Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

The holiday season is upon us. There are so many things I love about this time of year. Lights! Christmas carols! Watching a fireplace DVD! (oohhh) Trees decorated with lights! Planning an ultra fabulous meal! Feeling the warmth of loved ones near and far! (ahhh)

It is freakin' cold. The trusty puffy coat I bought from the men's section at Old Navy like 7 years ago that adds 10 pounds to all the wrong places is once again my constant companion. Recently I was wahhhing about getting out of bed and facing...who knows what outside....will it be raining (il pleut)? Hailing (il grêle)? or just burr-tastic (tres froid)?
zero filter!
As I was settling into the idea of finally following the grandpa from Willy Wonka and never getting out of bed again, Joel lured me out with the incredible sunrise over the canal next to our place. Oh my goodness. In an instant, I was re-filled with complete and utter gratefulness.

As of Christmas 2014, I will have missed 4 out of the last 5 Christmases at home. Much to my poor mother's dismay, traveling for long periods of time remains one of my most favorite things ever.

Tree shopping with mom in 2011, my last Christmas
at home. Joel got to partake in the epic and brutal selection
process for the perfect tree.
2012 was my worst Christmas ever as I was SO sick and had to work...therefore, there are no photos. So here's one of the many jolly Dunkin' Donuts ads I saw whilst in Korea.

Christmas Day, Thailand, 2013. All I wanted was to sit here, drink a piña colada, and chill.  
Despite many awesome adult Christmases, none compare to my AMAZING Christmases as a kid.  My mom is generally awesome (and I know she's reading this so hayyyy ma!) but her awesomeness became, like, Iron Man/Ruth Bader Ginsburg status on special occasions. Birthday month, no-holds-barred Halloween candy eating, and the year's crème de la créme, CHRISTMAS. Mom loves 3 things in this world- Jesus, parties, and family, and the trifecta lights up (literally) on December 25th. Adding the fact that grandma's birthday is Christmas Eve and the whole holiday season is just bananas for the Malan crew. There's every single dessert known to human kind, advent calendars, online advent calendars, pre-Christmas holiday festivities, approximately 172 emails, and overall enough hooplah to last a lifetime.

Interestingly, the epic Christmas excitement has not translated to adulthood. I like Jesus fine, but don't care for going to church nor the depiction of him as a blue-eyed white boy (in the Middle East? Schyeahhh right). Far more intense is my STRONG dislike, inching toward the H word, for overconsumption, particularly calendar-dictated overconsumption. I've boycotted Black Friday for years and have expressed my distinct lack of interest in gifts, unless the person really wants to give me something, because that's just nice and fun. My issue is with the, oh I have to get you something on this particular day, the more the better so you know I really care! mentality. I don't think a person is bad or wrong for thinking that, I think it's so ingrained in our culture that many (most?) of us feel bad or wrong if we don't feel that way.

My favorite part of having Christmas away is that I can buck all the traditions I don't care for and just enjoy the stuff I like.

One complication has popped up this year, however. I babysit two girls, ages 4 and 9, who LOVE stuff. Toys, dolls, coloring books, puppets, costumes, you name it. They haven't yet seen trash island or learned about slave labor (God bless 'em), and they think stuff is simply fun. So I've been facing this dilemma- do I buy them something for Christmas?
Photo credit: Start With the Heart

My initial idea was to make some elaborate project, which just didn't happen. I also know that like all children, toys are number one for these little ladies. So, I bundled up and went to the center of town determined to get these little ladies some stuff.

Long story short- I bought no stuff. The Made in China princess toys, the plastic boxes of crap, the overpriced kits they'll forget about in a few months...I just couldn't do it. I wandered from store to store, each bustling with list-carrying adults and children screaming "mama!" from two aisles over. I looked, contemplated, and eventually put the item back, time after time. As you can imagine, this became quite frustrating. Finally, I had a little conversation with myself.

I have been doing A LOT of self-helping lately. I'm drinking the Koolaid of personal improvement all day err day. I'm reading, meditating, affirming, mantra-ing, thanking, questioning, seeking. It's awesome and challenging. Most recently, I discovered Byron Katie. If you don't know who she is, check her out right meow. She wrote Loving What Is: Four Questions that Can Change Your Life, which is truly extraordinary. To super duper sum up her deal, you put all stressful thoughts under Inquiry aka you do The Work by asking four questions. So I started doing this with my shopping dilemma. I figured out that I felt like in order to show the girls that I care, I had to buy them stuff. But that's not who I am, and that's not how I show people I care. I'm their babysitter, not someone else, so I should express love in my own way.

