bell telling us the banquet room was set and ready. A few Christmas trees decorated the room and snowflakes hung from the ceiling. The tables were decorated with streamers, noisemakers, and those popper gifts where two people pull the ends and whoever holds on wins the little toy and paper crown inside.
The band played popular music and some Christmas music. I hardly knew any songs, but was glad for the attempt at Tina Turner, and thankful for Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”. It was great to spend time getting to know some of the people Kevin works with and spending more time with his family. We partied the night away and didn’t leave until after midnight each night.
Christmas Eve Kevin didn’t have to work. We spent the day getting a few odds and ends, plus horse feed to prepare for the week since most shops were shut down for the holidays. Then we stopped in at a friend’s house for tea and to deliver cookies. The day before a package arrived from my mom that we had to wait to open. My mom managed to keep the family tradition of a family matching set of PJs for everyone. Kevin and I had to video call them and all together we opened the cutest set. It helped me feel connected to home.
Christmas day I woke and tried to stay in bed. I love giving my loved ones gifts and have a hard time keeping things a secret. In fact, I told Kevin about at least two gifts before Christmas. On our honeymoon, we rented a Porsche 356 Speedster for a day. We drove up the LA mountains and Breakneck Canyon and out to Santa Monica Beach. I found a little shop on Etsy that made Christmas ornaments and they had a silver Porsche 356 Speedster, just like we drove. I also found a shop that takes wedding photos and turns them into ornament caricatures. I tried to hide them on the tree to see if Kevin would ever notice, but I was too excited and couldn’t wait.
Christmas in Ireland is pretty similar to the US. Everyone gathers at a family member’s home for a meal. They sit around talking and drinking and watching the little ones open presents and running around on a sugar-high, too busy to eat a full meal; but each filling up on biscuits (cookies) and desserts.
We went to Kevin’s parents’ home for dinner. His granny, Aunt Bernie, and her family, his sister LeeAnn and family, plus Mickey a total of 15 of us had canapes and then turkey and ham, sausage stuffing, potatoes, brussel sprouts, and a few other dishes. For dessert, there were pavlovas, apple tarts, my cookies, and pies.
I was excited about my pecan pie, it was a little more liquidy than last time though. Granny took one bite and spit it back on her plate with pure disgust on her face. My heart sank. Then I had a bite and realized a little maple syrup goes a long way in pecan pie. It was too strong for the pies. I learned two lessons: 1) watch measurements and maple syrup isn’t always a great substitute and 2) Granny doesn’t hide her thoughts, especially about desserts. She liked my cookies though and took some home with her. Those at least passed the test. We went home that night stuffed and ready for a night of movies.
The day after Christmas, the day of returns in the US is St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland. Another day to celebrate and go out to the pubs and meet at friends’ homes for the holidays. We went to a friend’s home for drinks with a group of close friends before we went to the pub. Molly’s was packed with people. We ran into many of Kevin’s friends whom I had never met and some we hadn’t seen since our wedding. This night reminded me of back home, the night before Thanksgiving when everyone goes out and sees friends who’ve been gone for a while. The next few days were a blur of helping Kevin with the horses–I don’t muck the stalls, but I help shake out the hay and give them feed from the bucket–and eating leftovers.
We ended the holiday season with a New Year’s party with just a few close friends. The night was perfect. We had a few finger foods and snacks, pizzas, and drinks. We played games, almost missing the countdown. As we counted down, Kevin stood shaking a bottle of champagne. When it popped it exploded clear across the kitchen island to the other side’s floor, narrowly missing the new ceiling. I ended the night going to bed around 3 am. Kevin and the boys sat up singing and playing the ukulele to well passed 5 am. When we finally woke, we had a family dinner at his uncle’s. Luckily, it was full of all the delicious greasy foods you need after a hangover: sweet chili chicken sandwiches, cocktail wieners, chicken goujons, chips, the works.
So even though I was missing all of my family and our traditions back home, I had fun creating new traditions and spending more time with Kevin and his family. I am excited to see what the next holiday brings.