When I was a kid, my former best friend and I had a Christmas ritual. I’d call her, or she’d call me, and we’d talk about what we got for Christmas. In those days, Christmas was all about the presents. I remember getting a lot of toys that were exciting and fun, although she usually got more stuff than I did. She had a computer and usually got a lot of cool games to play. On the other hand, I had a horse and she didn’t.
As we got older, the phone calls were less frequent and less animated. We grew apart and eventually had a “silent” falling out. Christmas had become less exciting to me for a lot of reasons, most of which involved family drama and abusive behavior. Add in the fact that I was broke, and really couldn’t afford Christmas, and the prospect of the holiday season brought on true depression for many years. I hated the stress of it and the tears that would usually come after a family visit. There were always high expectations and they were never met. I’d spend the weeks after Christmas recovering from whatever drama was unearthed.
It took a long time before I started to enjoy the holidays again. Since we swore off drama at Christmas, Bill and I have become more fond of the festive holiday season, even as we welcome things getting back to normal in January. We usually stay home and have a low key holiday, with me in my nightgown and Bill cooking a nicer than usual meal. We’d open presents, listen to music, drink wine, and enjoy each other’s company. Low key, low stress, zero drama, and almost no excitement.
This year, I didn’t get “much” for Christmas, in terms of what was under the tree. Bill didn’t have time to shop and has a hard time choosing gifts for me, anyway. He did buy me a lovely soft wool wrap at a Christmas market in Weiden, which is in Bavaria. I used it last night, since it was a bit chilly in the house. I think it’ll get a lot of use in the house rather than out and about. It’s just big enough to cover my shoulders and arms, and it’s super warm. Bonus points that it’s navy and grey, which are favorite colors of mine!
Bill also got me a Homepod, so I can stream my huge music collection from my computer. I have a Bose Sound Dock that basically sounds great, but doesn’t easily stream anything from Apple. Instead, I had to stream from Amazon, and since I usually buy albums rather than “renting” them, this was a problem. I’d end up buying my favorite albums twice. I’m sure I could have figured out a way to stream on the Bose, but it involved a lot of hassle and/or using my iPod, which is also pretty much obsolete now. I use mostly Apple products now, so it just made sense to get the Homepod, which works with both Apple and Amazon, but presents its own logistical hassles, as I discovered last night. I’m sure I’ll figure out workarounds, though.
My mother-in-law sent fun, colorful socks to Bill and me. Socks are a good thing, since I wear them all the time when it’s cold. I sent her Keb’ Mo’ albums, since we are considering seeing him play when she visits later this month. After our latest trip, we may decide to skip another trip so soon… maybe we’ll focus on finding a new furry friend instead. Now that the holidays are about over, it’s time to think about giving a home to a dog that needs one, if we can find someone willing to let us adopt.
I got Bill things for the house. A few of the gifts– the first ones I ordered, actually– haven’t even arrived yet because they came through APO (our U.S. government run postal system). What was under the tree for Bill included a new waffle iron (since we have a 110 volt one in storage), a new coffee grinder, because the old one is wearing out, bellows for the fireplace, yet another book about cocktails, and storage containers for leftovers. The stuff that is probably sitting in the post office includes a new shirt, gloves for carrying firewood, and a canvas fire log tote.
So… it was a fairly lean Christmas in terms of tangible gift giving… and yet, it was probably one of the best Christmases of my life. This year, we were invited to France by my dear friend Audra, and her husband, Cyril. Audra and I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia. When we were growing up, Gloucester was a very rural, very small town. It’s grown a lot over the years. In fact, in the mid 80s, it was the fastest growing county in Virginia. We’ve both seen it change, and we’ve both found our ways out of Gloucester. Many of our contemporaries still live in Gloucester and have raised their own families there. Audra and I have both wound up in Europe long term. Audra will probably stay in France for many years– maybe even the rest of her life. I’ll probably stay in Germany for as long as I’m allowed to… European life mostly agrees with me, although it takes me away from friends, family, and being at “home”.
Audra and I spent the time bonding over this whole European/American lifestyle thing… and we have a tremendous number of things in common. We went to the same high school, the same college, are both Air Force brats, and have had some similar life experiences. The older I get, the more I realize how rare and valuable true friends are, and I think that we have them in Audra and Cyril, who so kindly opened their home to Bill, Arran, and me over the holidays and gifted us with local beer.
We talked about so many things, shared so many memories, and enjoyed so much good food and wine with Audra’s French family. It was overwhelming to us on so many levels, since neither Bill nor I had ever experienced Christmas in France before. One common thread, though, was the love of family, which we were allowed to share with Cyril’s parents, brother, sister-in-law, grandmother, and an adorable dachshund named Merlin. I don’t speak French, and yet I felt like I really felt at home with Cyril’s family, who were very loving, accepting, generous, and kind. And they were also so patient with Arran, who can quite literally be a little stinker sometimes… just ask Audra’s cats!
We also received spectacular French hospitality in Beaune. Yes, it partially involved us being crime victims, but the locals there were so kind and welcoming to us. We are especially indebted to the owners at Au Miracle du Pain Doré (The Miracle of French Toast), who even gifted us with a free night in their gite. We were blown away by their generosity and kindness. And since I am the type who likes to pay it forward, I’m spreading the word as much as I can about their gite!
It was a true gift to get to see two very different French cities, too. Nimes is nothing like Beaune in terms of weather, architecture, or local color. Nimes has a large population of people from North Africa, which gives it a real Mediterranean flair. Beaune is in Burgundy, which really isn’t like Germany, but is probably more like Germany than Nimes is. Nimes has almost a Spanish flavor. We could have driven to Barcelona in the same time it took us to get to Beaune. It was amazing to get a change of scenery and a reminder why we love living in Europe so much.
It was even more amazing to have loving friends and family to celebrate with– especially since there wasn’t a single awkward, traumatic, or shitty moment. We were all free to be ourselves and, in fact, we never ran out of things to talk about! And no one was critical, mean-spirited, rude, or attention whoring (Audra knows of what I write). It was just a lot of fun! Bill and I will always be grateful to Audra and Cyril and their family for the wonderful gift they gave us in welcoming us to their home in 2019! We’ll never forget it!
Every year, I try to remind myself about what Christmas is supposed to be about. It’s always fun to get new stuff, but it’s so easy to get “stuff” year round. And we really have too much stuff– as I learn every time we have to move. What’s more important and ultimately more valuable are loving relationships with friends and family… having life changing experiences… seeing beautiful sights and hearing glorious music and eating good food. It’s already a gift to have enough, and we certainly do. We’re very, very fortunate to have all we do, but we are especially blessed to have each other. And even if all we had was just each other at Christmas, in the grand scheme of things, that would surely be enough to make it magnificent!
I know I’m cranky, irritable, and sometimes downright bitchy… people probably read my blog and come away with the idea that I’m a total curmudgeon. I know some people believe I’m clueless and “privileged” (trust me, I’m not as shallow as I might seem). Underneath my crabby exterior is someone with a big heart, and I definitely gave part of it to France over the past ten days.
I hope all my readers had a great Christmas and will enjoy a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!