Tag Archives: holidays

Our First American Christmas

xmasHaving experienced our first American Christmas, many people have asked about the differences.  Without our family and friends Christmas was always going to be different. In some ways Christmas was more relaxing without rushing off to visit relatives and in others  a little of the Christmas spirit was lost.  The good thing is that with Skype and Video Kinect we were able to talk to family and friends at various points through the day and the grandparents were able to watch the kids open their presents.

The Christmas tradition here is different in many ways, some take a little getting used to whilst others are a breath of fresh air.

Holidays

It took me a while to get used to the American reference to Holidays rather than Christmas. At first it seemed too politically correct. Being invited to a Holiday party and school letters referencing Holiday gifts was very odd. The lack of emphasis on any one festival is nice but still feels a little strange; for me it will always be Christmas.

I took the children to see the switching on of the Christmas lights at the City Hall.  This turned out to be simply turning on the Christmas tree lights, accompanied by a school choir singing songs about snow and jollity but not the traditional Christmas carols I expected.   It appeared at first that the word Christmas was a taboo but over time I began to hear Christmas references more frequently.  I read an article by a Jewish lady talking about how tiresome it was as a child to  be asked what Santa was bringing and have to explain her faith time and again. I’m beginning to see the merits of the term ‘Holidays’ but I’m not a full convert yet.

Decorations

Christmas decorations and lights started to go up in the neighbourhood as soon as Thanksgiving was over. Outside decoration seems to be as important as indoor, yet somehow it’s all a bit more tasteful than the UK . No house looks like it’s been adorned with the contents of Poundland. Lights are put around the roof or to light a pathway, beautifully lit ornaments are placed on lawns and every door displays a Christmas wreath.  Perhaps it’s just that the houses and plot sizes are bigger that avoid them looking like they’ve been spewed on by the tinsel fairy. I’m slowly trying to blend in, I turned my old garland that I made when we were first married into a wreath and hung it on the front door and I’ve put a snowflake light in the window. Next year I think I need to research in advance how to power all the outdoor lights and decorations so we can sparkle with the best of them.

Food

Once Thanksgiving was over I expected the supermarkets to be full of Christmas food. We found Christmas cookies, candy canes and egg nog but where were the beloved mince pies? It appears that Christmas cookies are an American tradition. Not gingerbread cookies or spicy lebkuchen that we would associate with Christmas but ordinary sugary cookies in Christmas shapes. Traditionally they were hung on the Christmas tree and left out for Santa.

My kids love mince pies, we would eat them every day from when they appeared on the shelves until we had exhausted our stack of reduced ones from the January sale. When the cashier at Waitrose told us that their bakery stock individual ones year round, the girls jumped for joy and we would sometimes pop in for a treat. So how would we cope this year?
After searching around and almost going as far as making mincemeat from scratch, I  was relieved to find a jar of Robinsons mincemeat. The girls and I made a batch of mince pies. My pastry was a disaster, even the dog worried he may break his teeth. So I resigned myself to a Christmas without mince pies. That is until I discovered the delights of Cost Plus World Market, where we found mince pies (all be it at $7 a box) along with Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding, Cadburys biscuits, pickled onions and other treats like Marmite and Birds custard. We were all set for a traditional Christmas.

Snow

hyak sno parkOne of the best things about living here in the Winter is that a 40 minute drive takes you to snow. You have all the fun and beauty of snow without any of the inconvenience. We had a wonderful time at Hyak Snow Park tobogganing and building snowmen  and the view was just like a scene from a Christmas Card. Perfect for my 4-year-old who believes that there is always snow at Christmas.

Gifts and Cards

Rather than sending Christmas cards, the neighbours left little treats like cookies and chocolate brownies on our doorstep. What a great idea, this is definitely something we should adopt in the UK. We baked a batch of mince pies (they were substantially better than the first batch) and the girls and I delivered them to the neighbours on Christmas Eve.

In all our first Christmas in America was pretty special  and hopefully in future years we will have family or friends to share it with us.

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Christmas at Butlins

butlins christmas

This Christmas we decided to take a break from our traditional way of doing things.  We visited Butlins Minehead Resort courtesy of the Butlins Mums Ambassador Programme. We usually spend Christmas at home, but I can thoroughly recommend a Christmas Butlins break for taking the hassle out of Christmas and spending quality time with your family. We did many things on the break that are not unique to Christmas, these will feature in a later post.  This is our diary of the special things that are available on a Christmas Butlins break.

