Christmas was a bit hectic this year. We moved a week before Christmas and barely had time to get up decorations before the 25th. But we did find time to do some festive stuff.
We went to the Festival of Lights at VanDusen Botanical Gardens, luckily on one of the few dry December evenings. Astrid had a blast riding the carousel multiple times.
We went to Christmas parties at my work, Astrid’s daycare, and Christina’s house.
We had have a lovely Christmas Eve/Hanukkah/Winter Solstice dinner at grandma’s place.
We started a new tradition with matching Christmas pajamas.
We opened Christmas presents with Baba and Gigi on skype and Astrid had a blast playing with her new toys and games. We try to minimize the focus on presents, but she still enjoyed the ones she got from her family – like her fort builder, binoculars, and new books.
2018 was Astrid’s 3rd Christmas, but the first one where she really got into the swing of things. She spent most of November saddened that Halloween was over and missing the giant inflatable Frankenstein at the community centre, but once the Christmas decorations went up she was super excited about Frosty the Snowman, singing carols (like Jingle Bells), and Christmas trees.
We tried to get some good Christmas photos this year by doing a professional photo shoot, but it was a bit of a disaster as Astrid was in a foul mood. We still got a few decent shots out of it, so it wasn’t a complete waste.
Astrid had a Christmas party at daycare, featuring a visit from Santa Claus. She was really excited about it, until it was her turn to sit on Santa’s lap. Then it was all tears and acrobatics to try and escape. She wouldn’t even open the present Santa gave her, long after we had left the room. She’s not wrong though – there is something creepy about sitting on a funny looking stranger’s lap.
We’ve decided that as Astrid grows up we’re not going to pretend that Santa is real and that he only gives gifts to well behaved kids. The lying and blackmailing just doesn’t seem worth it. She’ll still get presents and a stocking on Christmas morning, but the presents will be from her family. This year, it wasn’t an issue as she never asked where the presents came from, she was only concerned that they were for her.
On Christmas Day we opened our stockings, made latkes for breakfast, opened the bigger gifts from relatives, and then played with toys. Astrid got the perfect amount of toys – a few new things to keep her interested without overwhelming her. She was most excited about her new toothbrush, the playdough ice cream shop (which was actually a present from last year that we kept in her closet and rewrapped this year), tinker toys, and penguin book.
In the afternoon we went over to Grandma’s for a traditional Ukrainian Christmas dinner with our extended Vancouver family, complete with kutia, borscht, perogies, cabbage rolls, beans, bread, pickles, sauerkraut, and non-traditional (but tasty) pumpkin pie. We were supposed to host the event, but with Grandma still on house arrest we brought all the food to her.
Astrid had fun playing with her cousins – they read stories, played doctor, and ran around playing hide-and-go seek. The age difference shrinks every year.
Emily and I have been thinking more about the Christmas traditions we want to establish. We’re pretty happy with stockings on Christmas morning with latkes for breakfast, and a traditional Ukrainian dinner with our extended family on Christmas Eve. I’m also committed to making an ornament each year with a photo of Astrid holding last year’s ornament – the recursion makes me happy (although I’m sure it will annoy Astrid at some point). Next year we want to start two new traditions – buying matching pajamas and a new family board game.
Merry Christmas to everyone, from our family to yours. We’re looking forward to spending a quiet Christmas morning with our darling daughter, eating latkes, and opening a few presents. No big showing from Santa here.
Our family stopped giving presents a few years ago, and I’m grateful for that. Only the kids get something small. The adults in my mother’s extended family do a homemade gift exchange – this year the theme was painting or drawing. Emily and I painted ornaments, and liked them so much we made a few extra for our own tree.
We had our Vancouver family over for a Ukrainian Christmas Eve feast – complete with kutya, borscht, perogies, vegan sour cream, cabbage rolls, beans, mushroom gravy, creamed kale, bread, pickles, and a fruitcake for dessert. Almost all of the food was home-made and vegan (except the perogies which we bought at the farmer’s market and the kutya which has honey), and it all tasted delicious. Ariella even braided a fabulous challah that was glazed with maple syrup and coconut oil. Astrid got to try her first spoonful of borscht and eat some of the sweet potato perogy filling, and I think she liked it.
