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Yes. It is March, and I am putting up my Christmas post. Whoops.

They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year — and I believe them. I consider myself somewhat of a Christmas evangelist (not to be confused with a christian evangelist, which is something else entirely and to my knowledge involves less wearing of red suede elf boots) — I deem gift wrap to be a competitive sport, I have a neatly-labeled bin under my bed labeled Christmas Attire and I start cranking up the carols the day after Thanksgiving. To those that find joy in the aloof rejection of holiday hoopla, I implore you — have a cookie. Here, I baked several batches in search of the perfect Martha Stewart recipe for Santa.

From a new outfit for Tucker to a carefully considered annual wrapping scheme to the attendance of my friend Matt’s annual Latham Christmas bar crawl, Christmas 2014 was all set to be the best year yet.

Christmas Cocker Spaniel

Christmas Wrapping Paper

Christmas Bar Crawl

Yet in reality I somewhat struggled through the holiday season. Six weeks of gray skies and surgical stress left me feeling adrift. My moodiness was compounded by that extra layer of guilt at not being all smiles — after all, at the moment I only spend the holidays at home every other year. Why was I wasting my precious time in tears?

Honestly, I’ve struggled with how to write this post — do I go for honesty and come off as the Grinch that I actually realistically was this year, or do I just blow smoke and gloss over the gloomy bits to present myself in the best light possible? After much contemplation I chose to show you my authentic whiny, brat self, because I can’t have you go thinking I’m a reasonable human being all the time or anything crazy like that.

I am, however, a determined one. So in spite of my cloudy mood, I cracked open that Christmas Attire bin, pulled on my elf boots, and tried to make merry. As usual, one of the highlights of the season for me was throwing a big, over-the-top dinner party for my hometown crew (though I did, true to this post’s theme, find some things to whine about).

Merry Everything Invitation

I started throwing this party back in high school, long before the advent of Pinterest upped my tablescape game. I love throwing parties. Whipping up invites, preparation crafternoons, and of course, spending time all gussied up with my nearest and dearest.

I’m still figuring out the kitchen bits and the logistics, but on the creative side, nothing makes me happier than going crazy with a few cans of spray paint, a couple yards of raw burlap and a stash of my mom’s borrowed Christmas ornaments and trying to make something beautiful happen. This year was a true labor of love. Exhausted from my surgery, it took every ounce of energy I had to throw this party together.

Green and Gold Christmas Dinner Party

Joy To The World Banner Sign

Cute Christmas Decor

Every time I throw this shindig, I take a step forward and learn something about how to successfully throw a dinner party for fourteen. This year, I learned to ask for help on the food front. I made one appetizer (a tree-shaped cheese plate), one salad, my traditional (extremely labor intensive beef briscuit) main course and one dessert (the recipe I’d tested out at Thanksgiving). Oh, and duh — one round of cranberry jello shots, also sparked by their Thanksgiving success. The rest was hand-delivered by my guests. Everyone is always asking what they can bring anyway, and so this year I told them — appetizers, side dishes and drinks. And for once I didn’t feel like I was flailing in the kitchen. It was amazing.

I did take one step back, however — after spending days crafting away over all the decor ideas I’d dreamed up, I didn’t stop and take photos until right before guests arrived, and the sun had long since set for the day. Without natural light all my photos came out frustratingly dark and yellow, and I was so annoyed with myself for not capturing something I’d spent so much time and money and effort on. I also didn’t set up a group photo booth as well as I had in previous years, and was irritated at myself for that later too. In general, I just couldn’t be bothered with my camera, which I regretted almost immediately after the fact.

Green and Gold Christmas Dinner Party

Peace on Earth Sign

Green and Gold Christmas Dinner Party

Green and Gold Christmas Dinner Party

Green and Gold Christmas Dinner Party

But, well-photographed or not, I’ve never loved my Christmas table more.

Green and Gold Christmas Dinner Party

Especially surrounded by these people.

Christmas Dinner Party 2014

Yes, after a laughter and adorable-snack filled happy hour, we made our way to the table to continue telling inappropriate tales from our high school years and do our best to embarrass each other in front of the brave significant others who have joined the group post-graduation. I never get sick of recounting the good ol’ days, and catching up on the new ones.

Christmas Dinner Party Appetizers

Cranberry Jello Shots

As the years go on I realize over and over again how rare it is to have had such a solid set of friends in high school, and rarer still to stay close so many years beyond. And I feel ever grateful for this group.

