I read a little quote that said it didn't matter what was under the Christmas Tree but mattered who was gathered around it. And this year, we were so lucky to have a lovely long Christmas period with so many special people visiting and filling our house with love and laughter. It is often the hardest time of the year to be an expat. We miss our families and friends and our childhood traditions, and particularly raising our children in the Middle East, Christmas reminds us just how far we are from home and our upbringings. But when we are surrounded by friends and loved ones, we are able to embrace the differences and celebrate Christmas in our own special way.
It has taken some time to sit down and recap our epic month, but I wanted so much to share some photos and memories of Christmas 2017, our (Nut)Cracker of a Christmas! Try as I might, I don't think I'm going to be able to keep it short and snappy, so grab a cuppa and get yourself nice and comfy!
Decorating For Christmas
Each year we (yes ok, I) choose a different theme for our Christmas decorations, and this year, we based it around Madeleine's favourite Christmas book, The Nutcracker.
I ordered a few mini hanging nutcrackers for the tree, but otherwise we mostly created scenes from the books/ballet ourselves and gradually over the first week of December, got our house ready for Christmas cheer.
As you enter our house we have Maddie's special nutcracker that her Godfather sent her after her ballet recital last year, and on the stairs, under the grandfather clock, are the mice and Mouse King ready to go into battle for the Nutcrackers honour.
When you move through into our living room, you enter the land of sweets. Maddie and I made some felt candy canes and lollipops, and then we made some sweets out of wrapping paper and cotton wool balls which we scattered about and put on the Christmas tree as well! I put a few real sweets amongst the decorations to add a little legitamacy, but it was a fun section to set up.
We have been collecting different versions of the Nutcracker storybook since Maddie was little, which made a lovely display on one of our lower bookcases in the living room.
The tree was bright and colourful, filled with Nutcrackers, sweets and snowflakes. My trees are usually just one or two colours, so it was fun to let loose a little this year and have more fun with colour.
My absolute favourite space however is our dining room which was transformed into a winter wonderland filled with snowflake fairies. Maddie just loved putting her snowflake tutu back on and danced amongst the snowflake fairies, which, as you can imagine, means I am having a hard time taking these particular decorations down! They may just morph into Birthday/Easter/Ramadan fairies!
The countdown to Christmas was made a little more exciting on a day to day basis with the addition of our new advent calendar. Some mornings Maddie and Lachie found a strip of stickers or a pencil from the Christmas Elves, and other mornings they would find a note, telling them to get ready for the event that we had planned for the day. I tried to keep it low key, but it didn't matter, the excitement level was off the charts regardless!
It is our annual tradition to put up the Christmas tree on the 1st of December, whilst drinking home made egg nog and feasting on rumballs. We were fortunate enough to have Lachlan's godparent's visiting at this time and so were able to share eggnog and rumballs while we put up the first of the Christmas decorations. The kids (and adults) sat around the table colouring the giant table cloth and it was just the perfect start to the holidays.
We had never been to an official tree lighting ceremony before and had no idea what to expect. But we got Lachlan a babysitter and left him tucked up in bed and kept Maddie up late, and used her excitement alone to power our car over to the St Regis for their Tree Lighting ceremony. The ceremony itself was quite sweet, but nothing was sweeter than Madeleine’s face when she saw Santa coming through the doors. “For Real?”. Her thirst for magic is insatiable. My photos are not amazing, but her happiness is!
On December 15 the Christmas Elves left a little note asking our children to write their letters to Santa. So we all sat down together and wrote their letters so that the next day we could take them to the Christmas Village at the Abu Dhabi mall to visit Santa. Lachlan, who is mostly fearless, is scared of two things. Gondolas, and Father Christmas. But we persevered through his anxiety and got the classic photo with Santa. Madeleine was smiling sweetly having talked Santa through their letters in great detail, and Lachlan was screaming bloody murder. It was perfect. My favourite moment, just after the kids got to slide down from the grotto was when Maddie told me that she was glad we were honest on Lachlan’s letter....“Mama, i think it was a really good thing that we put a small tick for unkind don't you?”.
