Sure, I guess technically Christmas is still 5 days away but it kinda feels like we've been celebrating it for the past 4 weeks already. Holidays seem to be more like seasons when you have kids, with so many different things going on.
On Thanksgiving weekend, the girls and I went to a local shopping center while John and his siblings, who were all here celebrating together, held a family business meeting. The girls didn't really want to go anywhere that day since it was lightly raining, but I enticed them to leave Grandma's house with me by promising them that we'd try to find Santa. Of course I realized what a daunting task this was going to be. Seeing Santa on Thanksgiving weekend, amidst all the holiday shoppers and zillion other Santa-seeking kids, but I couldn't come up with a better idea to give John and the others some peace back at home. I knew we'd be in for a monster wait but if the girls could endure that I promised them hot chocolate afterwards.
We got to the mall and found the set-up for Santa, totally devoid of anyone waiting around, and one of the elf/woman/photographers was preparing a sign that said "Santa will return at 6pm". It was about 1:30. "Oh no, we missed him!" I said. "No, you didn't, I'm just getting this ready for when Santa takes his dinner break. He's here!" The place was totally empty. He stood up from his seat with his arms stretched out and the girls all ran right to him. I couldn't believe it. Less than 5 minutes later they were done talking to him, the pictures were printed and paid for, and we were done.
"Now we get hot chocolate!" Allison exclaimed. Uh, yeah, that was such a grueling outing, I can see why you'd be thirsty now. A little ways down the mall was a Starbucks (sigh), and with no better alternatives in sight we headed in, only to discover the mass of people I was expecting to see earlier. It wasn't too long of a line to place an order but we waited, and waited, and waited along with a crowd of about 20 people at any given time for our drinks.
Everyone was gathered in a tight huddle and when the server would place a drink on the counter a hush would come over the crowd so that everyone could here the all-important calling out of the drink owner's name. An excited winner then surged toward the counter with an out-stretched arm while the rest of us let out a collective loud, heavy sigh.
After about 25 minutes and 50 or so "Mom, WHERE is my hot chocolate?" our order was ready. Overpriced and ridiculously slow service, as always. I don't understand why these places are so popular.
After the drinks we stopped to listen to some musicians play Christmas tunes and after a few minutes of that I figured we'd been gone sufficiently long enough and we went back to Grandma's.
Next up was a couple of events at the German school. One saturday in mid-December was the huge Weihnachtsmarkt after classes ended, with all kinds of food for sale, crafts and other gifts, music, and a Christmas show put on by the children who attend the school full-time. This event draws a really big crowd every year, there were hundreds of people. Some of the parents were making and selling fresh waffles and hot apple cider among many other things and the girls were just inhaling the waffles, while John and I ate some of the best bratwursts and rolls I've ever had.
A week later was the final saturday class of the year and the saturday school kids put on their own little show. Kate and Allison's class was first, singing a German Christmas song and for the first time ever, Kate actually sang along and looked like she was having a good time.
Erin's class did a lot more. They performed a skit and sang two songs and had some simple costumes and props. Erin was one of the angels.
Advent Calendars are a hugely popular and widespread xmas tradition for German children. I only really learned about these things last year so when I was in a store in late November and saw some cute Weihnachtsmann (Santa) advent calendars made in Germany, I didn't pass up the chance to get them. There are 24 little pockets marking the days in December before Christmas and inside each is a different little piece of chocolate. So all month the girls have looked forward to their advent candy every night after dinner. I think this will be a fun new tradition for them.
Just after picking out our tree with the girls, John rediscovered an electric train set he had boxed up and hadn't set up in years. After getting it to work again he placed it around the tree.
Last year, since we were spending our last few days in the apartment before moving into a hotel, we didn't do any elaborate decorating and our tree was only about 3 feet tall. John promised the girls that this year we'd get the tallest tree that could fit into our house. Our tree this year clears the ceiling with about 2 inches to spare, and it's a beauty. After the train was put in place the girls got busy decorating the tree and John's job became moving the concentration of ornaments from below the 4 foot level to some of the higher branches while they weren't looking.
"This sure is a beautiful tree!" Kate the contrarian announced, "But I think the little one we had was better."
This week the girls' school held a fundraiser at a local bookstore and adjacent pizza restaurant, where a portion of the sales at each place went to the school. The teachers took turns reading Christmas stories to the children and we were given the schedule ahead of time so different children showed up throughout the evening in order to hear their own teachers reading. My girls were very excited about this event and they reminded me of it several times a day for the whole week preceding it.
Erin's teacher is seated on the right, in the burgundy sweater, she was first to read in the lineup.
Later in the evening was Allison's teacher and finally, Kate's.
The last big pre-xmas plan was cookie baking with Grandma. She made and chilled the gingerbread dough ahead of time so when we arrived the girls got right down to the business of fighting over who gets to stamp what shape and where and how many into the dough.
After they were cut they fought over who got to decorate which gingerbread pieces with which decorative candy. Feel that Christmas cheer!
And finally they got to fight over who got to stand on which step ladder and help Grandma pour ingredients into the mixer for Christmas cookie phase 2: the famous green trees.
These are Jeff and John's favorites so Jeff and his girlfriend Jacqueline helped stamp out the trees onto the baking sheets. A few minutes and a few time-outs later, the cookies were all done, and started disappearing immediately.