A Tale of Three Christmases

The first 25 Christmases I had on this planet were pretty standard. Every year I can remember, we had family over to our house. Over the years, the numbers fluctuated, but in the last few years, they were mostly going down. As my cousins grew up and moved away, older relatives passed, our Christmas got steadily quieter. It went from us kids providing the entertainment, to our pets providing the entertainment. Which they do quite well.

When I left the U.S., I pretty much accepted the fact that I wouldn’t always get home for Christmas. And while I miss my family, of course, I also pretty much know how it’s going to go, and what conversations I would (or wouldn’t) be missing. The last few years have proved pretty interesting, so if you’re bored, click on… there will be pictures! And everyone likes pictures, right? I mean, if there are pictures, that means less words, doesn’t it? Anyway. Click on!

2009.
My first Christmas away from home. Also the first Christmas away from home for my two roommates who were in the “Too poor to fly home” boat with me. Or didn’t have legal paperwork to leave the country. Small details. But we decided we would rally, cook, and generally make the best of our situation. Luckily, my roomie Karl was a pretty rockin’ cook, and was able to put together a veritable feast. 

We went out for a Christmas Eve walk around the city. It was raining just a bit, and the streets were almost empty. In the Czech Republic, the real holiday is on the 24th, so the tourists were the only ones left. The Czechs were all out at their cottage, presumably feasting on carp soup and potato salad.  Karl and I wandered about, counting Christmas trees, and he even managed to get me into a midnight mass.

And that’s not even all of them. Prague has a lot of Christmas trees.

The next day, we got up “early,” and started cooking. Here’s a quick rundown of our menu….

Appetizers: Bagel Chips and Cheese
First Course: Italian Wedding Soup
Second Course: Pasta with Meatballs and Roasted Chicken!
Main Dish: Roasted Venison (with Karl’s secret ingredient: 10000lbs of butter)
Side Dish: Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
Side Dish: Asparagus and Carrots
Dessert: Strawberry Dumplings with Berries.

We started cooking at about 10am and had the last course at about 2am. We also had a box of stuffing that we forgot to make, and dessert came the following day because we couldn’t eat anymore. And for entertainment, we of course had some sweet decorations and Christmas movies. See….

Our amazing Christmas tree. Which is lashed to a lamp. And when we unplugged the TV to plug the lamp in, we lost our satellite forever.
Amazing decor.
Artful presents.
More artful presents. We liked hand-decorated wrapping.
Presents under the tree.
Yes, we made up a drinking game to the best Christmas episode of “The Office.” Behold, the Benihana Christmas drinking game.
We also drank Becherovka with Bing.

It was a bit of a ridiculous day, but it was really fun. Eating, drinking, trying to connect to family on Skype, and just generally having a good time. So the next year when it looked like everyone was going to be gone from Prague, I was happy to have a back-up plan.

2010.
I spent Christmas last year in Germany with ex-Freund and his family, who had flown over for the holidays. It was my first time with a family besides my own, and he’s not a big fan of them. So it was pretty interesting. We spent the days before and after Christmas doing some traveling, but Christmas Day was spent at home. It had good points and bad points, but it was a pretty typical family Christmas. We had more food than we knew what to do with, and entirely too much German beer. Luckily we had help to drink it all.

The Villagers and their family also stopped by for a few hours, and we had a good time hanging out and playing games. A particular favorite was this one called “Werewolves.” It’s a role-play game, but was a lot of fun. If you’re a werewolf, you get to murder people, and who doesn’t love doing that to your family on Christmas?

Which brings us to this year and my triumphant return to the U.S….

2011.
I was pretty excited to get to tell my Grandma that I was coming home this year. And two seconds later, I told her that I wasn’t sticking around. And why not? Well, because my friend had secured four tickets to the Packer/Bear game at Lambeau Field, and one of those tickets was mine as long as I could get here! Luckily, my family is all Wisconsin born and bred, and they understand that Packer tickets are something that you do not turn down if you can help it. So our normal family Christmas was slightly amended to work around my schedule. We started off with the normal morning at home….

Kaylee kept up the Christmas tradition of eating as much wrapping paper as possible while we decorated her with leftover ribbon. Because she’s the prettiest girl in the world. And you remember when you were a kid, and you got candy (ok, and socks) in your stocking? 

Yep, in my old age, candy has been replaced with vitamin D. I maintain that M&M’s are better for you. But the handwarmers/footwarmers would come in handy for the game.

After the family arrived, we did some quick gift-opening, because I had to hit the road. And by hit the road, I mean take pictures while driving up to Green Bay because I was bored.

Ah, scenic Wisconsin in December. It’s prettier with snow, but I was quite happy to have clear roads for a 2+ hour drive. Especially since I’ve clearly been spoiled with public transportation because I was way too easily distracted while driving. Not good. I guess that means I have to stay car-free. 

But the end of the drive came soon enough. I stopped for my friend Alicia, and we made our way to the tailgate party in Green Bay. Luckily, my friend Courtney’s aunt and uncle live two minutes from Lambeau, and were happy to host us before the game since Courtney and her husband were taking the 3rd and 4th tickets. Everyone was properly attired in an absurd amount of Packer gear, and we got ourselves prepped for gametime. 

Court shows off her Christmas present… Packer bibs!
Ready to go to the game!

When we got to the game, we wandered around the tailgate area for a while. We soaked in all of the bratwurst scent, beards, mullets, and choruses of “Best Christmas ever!” out in the parking lot.  Then it was time to pile into the stadium….

The hallowed ground of Lambeau Field.
With 70,000 of our closest friends.

The first sight of the field. It’s so pretty!

Our seats were in the very top row, but there really isn’t a bad seat at Lambeau. Plus, that meant we had the green wall behind us which means a backrest, and no need to worry about people behind us. All around, a pretty good deal. 

View from our seats during warm-up.
More warm-up.
America! Yeah!
Opening kick-off.
And Aaron Rodgers takes the first snap of the game…
which led to yet another Packer win!
The girls after the game.

After the game, it was back to Courtney’s aunt and uncle’s house, where we warmed up and recuperated before heading back to Alicia’s house for the night. I think we got pretty lucky temperature-wise, as it was in the 30’s for most of the game. Needless to say, Lambeau has seen much colder nights. But the handwarmers did get some use. 

So that’s it. My very long-winded tale of three very different, but pretty good Christmases. Hope you all had some good ones as well! 

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