So, I made them an ornament with their family name on it, and a little card to go with it.
The back. I think they liked it :)

The front of the ornament

The lights of the Christmas market.
We have enjoyed the MANY Christmas (haven't seen any other holiday celebrations out and about) festivities here in Nancy. The French are obsessed with Christmas. The bus reader board's say "Joyeux Noël!" instead of their destination. A Christmas market popped up downtown with 20 stands serving waffles, churros, candy, and vin chaud (hot wine aka the love of my life).

There was a Saint Nicolas parade last weekend. I went with Céline, my awesome neighbor/language exchange partner/friend and my new friend Martha, a British student working as an Au Pair and taking French classes here in Nancy.

An American. French and Brit enjoying the festivities (and free soup!)
We passed by the parade starting point before it began and were surprised to see a big elephant. We kept going and saw a bunch of clowns juggling.
One of the cool mechanical animals. Its eyes moved!
Then we saw some jesters warming up on their stilts. Céline, who is from Lyon (the Fête des Lumieres or Festival of Lights is held here, which is f*cking amazing. The city spends a metric buttload to project elaborate stories onto buildings in the city), only a few hours south of here, but she was equally perplexed about this Cirque du Soleil-esque "Christmas" parade.

It turns out that since Nancy has a parade for Christmas every year, they like to change up the theme. Can I just say how much I love France? Enough people were like, "Christmas themed parade AGAIN? Nah, let's do the Renaissance," which was actually the theme a couple years ago. They've also done "tales," which sounds rad, and this year was circus-themed. Mechanical and elaborately painted circus animals, a merry-go-round, mimes, and marching bands (one of which had a penchant for instrumental Lady Gaga) covered the street.

Another fun event that Joel and I attended was the Saint Nicolas "Pyrotechnics Spectacle," which was VERY interesting. A little background about Saint Nicolas: Here, he is NOT Santa. Saint Nicolas is the Patron Saint of Lorraine (the region Nancy is in). He looks like this:
Credit: Nancy Tourism website
Apparently he has a "big hoop earring" and is "very unpleasant unless he's around children," according to a woman I chatted with. At the pyrotechnics spectac, there were loads of fireworks and an astounding amount of people trying to cram into the Place (town square) trying to see them and hear the story. We couldn't really follow the story from where we were, but at one point we heard a familiar song. "Uhhh is this the song that plays in Kill Bill when Uma kills Lucy Liu?" Indeed, in the snow when Lucy Liu gets the top of her head cut off an epic song plays, which now played during the Christmas spectac. They also featured the main song from Lone Ranger. Lolz.

Clearly confused, I asked one of the girls I babysit to explain it to me. This is the story, verbatim:

All the main streets were lined with confetti
3 children get lost in the woods and end up at a house. One doesn't have a good feeling about it, and all 3 end up being chopped up into little pieces and put into a really old chest. No one knows what happened to them. 7 years later, Saint Nicolas is going to buy beer -

"Wait, what? He's buying beer?"

Yeah. But while he's there, the lady says, I am sad because my children have been gone for 7 years. Saint Nicolas says, I will avenge their death. And he goes to the man's house in the woods and says, I really like your chest, can I buy it and everything inside of it? And then he and the man fight. And then Saint Nicolas makes the kids come back to life.

I asked her about the Western music. She shrugged and said he has a donkey so maybe that has something to do with it. Amazing.

I will end this post with a life lesson from the same evening. As I mentioned, it seemed the whole region (including the two of us ) was desperately trying to see the fireworks, but we couldn't see much of anything.
Our firework view from the plaza...weak sauce!
We needed to get to the other side, which required going around the block. Joel and I kept going back and forth on whether to stay where we were and make due with what we had (mediocre view at best), or try to get the other side, possibly missing the rest of the show, but possibly getting a much better view.

Well, like I said I've been on a big self-help kick, and part of that is a No Settling policy. Instead, I go for it and kick as much ass as possible and, most importantly, trust that the universe has my back. So we booked it out of there, and stood just outside the plaza assessing our next move. Then we realized that right there, 30 feet away from the packed view-less space, was an amazing view with hardly anyone there because they all thought they had to get into the plaza to enjoy the show. The experience really resonated with me. Go for it. If you think you're worthy of something and make an effort to get it, rewards follow.
Our view when we decided to go for it

                              Happy Holidays from Our Home to Yours!!! xoxoxoxo