Okay. Hands up. What shouts ‘CHRISTMAS!’ to you?
Is it the first sign of a chill, the kind that cuts through any number of layers of clothing?
Maybe the first fall of snow (I can hear you laughing from here, Australia).
Or perhaps the come-September appearance (i.e. too f*cking early) of pimped-up Christmas baubles (how great is that word?), as if under the cloak of night.
It kinda depends on what the season means to you, right?
Cast your mind back 12 months. I’ve certainly been doing a bit of this lately. 12 months ago, we’d just arrived in America. We were jet lagged, culture shocked, and living with a bunch of rental furniture upon which was piled our suitcases, washing, and clean clothes all in a single, ridiculously large pile.
The calendar told us it was Christmas, sure; we loved the lighting displays, the food, the (dorky) jumpers, the candlelit dinners and howling fireplaces. It felt like a Northern hemisphere Christmas. But we didn’t quite get the full effect of the lead-up while settling in and all.
The feeling now? Bliss.
You KNOW I’m a holiday girl. I’ve shouted about it many, many times before. 12 months down the track, I’m thanking the good glitter-clad Christmas gods that I’m now so comfy here that I – and my family – can settle into the totally American, OTT Christmas spirit.
Are you ready? We’re going all out. 12 months in to our all-American Adventure, here’s my Top 6 Things making me feel all festive and holiday-like!
1. Official Christmas tree lighting ceremonies
Okay, so I wrote a little about this before. Tree lighting ceremonies are somewhat of an institution in the States. They can take a whole variety of forms, each sitting somewhere on a continuum of simple/local (here’s a sweet little doco-style take on the Palo Alto ceremony of 2012) right through to Swarovski crystal Rockefeller style.
Anyway, the first video gives you somewhat of an idea of the Palo Alto tree lighting vibe. Tree lighting ceremonies are, to me, much more cute, intimate and effective in smaller towns. You wouldn’t call Palo Alto small, of course, but attending the tree lighting ceremony has certainly offered us that welcome, overarching sense of community spirit we’d been missing until now.
There’s so much to do at a tree lighting ceremony, and it’s an especially magical event for kids. Families gather to sing Christmas carols, drink mulled wine (or hot choc and cookies for the kiddos, of course), and – of course – watch the tree get lit.
The loveliest thing is that it’s a really community-minded, community-feeling event. Usually, a local personality or Council member will open proceedings with a speech about all things nice – taking care of each other and embodying the holiday spirit, for example – after which everyone will count down (10, 9, 8, 7…) and the tree will come alive (cue happy children’s faces).
2. Finding and decorating the Christmas tree
With the town Christmas tree lit, it just wouldn’t do not to have our own, right?
In terms of picking one up from the local shops, the situation isn’t so different from Australia. You can buy a beautiful, fresh tree from a roadside stall, the supermarket, or even your local Whole Foods (which is what we did last year). Although, truthfully, we always had plastic trees back at home in Australia!
But in 2018? We decided to make it a family affair! Yes… we headed off to a Christmas tree farm.
Now, I’m a sucker for sustainability, I have to admit. I’ve tried to cut down on our rubbish output this year which is trickier than you might imagine in a society founded on capitalism and materialistic ideals – ha! Still, I’ve never thought too much about where those beautiful Christmas trees might come from. Or if the industry’s sustainable. Or what kind of conditions they need in order to grow so beautiful and bushy like they do!
I was on a mission to find out.
Of course, the day we picked presented us with absolutely terrible weather (it was raining and pouring like you wouldn’t believe) but we plowed ahead, totally jolly and full of holiday spirit (sickening, yes?). We rocked up at Black Road Christmas Tree Farm, took one look at the giant hilly field of perfectly plump little trees, and basically squealed with glee. All five of us.
Still, questions raced through my brain…
Where on the trunk do we cut?
Maybe you leave in the roots?
What if we don’t find the perfect tree? What will the Christmas gods do to us then?
Well, what we learned – from Robert, the Christmas tree farmer – is that many of the trees we were looking at had regrown over 40 times. You see, if you cut the tree about a foot up from the earth and leave six or seven branches behind, the tree regrows within a couple of years! Magic, huh?
And so, we found the perfect tree, made a decision about how we’d lug it back down the hill (of course, the perfect tree was right in the middle of the farm), tied it to the top of the car, and drove it home to decorate.
Speaking of which, decorating has totally been one of my favourite moments of the season so far.
This year, Cam and I sat back with a glass of wine (pure bliss), relinquished all control, and let the girls do the decorating. This included everything from selecting the tree ornaments (Coco’s favourite being this totally hideous, pink, glittery pig with silver wings… see below) to popping the star on top.
Hours of fun/wine. Everyone wins, right?
I can totally see cutting down our own tree and decorating it becoming a tradition, by the way. I was even gifted this beautiful Australian eucalyptus wreath by a friend to pop on the front door. Special, right? I knew I couldn’t give up full control…
3. Visiting Santa at the shopping centre
I have to admit… I’ve seen kids being forced to say hi to Santa before and have felt pretty pained by the whole experience. Kids should be given a choice as to whether or not they’re comfortable with that, right? That’s what I think, in theory anyway…
Lucky for us (and in a big plus for the holiday-related photo opportunity side of things) though, the girls were feeling okay about getting involved… this year at least!