23rd December

We checked in at our Gold apartment and were immediately greeted by some lovely added touches.  The dining table was laid with a Christmas cloth, wine glasses, crackers and a bottle of bubbly and when the children checked out their bedrooms they found a lovely little gift each on their bed.

snowman
(Not pictured on a Butlins bed)

We then headed to the Yacht Club for dinner.  The children were given Christmas cookies on arrival while we were allocated our table (guests keep the same table for the duration of their break). The dining experience was a real highlight of the break.  Not only did I not have to cook but the quality, quantity and choice of food was excellent.  Food and drink were on a self-serve basis and the children enjoyed coming to make their own choice of food and using the machines to get drinks. The meals ranged from 3 -5 courses and included a bottle wine . Our meet and greet host Mark also deserves a special mention for his exuberance and energy and for going out of his way to make sure we were happy. The children loved his illuminated tickling stick.

Christmas Eve

Butlins had a special visit from 2 of Santa’s reindeer and we visited them in the morning.

reindeer

The girls and I spent the afternoon in the Skyline Pavilion. We watched the puppet show and danced with Angelina Ballerina but the highlight  was Bjorn the Polar Bear. This amazing animatronic polar bear was so responsive and lifelike that the children were captivated.

One girl was chosen to be the first to interact with Bjorn and when she called his name he turned and walked towards her.  All the children had a chance to hold their hand out for Bjorn to move towards them to be stroked and as a finale he rose onto his hind legs when the audience clapped and made a noise like a seal.

The snow globe looked like great fun with its simulated snowstorm, character photo shoots  were scheduled here during the day. Unfortunately, by the time we considered going in (on Tuesday) it had lost some of its juice and the snow wasn’t falling and blowing properly so we decided to give it a miss. Next time I’ll make sure we get in early.

During the afternoon the housekeeping staff visited with a bag each containing a carrot for the reindeer and a mince pie for Father Christmas.

The girls filled out their letters to Santa included in the welcome pack. We intended to post them on our way to Father Christmas but by this point the post box had closed and we were too late.  I believe had we been on time the girls would have received a personalised letter from Father Christmas.

We had a pre-booked time slot to visit Father Christmas in his Enchanted Forest. The children loved being met by the Gingerbread Man and a fairy as we entered the  Forest and each had a good quality gift from Father Christmas (this incurred no extra charge).

On the way to dinner we caught the end of the firework display and my 3 year old who is afraid of fireworks was very brave.

After dinner  we headed to Reds for a few drinks, and to catch the Take That tribute band.  This was followed by an Adele tribute and Beatles tribute, but these were a little late for our kids.

When back in the apartment the girls hung their stockings on the tree ( we took a small table top Christmas tree with us) and put out the carrots and mince pies along with Santa’s magic key (Butlins apartments don’t have chimneys).

All of the Butlins staff went out of their way to help during our stay, this included the security man who helped carry presents to our chalet at 4am. As a minor suggestion if you are considering a Christmas break at Butlins, leave some of the presents at home. The time and space it took to load, unload and unwrap all the presents was a little overwhelming!

Christmas Day

The girls woke up very excited that Father Christmas had visited Butlins. Remarkably, we managed to get the girls to breakfast before opening any presents. On opening the door they found this note from the man himself.

The morning was taken up opening presents and we headed for Christmas dinner during the mid afternoon. Today the little table in the entrance was laden with chocolates, fruit and nuts and a glass of Bucks Fizz for the grown ups.  Our places were adorned with crackers, chocolates, a box of party poppers, rocket balloons and streamers, a bottle of fizz (yay!) and a little wrapped present for the baby.  We unwrapped it to find a Billy Bear bowl – very useful as I had been feeding her snacks from a china bowl in the apartment up until this point.

christmas dinner

The meet and greet staff soon arrived with children’s crackers and Billy Bear cups for each of the children. A traditional 5 course Christmas Dinner left us all suitably satisfied, before heading back to the apartment for my Christmas Dr Who fix.

In addition to regular Christmas television, the Butlins television channel showed the Redcoats favourite Christmas movies, this helped to keep the children amused.

Boxing Day

Today was our pre-booked time slot for the pantomime Aladdin. This was great fun and the girls really enjoyed it. It wasn’t too long and included plenty of catchy songs.

We spent the afternoon at the funfair before coming into the warm for coffee and hot chocolate while the girls enjoyed softplay.

carousel

For the evening entertainment we made our way to Reds for a Robbie Williams and Girls Aloud tribute and a bit of a boogie. The girls had made friends with some of the children we met at the restaurant and stayed up late dancing and playing with them.

27th December

Time to check out and say goodbye.  I can highly recommend a Christmas break at Butlins. It was great to focus on the children at Christmas rather than visiting and entertaining. I would love to do it again with a large family gathering …. I wonder if I can persuade my family to book for next year?

  • This Christmas break was in Gold Standard accommodation with the Premium Dining package (Dinner, Bed and Breakfast) at Minehead Resort.
  • At the time of visiting my children were aged 7,3 and 1.