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Yesterday, I gabbed on about three of the holidays that kept me entertained and happy at home between my Hawaii trip and my departure for Southeast Asia (of course, I did jet off to Vegas and Florida in between… did I mention I don’t like to sit still?) But I didn’t get to the biggest one of all: Christmas.

Last year, my family flew over to spend Christmas in Thailand with me, my first time ever spending December 25th outside of my childhood home. It felt more like a tropical vacation with santa hats than anything resembling the Christmas spirit, but I was so thrilled to see my family and friends who flew so far to see me that I only had a vague pang of missing out on tradition.

This year, after seemingly endless band and forth, I decided I wasn’t ready to spend the holiday alone on the road, and decided to delay my trip departure until December 26th. While I’m sure I would have treasured those extra weeks on the road, I made the right decision.

A few things make it really start to feel like Christmas — a blanket of snow, my mom’s beautiful holiday decorations covering the house, and Christmas music on the radio. This year, some of my new favorite local bars such as really got into the spirit as well.

What I was most excited about being home for this year? The annual Christmas dinner party that I’ve been throwing for my closest childhood friends since my senior year of high school. Once a year I love to channel my inner Martha Stewart and design cute invitations, set a beautiful table, and believe it or not — cook some real grown up food. This from the girl that once had the fire department called after making Mac N’ Cheese — yes, this happened.

Because this hostess was on a budget (did I mention I was leaving for Southeast Asia in just a few days?) I used all things I had around the house to decorate. Thanks to a lifetime of crafting, that gave me plenty to work with.

The menu was equal parts Things That Are Delicious, and Things That Are Adorable. For example, a Christmas tree veggie platter and Santa hat crackers.

For the main meal, it was just me and Martha. We served (with my Hawaii honey!), , and beef briscuit (recipe torn from the magazine years ago).

For dessert, I got a little ambitious. In addition to my usual peppermint bark spread, I made from scratch and my grandmother’s famous brownie cake recipe. Seriously, it is the best brownie cake in the world — email me if you want the recipe!

But food aside, my favorite part of the evening was a makeshift fireplace photo-booth that the boys barely tolerated and the girls went wild for. This is only the briefest selection of the camera-hamming that went on.

I think the fact that I’m publishing this next photo of myself proves that I’ll basically do anything to give you guys a laugh — especially if it’s at my own expense.

I love starting my own holiday traditions, and this party has always been my favorite. It means getting to do something a little special for friends that mean so much to me while also having a chance to do something creative and fun.

Speaking of holiday traditions, this year we started a new one. With my mom’s boyfriend on my side, I was able to talk my mom, sister, and my friend Steffi (who came from Brooklyn to spend Christmas with me for the second year in a row — last year she came to Thailand!) to go ice skating at the Empire State Plaza.

The sun was setting as we zoomed teetered nervously around the rink, singing along to Christmas songs and enjoying the views of Albany’s most iconic buildings. This was one of my favorite Christmas moments!

Albany Ice Skating Empire State Plaza

Another highlight was the hilariously over-hyped . I am not exaggerating when I saw we waited in line over an hour to drive through Albany’s Washington Park, where a display of blinking neon sculptures apparently attracted every vehicle in the Capital Region.

The long lines could have easily turned to frustration but we laughed our way through. And you know? It was kind of impressive!

 

Before I knew it, Christmas Eve had arrived. Close family friends gathered at our house for dinner before we headed off to Christmas Eve service. Funnily, after a childhood spent arguing with my mom about attending church, now I’m the one insisting we attend. I guess it just doesn’t feel like Christmas unless I’m singing Silent Night by candlelight.

And then, all the preparations and stress and parties and hoopla in honor of this one date on the calendar — December 25th. I’m not going to say there’s a present wrapping Olympics going on, but if there were — this household would win big time.

Christmas morning was me, my mom, dad, sister and Steffi drinking mimosas and opening presents around the tree. I’m a bit of a competitive gift giver and get just as excited to finally have the gifts I gave unwrapped as I am to open up my own.

 

I feel like such a bad hostess — Steffi was being such a good photographer and I was being so lazy that there isn’t one photo of her from Christmas morning! But I am so glad she documented this moment when my Dad opened his big gift from me — a photo book of our dog Tucker, requested by him.

Oh, have I not made it clear that we are crazy dog people? My parents, who are amicably separated, split custody of this well-loved pooch, who gets a stocking and many gifts of his own — like this treat lei from Hawaii.

And he wasn’t the only one! I had my best Christmas ever in terms of both gift-giving and gift-receiving. There was a pretty common travel theme, and while I truly loved all of my gifts some of my favorites were my iPhone (making working from the road so much easier), my sister’s thai-massage-gift-certificate-opuss, some sea-related cookie cutters, and ornaments showing off my loves of travel and photography.

