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For me, and for many other perpetual nomads, it’s a loaded question: Is it worth it to spend the holidays at home? Is it worth it to delay a trip, to cut one short, or to interrupt one in the middle in order to take part in traditional festivities with loved ones?

For me, this year, the answer was yes. Though I was tempted to take off for Southeast Asia directly following my Hawaii trip, I stuck around and I’m glad that I did. As you guys don’t seem to mind when I deviate a bit from straight travel coverage, I thought I’d share a bit about the special events that kept me stateside up until last week! As a passionate lover of pretty much every holiday on the calendar, these events are major highlights of my year.

Halloween

So, some people might not necessarily consider Halloween to be an “important holiday” or “something worth making a fuss over.” Those people are simply wrong.

Or perhaps they have not spent it in New York yet. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, and as it is also my childhood best friend’s birthday I was conditioned from a young age to take it very seriously. Haunted houses, scary hay rides, pumpkin carving, trick or treating… we did it big.

Then I moved to New York City and learned what a REAL Halloween looks like. Foreigners are often surprised at the fervor that Americans celebrate Halloween with, but simply no one does Halloween like the city that never sleeps. It is an art form. For four years I started planning my getup in the summer and spent a small fortune and an inordinate amount of time coordinating costumes, decorations, and baked goods. There were two constants: the parade down Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and my friends’ loft party in Brooklyn.

This year, I flew in on the red-eye from Hawaii just in time for the annual soiree. Because I’m a loser who loves surprises, I only told my friend hosting the party about my arrival. So while we darted around the city all day putting together a mermaid costume, everyone else in our group thought I was back in Oahu. It was perfect.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy got all up in Halloween’s business and rather than stick around for the (eventually cancelled) parade, I booked it up to Albany to escape the storm.

This turned out to be perfect, as I was able to spend the actual day itself with the birthday girl I mentioned earlier. We had plans for a big pub crawl but Sandy’s reach was pretty far — the organizers weren’t able to make it upstate and the event was cancelled. Albany is pretty tame on a Wednesday night, but we certainly didn’t let that stop us.

I actually really enjoyed Halloween last year in Cambodia, and was impressed by the costumes people could put together in a remote coastal town. But still, I missed spending it with my birthday girl and all my other Halloween-crazy Americans. This definitely won’t be something I’ll be able to swing every year, so I really soaked this one up.

My Birthday / The Election

What, you don’t consider your birthday to be a holiday? …Awkward.

I fully cop to being an annoying birthday special snowflake who wants to celebrate big and occasionally refers to her “birthday week.” Guilty as charged. But in my defense, I treat the birthdays of those around me with equal gravity and have been known to throw the odd surprise party or come up with the occasional best gift in the world.

Well, this year I had not one, not two, but three birthday celebrations. The big one was my trip to Vegas, where I rang in twenty three in style. But first I had celebrations in both my New York hometowns!

First up was Albany, pictured above, where my friends gathered for a delicious dinner of and DIY mojitos, followed by a hysterical show at and a night of dancing at The Bayou. It was one of the most fun nights I’ve had in Albany in a long time and I feel grateful that I have so many amazing friends still based in my hometown.

Next I headed down to Brooklyn to celebrate the actual day with my city friends and do my democratic duty at the same time! I actually tried to apply for an absentee ballot — not knowing if I’d be in the country come election day –but appearantly a college degree does not ensure that you can successfully complete governmental forms because it never arrived. So I trudged to my old district and waited in line two hours to vote, and emotions in the air must have been high because my eyed welled with tears when I cast that ballot. I vowed that if I’m stateside for the next election I will spend my birthday volunteering at the polls.

When I arrived back to my friends’ apartment I found my annual birthday bouquet from my Dad, and beautifully designed Baackes Birthday Treasure Map! In the past I’ve always taken charge of my birthday, planning bowling or mechanical bull riding or what have you, but this year I let my friends take the reigns.

Not all of what was on that treasure map can be shared with the general public, but I will tell you that we started at , perhaps my new favorite restaurant, and ended at an election party at Beloved, a new Greenpoint bar. Forgive me for getting a little political, but this year, my birthday wish was answered by the voting citizens of America.

There is nothing like spending your birthday surrounded by loved ones.

Thanksgiving

This is the big one. My family — a group of pretty serious holiday celebraters — hold no holiday more sacred than Thanksgiving. Last year, I Skyped in from Vietnam during Thanksgiving dinner and had to slam my laptop closed when the sobbing got out of control. It meant a lot to be to be home this year.

Thanksgiving at our house has reached up to thirty people! This year it was a much more manageable twelve, with my maternal Grandma being the only actual relative. Everyone else is our honorary family, people we’ve celebrated with for years.

For Thanksgiving Eve we went to , a cute new Albany restaurant that took over the iconic-but-abandoned Miss Albany Diner.

Thanksgiving Eve is actually the most wild and debauchery filled night of the year in Albany. With that in mind, I decided to forgo the Turkey Trot 5K even in spite of my newfound running hobby.

Waking up slightly hungover, we were greeted by a pretty bold flock of Turkeys hanging out in the back yard.

Thanksgiving is all about the food, of course, and my mom sets a beautiful table. Where do you think I got those crafting skills from?!

And as with every holiday — right down to Valentines Day — we have a labeled bin in the basement filled to the brim with seasonal decorations.

When my sister and I were little, we and the other kids in the group always put on a Thanksgiving play. While we often did dramatic reenactments of The First Thanksgiving (complete with costumes and guinea pigs playing turkeys), our best year ever was our original screenplay based on . We slaved over that production for weeks.

We were weird kids.

Another unique Thanksgiving tradition we have in my house is to do puzzles. After the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is over, we’re more likely to turn on the Westminster Dog Show than we are to turn on football. So to keep people entertained we always put out a 500-1,000 piece puzzle. Things get a little competitive.