Christmas Dinner Party 2014

Christmas Dinner Party 2014

And that gratefulness extends to my bratty mom and sis, who managed to sneak their way onto a very exclusive guest list. (Just kidding. Cause, you know, it is my mom’s house and all. And my sister’s too. When my ‘lil sis put the below photo on Facebook, she captioned it “My main biddies 4Life.” And it is moments like that that melted my heart and made me feel a little less Grinchy this Christmas.)

Christmas Elf Boots

I do adore this crew.

Christmas Dinner Party 2014

Christmas Dinner Party 2014

Christmas Photo Booth Props

Pretty soon, it was time for the main event — December 24th was upon us. For us that involved an elegant dinner with two close family friends, a low key evening of backgammon and Christmas specials, and a late night church service before a dramatic reading of The Night Before Christmas marked the end of the evening.

Merry Christmas Banner

Christmas Eve Dinner

Christmas Eve Dinner

Christmas Eve Backgammon

After dinner, finally feeling inspired to renew my role as family photographer, I broke out the tripod to attempt some Christmas portraits. Even Tucker got into the spirit… temporarily.

Christmas Eve Portraits

Christmas Eve Portraits

Christmas Eve Portraits

Christmas Eve Portraits

Christmas Puppy Portrait

And then we were off to church. I did a double take when we opened those enormous wooden doors and walked in… to rows and rows of empty pews. Apparently, we’d unintentionally missed our usual service, the one filled with hundreds of voices singing the same carols and hundreds of candles lighting the room to the closing song of Silent Night. Instead, about a dozen bored-looking people stared at wilted poinsettias.

Guys, I can’t sugarcoat it — I cried through Christmas Eve church. And not happy tears at an old tradition, like I usually cry, but tears of the melodramatic, self-pitying kind. I’d spent hours that day in a hospital waiting room only to find out I had a massive infection at my surgical incision site. We’d missed the opening hours of Lights in The Park by seven minutes. It had rained every day we’d tried to ice skate in the Empire State Plaza. And now, here, this Christmas tradition I hold so dear, this was all wrong too.

Christmas Eve Portraits

But in the morning we woke up and found that Santa had left us a fresh set of smiles. We had a low key and relaxing morning — so low key in fact, that these three Tucker-centric iPhone snaps are the only ones I have from Christmas day. But I don’t need photos to tell me that it was a day of thoughtful gifts, sugar overindulgence, and negotiating over what movie we’d take on during our annual December 25th sojourn to The Spectrum.

Christmas Morning 2014

Christmas Morning 2014

Christmas Morning 2014

Yes, Christmas 2014 was a little bit of a roller coaster for me, emotionally. It wasn’t my most joy-filled trip home. But you know what? When late December rolls around again, and I’m settled somewhere in the Gulf of Thailand, I bet there’s only one place I’ll wish to be.

Merry late Christmas guys… in March! Next stop, New Orleans.

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26 Comments...
  • Janice Stringer
    March 10 2015

    Hi Meihoukai,
    It may not have been the greatest time for you but it was great to see your photos as you spent time with family and friends. You may have had a grinchy christmas – over here in the UK ours can be ‘Baa humbug!’
    My mum and dad are dead and christmas was my mum’s most favourite time of the year, so it can have a tinge of sadness, combined with the happiness I find in spending it with my own children and husband.
    Travel is always best for me at this time of year because as a person I then rise above that tinge of blue I feel. Attempting to save to see the northern lights christmas 2015 to chase always those blues!
    I love the effort you put into your dinner parties – it makes me feel very happy that your effort is appreciated. It can be horrible when noone does. Sorry to hear about your infection… things like that running round your body can increase the emotional issues that arise when the blues appear.
    Hope your feeling happier now. šŸ™‚
    Janice Stringer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      I’m sorry to hear your holidays are bittersweet, Janice — I can only imagine. You might be right that I’m not giving my infection enough credit for the emotional toll it might have taken!

  • Love the decor for your Christmas dinner party! I’m super impressed you were able to pull that all off with all the other drama going on with your health. Nice work and hope next Christmas is less tear-inducing!
    Sonja @ Breadcrumbs Guide recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      Sonja, if there is one thing I have learned, it is that NOTHING, not hell nor high water nor surgically removed tumors, will stop me from throwing a dinner party. šŸ™‚

  • Gwen
    March 10 2015

    I love that you guys have an annual Christmas movie. My family has been doing that as long as I can remember–it’s so much easier to get a good seat on Christmas!

