As we embark on our last Christmas in the UK, I cannot help but reflect upon our first. We were so tired and overwhelmed and our children were so small. I remember one night my partner and I were discussing how inside our house felt like home, but outside our house definitely did not. We had just become comfortable driving, or so we thought, we are definitely an entire new level of comfortable now. Mr. K's school placement had been horrible for the autumn term, as he was put into a mainstream school with inadequate supports. The English school system forced us to begin from step one, completely disregarding all our Canadian paperwork and recommendations. Perhaps this will happen to us again next year when we return to Canada, although I sincerely hope, for Mr. K's sake, that is not the case. We had our fingers crossed that his placement to begin in January 2017 would be a good fit, and it was. We had made a few friends, some fellow Canadians and our American neighbours. We were starting some British friendships, although those took longer.
In December 2016, everything felt magical and difficult. We knew enough to get tickets to the Panto early before they sold out, but not enough to know where to park, my partner had to run out at intermission to feed the meter. We now know that it's easier to just take the bus. We bought Christmas sweaters and started calling them jumpers. Our family and friends sent lovely gifts for the children via Amazon and I spent way too much of my time wrapping them all. I went on a girls shopping trip to Cardiff, Wales with some Canadian friends, ditched the friends for most of the day to visit Cardiff Castle- my first castle, and experienced my first Christmas Market. I bought the incorrect time for the train home as our group changed times and I chose the wrong option, and I rode home on the train with the wrong ticket just sweating from the stress of it all. We also nearly missed the train that day due to someone's shopping obsession (not mine, clearly I am all about the castles).
I put up our tree really early in an effort to make it feel more like Christmas as we struggled to understand English winter. We took the kids to the park a lot and were rewarded with mud caked on everything we owned. We started to understand what dreary weather and rain really could be. We started using a SAD lamp and came to life whenever the sun made a rare appearance. We tried to like mince pies- three years later we actually all like them. We endeavoured to understand each other, one partner who wanted to explore and one who did not. I took the twins to Bourton-On-The-Water on my own and all the kids up Cleeve Hill on my own and started to realize that I was tough enough to go places alone, even with the children. This was empowering and has really shaped who I have become whilst living here.
We were excited by frosty mornings as there was no snow to be seen, a new phenomena for us to be sure! Just this year, my partner finally admitted that it doesn't quite feel like Christmas without snow. We were confused by the Christmas music we heard in the shops and on the radio, 70% of which we had never heard before. Now we know and love and can sing all these songs by heart and will likely be blue when we don't hear them everywhere we go next December.
We tried and failed to find somewhere to get a good photo of Santa with the boys. We now realize that this is more of a tradition in Canada, and have had to let this tradition go, which was a bit sad for me as we have done it ever since Mr. K was six months old and I treasure each photo. Here it is about the experience of visiting Santa in his grotto. It is more elaborate and private, but the pictures are crap. Just yesterday, Mr. L said that Santa lives in a grotto, which is a really weird thought to me. It was also a shock to me when the boys wanted to leave "Father Christmas mince pies."
Our first Christmas in the UK we realized that we would have to go about Christmas food in a completely different way. When we lived in Canada, I would bake something each weekend in December and then pop it in the large deep freeze we had in our garage. Here we have a small (by Canadian standards) fridge and even smaller freezer. The smallest I have ever had in my life. So I started baking less and closer to Christmas out of necessity. Then there was where to fit all the Christmas food. The week before Christmas, we start to play a very serious game of fridge Tetris to fit it all in. Luckily our fridge is made to look like cupboards so no one can even find it. We rely on grocery delivery here, which is possibly my favourite thing ever, but our first year here we didn't realize that you have to book your Christmas delivery literally months ahead. Even this year, I booked it ahead but didn't find time to fill my online trolly quick enough so I lost my spot. Procuring Christmas food is as intense as ever.
Never before have we been sick like we have been at Christmas in the UK. Last year was definitely the worst Christmas ever and I have spent so much of my time spraying the house and the children with Lysol this year to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. The gastro bugs that we have caught here in the UK are horrendous. My partner and I have never been ill so much in our lives. We were told that your immune system often struggles to build new immunities when you move internationally and encounter viruses you have not ever experienced. This has certainly and unfortunately been the case for us! My partner even broke his twenty year streak of not vomiting this past summer. It's been an exciting time.
We have accepted that the boys should participate and make a Christmas card for every person in their class at school. In Canada we don't do this at Christmas, but for some reason we do for Valentines Day. This year the boys sat down and did sixty-eight cards between the three of them. It's cute, but I might not miss this tradition as there is so much to do this time of year. Speaking of having too much to do, the schools and places of work go absolutely mad with Christmas Celebrations. My partner has about six work Christmas Parties (often called Christmas Dos), and I can barely keep track of all the special days for the children. Christmas Jumper Day, Festive Clothing party day, no uniform day for a monetary donation, no uniform day for a tombola donation, Panto Day, Christmas Lunch Day, School Christmas Fayre, Christmas Performances, Christmas Nativities, Christmas Services, Christmas Craft afternoons, Christmas Cake Sales, and early dismissals. Trying to keep straight the dates from two different schools and three different classes is no easy feat. I recall thinking our first year here that the British are Christmas obsessed, and finding it all quite charming. I am still charmed, just also more weary.
Yesterday I had two naps, twenty-five minutes each. I don't even remember the last time I had a nap. Then last night I slept nine hours. It was my partners lie in day, but the boys didn't get up until nine, they are evidently exhausted as well. I've decided that sleep will be my Christmas theme as I have been so sleep deprived the past few years as we struggled to sort out Mr. K's disordered sleeping. English Christmas is a lot, but we are enjoying this season and trying to rest more between activities. My father-in-law will be joining us shortly, and I hope he doesn't mind my disappearing to nap every so often. We still have the Panto to look forward to, Christmas lights at a castle (as you do in England), hopefully a jaunt to somewhere cheery like Bath, time with friends, and lots of yummy food. I am a particular fan of mulled wine and cheese.
I am happy to report that both inside and outside our house now feel like home. I am completely comfortable and content in this beautiful part of the world we are privileged to experience one more Christmas in. We are still wishing for snow and looking at a long term forecast of rain and overcast days, but we have our SAD lamp, Mince Pies, naps, and each other. So it will be a happy Christmas if we manage to avoid illness and everyone lets Mom sleep. I wish you all the same! Merry Christmas!