Maybe not so unique — dressing our dog and ourselves up like turkeys.

Eventually, of course, it’s time to eat. Funny enough almost nothing on the traditional Thanksgiving menu is a favorite of mine. This day has so much less to do with the food and so much more to do with being with family and giving thanks.

Unless of course we are talking about desserts. This year I made (my personal favorite!) and also ! What can I say, I love me some adorable sweets.

Ā Next up, I’ll invite you along for a tour through Christmas in Albany! Do you have any special holiday traditions you celebrate?

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26 Comments...
  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad
    January 3 2013

    My absentee ballot never arrived either! Anyway, great photos and this post solidify my vote that the U.S. has the best holidays EVER.
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      Okay I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one with the absentee ballot problem! Hopefully I figure it out by 2016!

  • Susan @ Travel Junkette
    January 3 2013

    I love holidays! And of course your birthday is a holiday. My birthday, in fact, is my favorite holiday! Love the photos.
    Susan @ Travel Junkette recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      Glad to hear there is no birthday-lovin’ shaming going on here šŸ™‚ I tend to agree!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    January 3 2013

    I just had my first holiday away, but spending it on a megayacht in Belize was not bad at all šŸ™‚
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      Um, that doesn’t sound bad at all! PS: Thanks for writing about tipping in the diving industry! Here in Koh Tao if a dive instructor gets tipped the whole island hears about it…. but there are no North Americans here.

  • TammyOnTheMove
    January 3 2013

    Loving your mermaid costume. I would love to witness a traditional American Thanksgiving one day. I am German, so although it is a Christian bank holiday, the celebrations are not the same really. All this food, just looks so great. And I must get one of those turkey hairbands. šŸ™‚
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      My Scottish ex boyfriend went through all the holidays with me at home at least once, and Thanksgiving was always his favorite things about America šŸ™‚ Though the origins of the holiday are nothing to be proud of, the way we celebrate it today certainly is.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    January 3 2013

    We missed tons of holidays this year as we left on our trip in August, but definitely the hardest one was Christmas! Thankfully we were able to stay with a friend in Singapore, which was great, because if you can’t be with family, certainly being with friends is not a bad second choice!

    And ditto for Tony never receiving his overseas ballot either! But he was able to download an electronic version and send it in from the Philippines anyway… we then had to deal with horribly slow internet to find out the results, which only added to the tension, but thankfully the results made up for that!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      Okay, what is going on with this absentee ballot situation?! They need to figure this stuff out in time for the next election! I would have been crushed if I hadn’t been able to vote this year.

      And oh no, I’m heading to the Philippines on this trip… please don’t tell me the internet is that bad!

      • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
        January 4 2013

        Do you know where you are heading yet in the Philippines? The larger cities tend to be better (though even in Manila, we had sketchy connectivity issues), but if you go to more remote (read: more beautiful!) places, even if they say there’s internet, it will likely be slow (and probably not 24/7 – in El Nido on Palawan, it’s a huge tourist hub, but there is only electricity from 2:30pm – 6am).
        Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..

        • Meihoukai
          January 4 2013

          I don’t have an itinerary set in stone (or any material really…) but I’m thinking it will definitely be a mix of cities and very remote areas. Sigh. At least I have a signal booster with me?!

  • Gaelyn
    January 3 2013

    My birthday is my most special holiday. Ya’ just gotta’ celebrate yourself.

    At this point in my life, the other major holidays include friends. You’ve done a great job with that.

    Also love the mermaid costume, so appropriate for you.
    Gaelyn recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      Ha, I wanted to do a costume to show off my Hawaii tan! šŸ™‚ And I love your attitude about your birthday, rock on!

  • Shaun
    January 4 2013

    I. love. Pie.

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      It’s an easy recipe… try it out! šŸ˜›

  • Angie Away
    January 4 2013

    Such fun pictures! And I LOVE how your mermaid costume turned out. I vividly remember scouring Walmart in Kauai for the perfect shells and nets, haha. That was the best!
    Angie Away recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      HAHA — do you remember, “Um, do you know how to crab?!” No ma’am, this is clearly for a mermaid costume. You can’t really see it in these pictures but I had those shells all up in my hair and everything!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    January 4 2013

    The answer for me is always, unquestionably, YES.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      Sadly, I think I’ll miss pretty much all of these holidays at home if my plans go accordingly :/ I guess that’s why I wanted to memorialize them this year!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    January 4 2013

    Also, you are the cutest (because “sexiest” sounds just plain skeevy) mermaid ever! I want your hair. Gimme. Also, your abs.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 4 2013

      The key is the high-waisted skirt — the bottom half of those abs don’t look quite so impressive! Oh, and that crimping iron was perhaps my best purchase of 2012.

  • Zoe
    January 5 2013

    DAMN YOU ARE PRETTY!! I love that you condensed all these into one post, fills me with so much hoiday cheer on just a regular old saturday…

    also, love this quote:
    “Guilty as charged. But in my defense, I treat the birthdays of those around me with equal gravity”

    because you really DO love your friends’ bdays as much as your own šŸ™‚

    • Meihoukai
      January 6 2013

      Basically any excuse to celebrate šŸ™‚ Love love love knowing you are reading xo

  • Gina
    January 7 2013

    I haven’t gone home for the past two Christmases and haven’t regretted it, but felt it more this year than I did last year so don’t think I’ll make it three years in a row. Luckily, I have an understanding family. Looks like you had a lot of fun over the holidays! Love the pic of the doggie with turkey ears. šŸ™‚
    Gina recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 7 2013

      I have a feeling that next year will be away from home like last year was, only I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince the family to come visit again šŸ™ Here’s hoping!