We traipsed on down to Stanford Shopping Centre to catch up with Mr Claus once again. This Santa, the Stanford Santa, is a total institution in the bay area, and families travel from far and wide each year to meet him.
Why? Well, for starters, his beard, complexion and rotund belly are totally real. Everyone swears he’s the real Santa! He also has this warm, generous and relaxed vibe about him; his Santa jacket is always hung up beside his chair and he wears an assortment of colourful, long-sleeved tops with braces.
Totally believable. And totally magical.
As for the girls’ interest in this whole palava, this gives you an idea of the feeling from last year (note Cece’s face):
And this year? Despite the hilarious, totally lobotomised expressions that only really scream yep, here’s Santa… now, where are the presents? I think we did okay.
Whaddya reckon? Hopefully 2019 is a little better on the photo front.
And as for what the girls asked for…
Clara – a nutcracker doll (the ballet production of which was her surprise 5th birthday present!)
Coco – a supergirl doll (onya, baby), and
Cece – a rabbit (okay… an actual pet rabbit… but she’s probably gonna forget about it, right?)
I should have asked for some whisky for us too…
4. Going ice skating
Now, it might surprise you to hear this, but I’m definitely no ice skating fiend. I mean, you know I’m hilariously uncoordinated, right? Encase those unco feet in sleek shoes fitted with super-slicing blades and it’s a total recipe for disaster.
At least that’s what Cam thinks. Although the girls are incredibly excited (see: actually waking up having dreamt about it), I think it’s safe to say that Cam is not.
Okay.. maybe I’m not so much either. I mean, ice skating around Christmas time is a bit impractical in Australia. 40 degree days don’t really mix with ideal conditions for the preservation and enjoyment of an ice rink now, do they? Still, I remember the ice rinks of my childhood… hire-in marquees filled with million-watt power generators operating at full steam just to keep things frozen. Truth be told: I’ve never been brave enough to step onto the ice…..
In fact, one of my friends told me a story about her Uncle’s rink, set up at the centre of a tiny town in regional Northeast Victoria, and upon which he used to take great joy in sprinkling diluted red food dye just to scare the little ones.
Okay… so maybe I’m a bit freaked out too…
Regardless, I really feel we have to be the adults here. The girls are SO incredibly excited to go, and ice skating is a total institution here in the States.
Update: we went! I popped my skates on, panicked at the slipperiness, held onto the railing for a meter, then turned around and jumped off the ice. Not my finest moment.
5. Silicon Valley holiday parties
Silicon Valley tech firm holiday parties are the stuff of legend.
Why? Think large-scale, thousands of attendees, international DJs, even Beyonce, for goodness’ sake … I’d forgive you for not being able to imagine it, simply because of how crazy huuuuuuge they’re known to be!
Need some inspo? Check out this Silicon Valley employee’s recount of attending a huge 11 holiday parties in one year. Massive.
Cam’s firm’s was certainly no exception. I mean, this is what you dream of when you imagine the biggest, bestest, hardest-hitting Christmas party imaginable. Firstly, they split it over two nights. Employees have to nominate which works best for them, and the company then allocates you and your partner tickets to your selected evening.
Hilariously, everyone is dressed up. You’ll remember our initial reservations when it came so Silicon Valley dress code… sneakers, runners, hoodies galore, I’m telling you… but when it comes to holiday party time, the SV Uniform is nowhere to be seen. Nope! Don those floor-length gowns and dinner suits. We’re hitting the town, people!
This year’s party was at the totally majestic Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Not only is it a beautiful space (Greco-Roman in style, complete with beautiful grounds, lagoon (!), and huge venue spaces), but it has a whole 140,000 sq. ft. of inside function area, and 4 special VIP mezzanine areas overlooking the main space.
For this party? There were restaurants. There were bars. There were fully-stocked shops. There were DJs. Hell, there was even an Aspen chairlift installed.
But how did I feel? I felt old, people!
I mean, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being there with Cam. All of that stuff. But I generally don’t enjoy big crowds, and especially crowds of people who you can’t even hear talk due to huge tunes pumping around the place.
You know what, though? At least I can say I’ve done it. Someone get me the t-shirt!
6. Family and friends
All things considered, can you really blame us for wanting to curl up in a ball and huddle by the fire with some beautiful, sweet mulled wine and just be for a while, with our loved ones? Family and friends have got to be the best thing about this season.
Our next two weeks are filled with a huge amount of joy including:
- Cam’s mum’s coming over from Australia
- Having some friends who aren’t going away over for Christmas Eve, and some others on Christmas Day
- Some time off work for both of us!
And not to mention some very welcomed, continued Thanksmas celebrations (yep… that’s Thanksgiving + Christmas rolled into one boozy celebration) which keep us parents feeling very happy.
The main aim? To keep sane. And above all, enjoy it. It’s a totally magical time of year after all.
And you know what? Americans do it well.