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Hi.

Thanks for visiting Joy42. Follow along on my adventures as an American Expat, a newlywed, and someone trying to figure out how to take care of myself. I hope to encourage you to seek out the little joys in your life.

Christmas in England

Christmas in England

I know it's now 5 January, but I just have one last Christmas post, this time documenting our Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Then I think I can promise I won't post about Christmas again until after Thanksgiving 2018.

I wanted to make the traditional Christmas breakfast my mom usually makes, so I started baking on Saturday evening. I made mushroom pie, which is basically just a mushroom quiche, and cream cheese breads. Side note, I spoke to my sister Rachel a few days after Christmas and she asked me why I kept calling them cream cheese braids on my blog and my Instagram because no one calls them that. Now I don't even know what's true because I know that someone has called them that, but Luke also kept making fun of me, saying it sounded like I was mispronouncing the word "breads". So for my dignity, let's just call them cream cheese breads from now on. Anyway, I made the pie almost without a hitch, but the recipe calls for baking the crust for 5 minutes before adding the filling and since I don't have any pie beads and the crust wasn't hooked over the edge of the dish, it all collapsed into the middle and became one big doughy mess. The second time, I skipped that step, even though my mom warned me it might result in a soggy bottom pie. She was right, but it was still great. I also made the dough for the breads, which she suggested making in 2 batches since each batch only makes 4 breads and I wanted 8. The dough needs to be chilled for at least 8 hours, so I popped them in the fridge before bed and got up early on Christmas Eve morning to finish them up.

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I found a Hallmark Christmas movie I wanted to watch (Rocky Mountain Christmas, 4/5 trees because I enjoyed the Colorado nostalgia) while I made the breads. I made the filling and then cut each ball of dough into quarters so they could rise for another hour. It was time consuming waiting for them to rise and only being able to bake 2 at a time, but I was really pleased with how they turned out.

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Luke and I spent the rest of the day watching Christmas movies and finishing my list in our 2016 Christmas PJs. We finished How the Grinch Stole Christmas, during which we had both fallen asleep the night before, Christmas Vacation, Office Christmas Party, Love Actually, White Christmas, and finally It's A Wonderful Life.

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We had Kraft mac & cheese for lunch (it's worth nothing because that's a rare find in the UK), some Christmas cookies and amaretto hot chocolate in the afternoon, and Chinese take out for dinner. I also made a holiday Moscow Mule that I saw on Instagram:

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The recipe Katie posted called for cranberry vodka, but--surprise, surprise--we couldn't find it, so I made a simple syrup instead. Our copper mugs hold a lot of liquid, but it was a good ratio just topping up the mug with ginger beer because they weren't too strong. The first time I made it, I also tried "frosting" the cranberries and mint leaves in the syrup and sugar, but, DUH, the sugar just dissolved as soon as I put them in the liquid and didn't even last long enough for a picture. I also forgot to use a cinnamon stick that night, but we loved them and have had them a few more times, this time adding the cinnamon.

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We changed into our 2017 Christmas PJs from Fatface after dinner. Spending the whole day in PJs is not a bad way to spend a day, let me tell ya! Before we went to bed, we read two Christmas stories: The Polar Express and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, my favourite! We weren't able to finish It's A Wonderful Life since I FaceTimed with my mom to get some advice on the breads and we wanted to read. (Of course we left out cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer!)

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On Christmas morning, we got up at about 8:00 and went downstairs. I popped the pie in the oven since it needed a good 45 minutes to warm through, Luke started making coffee, and then we opened presents.

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Luke got an espresso maker, which made him ask why I let him start his old coffee maker, to which I responded I didn't want to spoil the surprise. He also got a home brew kit, a scarf, gloves, and a cardigan. With the peacoat I got him for his birthday, he was all ready for the cold front! I got a FitBit Alta (I used to have the Charge HR, but it finally broke about a week before Christmas after about 2.5 years.), hair curlers, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (illustrated edition), an angel for my Willow Tree nativity with a candlestick to use as a stand, and a 3-in-1 lens attachment for my phone that I was surprised to discover my dad actually picked out. Way to be up on the technology, Dad! We also both got ornaments, which is another tradition in my family. We had the hardest time finding any that we even mildly liked and ended up picking one for each other at the grocery store the weekend before. Luke's is the felt polar bear that goes quite nicely with the felt penguin he got last year (pictured in the corner) and mine is the plaid dog, which goes well with a few ornaments I have like a herringbone deer and a houndstooth moose.