The first day of the kids school holidays was filled with sugar. Lots of sugar. We hosted a Cookie Party for a few of Maddie’s nearest and dearest from school, just to give the kids a chance to sing some carols and get excited about all things Christmasy. The kids were super cute and all had a great time covering, and I mean COVERING their cookies in icing and decorations. And well, yes, I was Mama Elf and I freakin loved it!
".....Then one foggy Christmas Eve…"
Weather in Abu Dhabi is pretty much a constant. It rains only a handful of days a year, and the temperature range is usually hot to very hot. But in winter, we get a little variation from time to time. We get a few clouds in the sky, the temps dip to under 20 celsius and for a week or two, the winter fog rolls in. It was very exciting to have some legitimacy to at least one aspect of Christmas stories this year, and it ensured excitement was at a maximum as Madeleine knew that Santa would in fact be needing Reindeer to guide his sleigh this Christmas.
The Christmas Elves left Maddie and Lachlan their Christmas Eve Box, with a list of things to do for the day and so we had friends over to help with preparations for Santa and the Reindeer. We needed to decorate the cookies to leave out for Santa with the egg nog, and we needed to get the sparkly oats and carrots ready for the reindeer.
Christmas Eve afternoon had so many magical moments scattered through it, the simple kind of moments that you don't prepare for, but for me, were the memories I hope never to forget. One of these moments was making the plum pudding together as a family. Ordinary and simple in concept. But in execution it was special. We used our Magdalen College pudding basin, which we use just this one time each year, and so we told the kids Oxford stories while we baked. Our children each got to add ingredients, stir the mixture and of course lick the spoon. It was just sweet family time and I guess in our day to day lives we don't take the time to sit and bake as a family, so I felt like I got to share the thing I love doing most with the people I love most. The pudding itself burned to buggery mind you, we were too happy doing other things to focus on adding pesky things like water, so Christmas morning I had to repeat the full process and bake a second plum pudding!!! It was a little less special to bake it on my own, but I have the Christmas Eve moments in my mind forever, regardless of which pudding we actually ate!
And then, our Christmas Eve dinner was unbeatable. I don't remember what anyone ate, it was entirely beside the point, we were all much too happy to be focusing on the food. We took the kids dinner and threw a blanket down underneath the trampoline and had a picnic dinner. The space under the trampoline was dark and cosy and it felt like we were the only four people on the planet, excitedly waiting for the magic of Christmas to begin, without realising the sparkles and elf dust was already all around us.
Christmas Day was pretty special. Last year Lachlan was only just 1 year old, so didn't understand anything about Christmas, but this year, having just celebrated his 2nd birthday, he now understood so much more about Santa and was able to match some of Maddie's enthusiasm!
And so we had our first Christmas morning with the kids, dressed in Christmas PJ's, excitedly going through their Stockings on the the end of our bed. Christmas could have ended right after that, as I for one would have been content and my magic quota was almost satisfied for the day already. But, there was of course many more wonderful moments over the course of the day.
We spent the rest of morning speaking to our families who are all scattered over the world, and opened the many, many gifts under the tree. We had some friends come to spend Christmas afternoon, dinner and the next two days with us, which was a whole lot of fun. These friends now live in Dubai but we have known one another since a walking-mums-group in Hampstead when Maddie and their daughter Millie were just 3 months old. They have a little boy as well, a similar age to Lachlan, and the four kids just have a unique bond that is unforced and uninhibited. We ate a whole lot of amazing food, and for just an intimate Christmas party, had an impressive spread of desserts I must say.
It was an epic Christmas deserving of an epic blog post! And just for those loyal souls who are still soldiering through this lengthy recap, you have been rewarded with a video! I hope you all had a magical Christmas and hope the sparkle carries you all the way through 2018.