This year we spent another Christmas here on our own and I think we are getting the hang of it. The UK does Christmas well, there are the increased crowds at the mall and commercials for the latest and gre atest toys but the focus isn’t on mad holiday shopping but more on markets, fairs and Christmas dinners.
Christmas markets are everywhere for a period of about 6 weeks. Each town has their market, the schools hold them and any large organization, like the NCT, has one as a fundraiser. They range from small fundraising events like the market at Kellen’s school this year. In the week leading up parents baked, put together candy packages and some things were donated. Then on a Friday morning the school was opened up and kids and parents walk from room to room spending 50p here and there. The whole place was decorated and it was both overwhelming and exciting for Kellen. Father Christmas, Santa Claus in our house, was there and the kids had a lot of fun eating candy and cupcakes. We also went to a large market in Winchesterwhich we were told was one of the best in the UK. It was like a postcard with the ice skating rink in the middle, wooden stalls with small vendors selling food, gifts and crafts. Each market was a fun to tour and felt much more like a special holiday season activity as opposed to going to the mall to check presents off the list.
Another Christmas must is the Christmas meal out with friends. This year we went out with a few other couples for a night out. As the little kids get older using a sitter is getting easier and easier so it’s nice to go out with other adults for a long meal every once and a while. The coffee group I have been going to since moving also had a Mom’s dinner out. There were 10 of us and it was a lot of fun to get to have conversations without being interrupted constantly by little kids. The next night all the dads met for a curry and beer night. I think each of them was pushed a little by their wives to go but in the end they had fun. Jamie had enough fun that the next day he had a rough morning…
Christmas eve the kids spent the day watching Christmas movies while I made a big turkey dinner. That night we sat around the table, did our Christmas crackersand wore our crowns. After dinner the kids excitedly brought all the presents down and put them under the tree. We let them open one gift each and the little ones went off to bed so that Santa could come and enjoy the cookies we left out for him. Christmas morning Jamie and I actually woke up before the little ones but as soon as he heard us Patrick was up and downstairs as fast as he could get there. We had to break it to him that we weren’t starting presents without Kellen and Ella so we actually had time to get ready before getting started on stockings and gifts. I think this was our last year not being woken up by an excited little kid. Kellen really understood what was happening this year and was ready to unwrap anything he could get his hands on. Ella was pretty much set once she got her stocking but we convinced her to keep going. Kellen did generously help her open a few of the last gifts. At 8:00am we did Skype with the entire Pelaez family to wish them a Merry Christmas, for me the most special moment of Christmas will always be midnight. We did get a kick out of the limited Skype conversation since it was mainly the kids all trying to cram their face in front of the camera with chaos behind them. That afternoon we went to the Purcell’s house for a relaxed Christmas dinner, it’s been so nice to have not only fellow Americans but people from Seattle to share this experience with. They have been here for 5 years so were invaluable especially the first year for questions and clarifications as we got settled. Normally we aren’t as industrious but this year we took everything down on the 26th. Since we were headed to Scotland we didn’t want to have to get home on the 3rd to a dead tree and Christmas clutter so we actually got the house fully back to normal, complete with a trip to the tip to dump all the cardboard.
On the 28th we got the kids up early and jumped in the car to head up to Scotland. I was looking forward to the trip but didn’t have any real expectations for what Edinburgh was like or even really the Scottish countryside. We LOVED Scotland, the site of mountains and pine trees, Georgian row houses, castles, cathedrals, and endless sheep, was amazing. We rented a flat that ended up being the lower floor of a Georgian row house in the Stockbridgeneighbourhood in Edinburgh. I didn’t want to leave, it was a rental so needed some work, but it was in an area full of row houses build around circuses and crescents that formed this great neighbourhood. There were small parks for each set of homes and anything you could need was within just a few blocks walking distance. I was essentially living my dream city life for a few days. The city centre was about a 10 minute walk away and the flat was surrounded by small restaurants, bakeries, cheese shops, coffee shops and of course a Sainsbury local was very convenient. We ended up eating in every night other than New Year’s Eve because it was so easy and the kids loved all the room they had to run around up and down the long hallway in the flat. The first day we explored Edinburgh walking all the way to the Edinburgh Castle then down the Royal Mile. The city itself was beautiful, a lot more stone then the brick you see in England. We stopped at the National Gallery on our walk home so the kids could recharge with a hot chocolate and Jamie could attempt to start teaching Kellen about Degas and Monet.
One of the things we loved about Edinburgh was that while the city was great within a 20 minute drive you are out in the country. The countryside is a mix of the kind of fields you find in England and more hilly/mountainous terrain. It was refreshing to be around real trees. I guess growing up in the northwest the need to see large evergreens has somehow been programmed into me and finding myself surrounded by mountains (well mountain by UK standards, think the foothills), snow and evergreens was so nice. We saw lochs, castles and cute villages as we forced the poor kids to go on an all-day drive with us. They didn’t seem to mind too much when the breaks were running around old castles and candy was supplied generously.
We were there for 6 days and we explored around the city, visited the National Gallery of Modern Art, explored Holyrood Park, and spent a lot of time just relaxing and watching movies with the crazy kids. Edinburgh is known for the Hogmanay celebrations so the city was in full swing that night. From the sidewalk we got to watch the giant firework display and could hear the crowds cheering at midnight. If we had the opportunity to live in Edinburgh we would take it in a minute. We figure it may not happen with young kids but it was the kind of place we will add to our daydream list of retirement destinations.