Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'll be 'fill in the blank' for Christmas

I usually spend Christmas with my family in some part of Alberta.  It's usually white, full of family, and FREAKING COLD.  Obviously it's the Christmas that I love best.  I learned that it isn't easy being away for Christmas (as learned the year I was in Japan playing an alien and ate Mr. Noodles for Christmas dinner).

That doesn't mean I can't spend the first weeks of December getting in the Christmas spirit in far flung places.

Here we go!

1.  New York

For obvious reasons you can't be surprised this is on my list.  I'd be happy to be in this city for every season (okay, maybe not the middle of August or February).  But during the holidays, this city really comes to life.  Stomping through the streets of Manhattan, you can't help but sing 'Silver Bells' to yourself.  It really is what I envision 'Christmastime in the City' to be.

Santa Clauses ringing bells for Salvation Army are on every corner.  Steam rises from the street grates, yellow taxis zoom by carrying busy shoppers from one department store to another (with their treasures), the smell of roasting chestnuts tickle your nostrils.  Christmas markets sell lovely trinkets from Columbus Square to Bryant Park to Battery Park.  Department stores go out of their way to make each window a dazzling display of art.  You can run inside from the cold and grab a hot cocoa, or mulled wine (at Rolf's in Grammercy Park - cheesy but fun!), or even a Christmas inspired cocktail on a rooftop patio (complete with Snuggies at 230 Fifth).

And you can't forget the skating.  Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Bryant Park. Here's the truth though:  renting skates at any of these places is one of the most painful things I have ever done.  

New York is Magic Christmas in the City!

2.  Austria/Germany/Switzerland

I have never been to any of these Alpine countries at Christmas but it is one of my BIGGEST dreams.  When I was a little girl, I had a picture of Neuschwanstein Castle (King Ludwig's Dream) on my bulletin board - it looked like the ideal winter fairytale.  Then, in first year UBC I took a friend to see 'The Nutcracker'.  The curtain was a large image of a snow filled valley dotted with chalets and castles - which I believe Germany/Austria must look like.

Adding to that visual in my head, my girlfriend told me about the famous Christmas markets.  It wasn't the idea of shopping to me, more the idea of strolling around stalls selling European crafts (basically tourist crap) with a stein full of hot mulled wine.

The thought of wine always makes me happy.

I am also entranced with the fact these markets date to the late middle-ages. I wonder if in 1482 they had chocolates and mulled wine?  In my mind they do.

3.  Pretty much anywhere in England

I've done a Christmas here with my family AND an after Christmas here (happy memories seeing as I got engaged!) - it's pretty much like Christmas out of a story book.

There's London which is similar to New York in the 'christmastime in the city' feeling. Bustling crowds of Oxford Circus (uh, I would actually avoid this.  It's the scariest thing I have ever seen), tiny lanes lit with Christmas lights, pubs filled with mulled wine or hot Pimm's (alcohol seems to always take a central role in my merriment).

In the north, where my family resides, the snow falls gently over the rolling landscape.  Placing a wonderful icing atop the stone fences and steeples that dot the countryside.

There is nothing I like more than enjoying a brew (that's British for tea) with my funny and wonderful family, while overlooking the Darwen hills.  It's the same scene that was seen by my grandmother, her mother, and her mother before that.

Of course, stopping at a country pub is also a highlight.  Oh, and eating British comfort food like pot pies, potato pie, toad in the hole, fish & chips  . . . .  is it any wonder I gained weight last New Year's?

I also love British Christmas traditions like waking up to my present filled stocking at the end of my bed and eating chocolate oranges.

It's all like a Jaquie Lawson postcard.

4.  France

I want to be in France most times of the year.  And from my understanding, the traditions are wide and varied from town to town.  On the German border, Strasbourg resembles its' German cousins.  With bustling markets and medeival buildings lit for the holidays.  Lyon windows are filled with candles to celebrate the Virgin Mary. Loire Valley chateaux are brimming with holiday decor suited to their history.  Yule Logs being consumed day after day.

It's all magic.

And you can skate on the Eiffel Tower.

7.  Japan

Ironic considering how unpleasant the Christmas was for me.  The prelude to December 25th was an entirely different matter.  I was lucky enough to travel most of the island from November to December as an 'honored' guest. Meaning I was treated to nice hotels and fancy meals.  I made a best friend in Japan that I think, to this day, was one of my soul mates.  Nothing romantic, just someone who I loved deeply and shared a wonderful bond with (despite the language barrier!).

With him, and a few of the Japanese cast members and my precious Kate-san (the only other white girl for miles around), I discovered Sapporo's busy streets and sidewalks, Osaka with its cozy noodle houses, and, my odd favourite, Sendai.  Sendai is what you picture when you think of Japan.  Narrow alleyways draped with flags and lanterns.  This is where I tried my first roasted chestnut that melted in my mouth.

Outdoor onsens (baths) were this foreign treasure where the women sat (yes, naked) under cold full moons our breath steaming up the night sky.

Japan was as far away as possible from our Canadian Christmas.  It could be the memories or the fact that although terribly far away, terribly foreign and different, Japan still offers a Christmas season full of tasty treats and unique experiences.

6.  A farm/Cabin/Cottage

This location can be anywhere really.  Growing up, I spent Christmases at my grandparent's farm in Southern Alberta.  In my memory it is ideal and sort of like 'Muppet Family Christmas' sans the muppets.  The trees covered in hoar frost (ick word), Grandma's treats filling the kitchen (ginger snaps, butter tarts, and popcorn balls - oh my!), presents covering the entire floor of the farmhouse living room.  We probably got too many presents - I'm not kidding - the gift-wrapped madness stretched at least 20 feet.

Those days are sadly long gone.  My grandmother always told me to believe in Santa because he was the spirit of Christmas.  With that in mind, I've always wanted to cozy into a cabin in the woods with ginger snaps, or lakeside cottage with wood-burning stove to welcome the spirit of Christmas.  Tea, cookies, fires, and falling snow are the perfect combination for a magical holiday.  I have those happy memories to keep me warm (to quote a Christmas carol)

And Scattergories.