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We had breakfast and some Buck's Fizz (kind of like mimosas, except it's 2 parts champagne, 1 part OJ instead of 1 and 1) and watched a bit more of It's A Wonderful Life, but still didn't finish. We had to get ready to go to Luke's parents' house since it's about a 2.5 hour drive, which I mostly slept during.

At Luke's parents', we opened our Secret Santa gifts. I got a few house plants and Luke got a record and a game. They also decided to do a Lucky Dip, which is basically White Elephant. We had £5 to spend at a charity shop and we drew numbers (or in this case, reindeer) to see who would go first. Luke ended up with a beanie after attempting to steal a statue of 3 meerkats that we actually brought and I got a little coffee pot for the hob. It was a lot of fun and it meant a lot that his family adopted something that my family has done in the past in a really fun way.

We had a delicious dinner of beef and turkey, roast vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding. We played with the games in our Christmas crackers and enjoyed the company! Luke's mom's cousin was in town with his wife and sister-in-law from New Zealand and we were chatting about where we were from only to discover they have friends who live in my hometown, Longmont, Colorado, whom they met while living abroad in Japan! Their names sounded familiar, but I don't think I actually knew them. Still, what an incredibly small world!

Before we went to bed, Luke and I finished It's A Wonderful Life, but I actually fell asleep AGAIN during the last 5 or 10 minutes.

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The next day was Boxing Day, which I got a surprising amount of questions about. So, here's a bit of a history lesson on the holiday from Wikipedia:

Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated on the day after Christmas Day. It originated in the United Kingdom, and is celebrated in a number of countries that previously formed part of the British Empire. 

There are competing theories for the origins of the term, none of which are definitive. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest attestations from Britain in the 1830s, defining it as "the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box".

The term "Christmas-box" dates back to the 17th century, and among other things meant:

A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.

In Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect "Christmas boxes" of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary entry for 19 December 1663. This custom is linked to an older British tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.

In South Africa (a former British colony) as recently as the 1980s, milkmen and garbage collectors, who normally had little if any interaction with those they served, were accustomed to knock on their doors asking for a "Christmas box", being a small cash donation, in the week or so before and after Christmas.

The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.

It's my understanding that in its current iteration, it's a lot like Black Friday, but maybe not as intense. There are a lot of sales going on, but it's kind of been shadowed by Black Friday itself, which has started making its way to the UK. It seems like a lot of people spend the day being lazy with their family, playing with their new goodies from Christmas. It's a bank holiday, which means almost everyone has the day off and large grocery stores are closed. You're basically only working if you work retail.

We started our Boxing Day with a breakfast feast and then opened some Boxing Day presents that Luke's parents got for everyone from a local charity shop. I'm obsessed with mine! It's a book of guided tours for a ton of cities and towns in the UK. It's from 1990 and Luke told me right off the bat one of the stops on the Birmingham map no longer existed, but it's really cool and shows what all these towns looked like the year I was born!

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We went for a long walk along the river with Luke's sister and her boyfriend, with a stop at a swanky bar for a drink, before heading back to Birmingham. We were picking up our friend's dog, Mia, to watch for the next few days and were kind of worried about her being alone in their house after a bit of miscommunication. It started pouring as we got into Birmingham and Luke dropped me off at home to get started on dinner while he went to pick up Mia. Eventually the rain turned to snow, which was really exciting! If only it had been a day (or two) earlier! It snowed all night and was still on the ground the morning of the 27th, but it was sunny enough to start to melt the snow and turn the whole city into an ice rink for the next few days.

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We had decided to get a Christmas gift from us to us during the Boxing Day sales, but we were debating between a GoPro and a camera. We ultimately decided to get a camera that has video capabilities. We decided on the Panasonic Lumix G7, a mirrorless camera, which was my number one condition since they're significantly smaller than DSLRs. It came with two lenses: 14-42mm and 45-150mm. It has Wifi, which means we can send photos to our phones via the app, as well as control the camera from our phones (like if it were on a tripod or something). We've only played around with it a little so far, but we're excited to get to know it better and to take some really great photos! Somehow it makes me want to go on a trip... Anyway, we need to get a good bag for it and our friend Pete recommended we get a 50mm prime lens to compliment the two we have and--eventually--I'd like to get a tripod as well. Maybe next year we'll get the GoPro, but only if Luke agrees to only ever wear it on his head!

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It was a great first Christmas in the UK, our second Christmas together, but our first Christmas while married, all of which made it really special. It was nice to have a lazy Christmas Eve and be able to include some of my family's Christmas morning traditions into our day before spending some quality time with Luke's family as well.

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