I feel truly blessed to have had such a wonderful Christmas. I have a sometimes-sticky family situation and things have changed a lot since my childhood, but we always come together to make this season special. As I wrote last year from Thailand —

I may be a world traveler and an adventurer and a whole lot of other things, but I’m a traditional girl in a lot of ways. For me, part of the allure of living abroad was escaping the monotonous routine I’m so quick to fall into at home. But the holidays aren’t part of that monotony — they’re one of the highlights of my year. From finding the perfect gifts to hosting my annual dinner party to listening to my favorite Christmas album and a million other small joys — this is what I live for.

However, I know with my vagabonding lifestyle it won’t always be possible to be home for the holidays, and that’s okay too. On my years off I will enjoy the freedom from Christmas consumerism and holiday stress (which did start to wear on me a bit this year), and when possible I’ll cherish the ones I have with family and friends. There’s just nothing quite like the holidays at home.

Would you or have you delayed your travel plans for the holidays? Was it worth it for you? Readers, thank you for indulging me in these slightly off-topic posts! I promise we’ll be back to non-stop travel tomorrow!

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26 Comments...
  • Gaelyn
    January 4 2013

    I love that you put on a dinner for friends and your family gathering is wonderful too. I try not to travel over holidays mostly because so many others are.
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    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      That too is a good point! I’m back in Koh Tao now and it’s the busiest I’ve ever seen it… and I’m not a fan!

  • Aunt Karen
    January 5 2013

    Loved your party pics–you did another amazing job decorating and the food preparations are out of this world! Very enjoyable sharing your holidays. xo

    • Meihoukai
      January 5 2013

      Thanks Aunt Karen! I forgot to mention I had lots of help cooking with my sous chef Steffi! She knows much more than I do about vegetables…. 🙂

  • Dayla
    January 5 2013

    Brownie Cake recipe request! Your party looked like great fun. I felt like this was a home run year for me in the gift giving as well! It’s so much fun to watch someone open the perfect gift!

    • Meihoukai
      January 6 2013

      Dayla, just emailed you the recipe 🙂 Hope you love it!

  • Kathryn Allen
    January 5 2013

    Dog wearing cat-eye glasses! PERFECT!

    • Meihoukai
      January 6 2013

      I didn’t even think of that… love it!

  • Gram
    January 5 2013

    One of my favorite posts of all time!!
    Perfect balance of home- and -away attitude.
    Home and tradition is GOOD.

    • Meihoukai
      January 6 2013

      I agree, glad to share this bit of my home life as well 🙂

  • Linda
    January 5 2013

    Looks like the Tucker book turned out great!

  • Zoe
    January 5 2013

    LOVE

    you, tucker, & your dad reading a tucker book…

    utterly ridiculous.

    and I mean that with all the love in my heart

    • Meihoukai
      January 6 2013

      You would actually love the book itself I think, at least for the LOL factor… I’ll have to show it to you sometime!

  • Kirsty
    January 6 2013

    Christmas at your house truly does look amazing! Next year I am coming to join you =P
    Is it sad it makes me excited for when I have kids so I have a reason to go completely over the top? Holidays at my house just aren’t grand enough! Next year I am going on a mission for them to be more like yours 🙂

    Also….chocolate brownie cake recipe request! You know how I have a slight baking obsession…

    Hope your having an amazing time in Thailand xx

  • Nadia
    January 6 2013

    I would like the eggnog mousse recipe please…. that sounds amazing!

    • Meihoukai
      January 7 2013

      Hey Nadia, it’s linked to in the post there! I have to warn you I found the directions somewhat unclear at time, though I’m no kitchen expert. Mousse was definitely a stretch of my culinary skills, but luckily I had a forgiving audience!

  • Stephen S.
    January 6 2013

    Looks like a great Christmas. I can relate, I was going to travel for Christmas this year, but I’ll be on the road next year too. So I wanted to spend one more with my family.
    Stephen S. recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 7 2013

      At the moment I think it will be the same for me next year, Stephen… Christmas on the road. So I’m double glad I spent this one at home!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    January 6 2013

    Looove the veggy platter. 🙂 All that food looked delicious!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 7 2013

      I think food being pretty is just as important as food tasting good 🙂

  • Jade
    January 6 2013

    Yum! Looks like you had an amazing Christmas. Everything looks so sparkly and Christmasy. I miss the holidays so much already. Recipe for that brownie cake pretty please!

    • Meihoukai
      January 7 2013

      Looking at these photos is making me a bit nostalgic as well… for just a few weeks ago! Recipe sent 🙂

  • Shaun
    January 7 2013

    Great moments! Nothing beats family at xmas. The food, the traditions. Thanks for sharing. I love dogs and he looks so happy except for that photo with the mask, lol!

    • Meihoukai
      January 7 2013

      He’s a pretty good sport 🙂 And a very happy dog!