It wasn’t a purely traditional Ukrainian meal, more of a fusion of cultures to match our family. We started eating at 3:30 instead of waiting for the first star, so the little ones could get to bed. And we lit a menorah to celebrate the start of Hanukkah.
It’s Astrid’s first Christmas and we’re spending it in Vancouver this year, so we thought it would be appropriate to get a tree. However, 1) our building doesn’t allow real Christmas trees; and 2) we really don’t have space to set up a full-sized artificial Christmas tree (or store it the rest of the year). So, we needed to get creative.
In 2013, we used a small potted spruce as our Christmas tree. Sadly he died last winter.
This year, after searching for creative Christmas tree ideas, we decided to make a wall-mounted Christmas tree from garland (inspired by this blog post).
It is hard to feel festive when travelling through a hot, predominantly Hindu nation in December. So it is fitting we spent our Indian Christmas in one of the coldest spots in the south. We spent 4 days at Karuna Farm, a working farm with guest cabins perched above a terraced hillside near Kodaikanal, a hill station in the Western Ghat mountains. It was a unique Christmas experience and unlike anything else we’ve experienced in India.
The most memorable visitor on Christmas morning was not Santa Claus (who did leave us socks stuffed with fruit and chocolate) but a cheeky monkey who stole a bag of flour while I cooked Christmas breakfast (fresh chapatis) in the outdoor kitchen. The monkeys here are cute but terribly mischievous.
The farm is set in a tropical paradise, with buildings spread out in the dense vegetation. When we arrived the valley was cloaked in a dense cloud and it was impossible to tell how high we were and how big the farm was. Occasionally the clouds would dissipate giving a fabulous view of the peaks above or the valley below.
Karuna Farm is an interesting mix of permanent residents (some expats and some Nepalese farmers), volunteers, and guests. Every morning at 8:30 we had a yoga class lead by one of the residents. She is an excellent yoga instructor and every class focused on something new. The yoga studio is a gorgeous building with a stunning view of the valley bellow. Our yoga classes were the perfect start to each day.
We didn’t have much to do each day but relax. Our days consisted of yoga, cooking, eating, hiking the winding trails, talking to other guests, and sitting around. The mornings were usually clear and then the clouds would roll into the valley bellow, making it look like we were floating in the clouds. We found a great 2-hour hike up to a peak above the farm with views of the surrounding area.
There were a few nice places to sit and reflect. The Rock – outcropping near a terraced farm; and The Pool – a waterfall with a shady spot to sit.
In December it was cold, at least by Indian standards, especially when the sun went down. We had to wear all of the warm clothing we brought (fleeces, jackets, and socks). In some ways it was a welcome change from the heat of the coast, but we froze our butts off at night. Our little hut was very basic, a roof and 4 walls without any source of heat. A few warm blankets is all we had.
Information for other travellers:
– the restaurant serves good, cheap food (menu). Dinner is free but the timing of the food is erratic. We brought groceries with us and cooked breakfast and lunch, but there is no need.
– there is a big difference in quality of the cabins. We stayed in Shanti (not recommended) which was tiny and had a rudimentary outdoor kitchen and no source of heat. Jamune and Ganga are much nicer with indoor kitchens and fireplaces. All cabins have pit toilets. There is cold running water.
– the cabins are very spread out. Some are next to the restaurant and some are a 10 minute hike. See map with some cabins labelled.
– filtered drinking water is available in the restaurant.
– food is all vegetarian and alcohol and drugs are prohibited.
– there is basic electricity from solar panels, enough to charge a mobile phone. That said, cellular reception is sketchy. You can get a weak signal sometimes at the restaurant, or a stronger one if you hike up to the viewpoint.
– to get to the farm, we took an overnight bus into Kodaikanal and then called for a jeep to drive us to the farm (400 rupees). You can get to the farm by local bus and a 30 minute hike, but the bus only runs twice a day.