    It sounds like this was a tough one for you, but you still got some great memories out of it. I find that those tend to be the ones that stick around in our brains long-term.

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      Actually, at our theatre Christmas is packed! But it’s the only thing we get out our pajamas for šŸ™‚

  • becky hutner
    March 10 2015

    The burlap invite + the hats on the photos = everything. You are one of the most creative people & DEFINITELY the most festive person I “know.” I’m sorry you were so down this Xmas. If it’s any consolation, I was miserable!
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      Yeah, that’s kind of what prompted me to go “real talk” on this post — most people I know struggle with emotional ups and downs during the holidays, I guess it was about time my perma-cheer caught up with me!

  • Jill
    March 10 2015

    I think your reactions to changes in tradition (and hello… surgery stuff!) is absolutely normal. I think the nostalgia/tradition part of holidays that we love so much can also backhand us when things (inevitably) go wrong. Don’t beat yourself up too much for being a Grinch… we have all had those moments. You’re blessed to have family and friends who love you just as you are… isn’t that what we really celebrate? šŸ™‚

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      It is indeed, Jill. And I know I’ll be missing them sorely next year!

  • Marni
    March 10 2015

    I love every single picture in this post, and that’s probably because Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday and one of my favorite times of year overall. I’m sorry so much was weighing you down, but from where I’m sitting, it looks like you still hosted a fabulously fun party! Plus, Tucker’s reindeer get up is quite possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen.

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      He is pretty adorable, isn’t he? šŸ™‚ He definitely brought me immeasurable cheer this season!

  • Sky
    March 10 2015

    Always appreciate your honestly, Meihoukai! I’m a crazy Christmas lady myself but there have been some years where I just wasn’t feeling it. The rest of our lives, unfortunately, do not stop because we want to be in the Christmas spirit.

    But hey, at least you got to have some great memories with your hometown crew! Still amazes me that you are still so close with high school friends!
    Sky recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      I hope to resume my crazy Christmas-ing next year and every year hereafter šŸ™‚ Being in a bad mood wasn’t fun at all, though perhaps I should cut myself a bit more of a break considering my health woes.

  • Katie
    March 10 2015

    Thanks for sharing your reality. It’s frustrating when things don’t go to plan and it must have been so stressful finding out about the infection, but glad you had some fun times over the Christmas period too.
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      Indeed. It was a rollercoaster — lots of crying in the corner and lots of laughing in the living room šŸ™‚

  • Angie Away
    March 10 2015

    Well, on the bright side, you don’t LOOK Grinchy. Tucker wins that award this year! You planned a stunning party for someone going through so much. I can’t imagine your skills when you’re in top form! Speaking of event planning… can I pay you to plan a certain ginormous event I’m working on in October????
    Angie Away recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      Um, you mean and launch my dream career of planning lavish parties with other people’s money? Consider this my formal acceptance.

  • Chris
    March 10 2015

    Xmas is for many people one of the most stressful times of the year (especially when there is so much expectation & money is short)!

    I think you’ve made the most of an incredibly stressful time and come out looking like a winner!
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      Thanks Chris. Indeed, the holidays are typically a very stressful time for many! For once, this year, I could relate.

  • Justine
    March 10 2015

    I feel like spending Christmas with family always has it’s ups and downs. And I honestly have a good cry or two every single year. Even still, the good always overshadows the bad. And I can honestly say that I’ve missed my family holidays desperately the last two years. And I’m sure you will recollect last Christmas with nothing but fondness when you’re in SE Asia in December. I have to say I would have been an emotional wreck too if I were recovering from surgery and battling an infection. I’m mean you’re allowed to be a little grinchy šŸ˜‰
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      You guys have definitely made me realize I need to cut myself a bit more of a break, considering all the work my body was doing behind the scenes to heal from surgery. A few good cries were inevitable!

  • looks like such a fun tradition! I did something similar through high school and college called the annual christmas extravaganza. I would make life size invitations and drive around delivering them. One year i covered the pool table with foil and bought all the supplied for an entire gingerbread town .. we have a ski slope, ice skating rink, houses, school, etc all from candy! I haven’t had Christmas home in 4 years and really miss that!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 11 2015

      Okay Rachel, this is why you are my spirit animal. You’re amazing! I think I need to steal all those ideas. And I truly hope that when the day comes that we cross paths, it’s in December!

  • I love the red boots and you should wear them ALL the time.

    Love the decorations, as usual. Time with family really is everything!
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 12 2015

      I might just have to bring them to Thailand with me for next year! They are pretty magical šŸ™‚