Unwrapping Memories ... Xpat Xmas

I'm most definitely a Christmas person.  Of the traditional, turkey-with-stuffing-loving, deck-the-halls, eggnog, Bing Crosby, Midnight Mass type.  A hard core Christmas aficionado.   

I spend December days fuelling myself on Christmases past, and trying to build on them to create great moments for the Christmas present.  

No skeptics or scrooges may cross my gypsy threshold for the Holidays.  I'm too busy building memories to entertain disillusionment.

Tears, grieving and sorrow I get.  But cynicism, anger and resentment have no place at the table.  I'm making memories here, folks, and I need them to be good.  They're what will sustain me in the Christmases to come.

The greatest Christmas gift ever I think.  She was under the tree on Christmas morning, 2012.  Her little heart is failing her fast, but we're hoping she'll still be with us on Christmas morning 2014.

I've got a treasure trove of memories of Christmas spent in the Andes Mountains, in the Llanos grasslands in Venezuela, in the Snowbelt, on the Cold Coast of Canada, in the Laurentian's, in the Middle Eastern desert.  

I've decorated palm trees, fir trees, birch branches, Charlie Brown pine trees and artificial trees.  In the 70's we even had a silver Christmas tree.  Oh yeah, I thought that silver Christmas tree was 'all that'.

I've shared Christmas dinner with Canadians, Venezuelans, Americans, Cubans, Ecuadorians, Brits, Mexicans, Guyanese, Trinidadians, Panamanians, Egyptians, Filipinos, Kenyans, Ukrainians, Nepalese, Sri Lankans, South Africans, Indians, and a few more.  

I remember a few gifts, but in all honesty, it's about so, so, so much more than JUST the gifts.  

It's about the spirit, it's about the hope, it's about the anticipation of something great.  And more and more, it's simply about the memories.

Memories of my childhood, memories of making 200 Christmas egg rolls (odd Northern New Brunswick Holiday tradition) with my mom and my Memére, memories of my Dad, memories of Kiddo when she was about three and just starting to 'get' what all the excitement was about.  Memories of life as it once was, and even memories of life as it is now.  

The memories are what I now cherish the most about Christmas.

Every year around this time, I start to unwrap the memories.  Some are ever-present, in my head and my heart.  Others are packaged up in boxes, just waiting for December to roll around.  But all of them take on a particularly poignant significance as Christmas grows nearer.

Our sweet kitty cat rushing to hide in the  decorations containers as I start pulling together the Christmas memories.

Shortly after becoming expats, Smilin' Vic began a tradition of bringing back a Christmas decoration from every place we've visited.  He thought it would help us remember our memories just a little bit more.  Since I don't have any shots of the memories in my heart, I thought I'd share with you a bit of my history through a few of the ornamental memories I've been unwrapping over the last few days.  (You can hover on each image to see the accompanying caption.)

A Tradition Begins ...

Here is the silver ornament that started the memories snow ball rolling ...

The silver hand-crafted ornament on the top left was a gift from Smilin' Vic on a trip to Ireland in 2009.  It kick-started the trend of buying a Christmas memento in every port.  The other two were bought when we toured South-Western Ireland last summer.

Bringing Canada to ME ...

But even before Smilin' Vic started collecting international ornaments, we had a small stash of Christmas items that we'd shipped to the ME from Canada.  I cherish these little curios, and every year I thank goodness that we opted to ship our Holiday decorations rather than our bedroom set.  

Painted foam apple decorations that survived my first marriage.  These cheap ornaments bought in 1992 are the first to go up on the tree each year.  They are a reminder that resilience can come in unassuming packages, and that it's sometimes the simplest things we take from our past that leave the most cherished and lasting impression.  Just because something didn't end up being the best doesn't mean it isn't good.

Two hand-made ornaments that I received in my first-ever office gift exchange over twenty years ago. (1992)

This angel was given to me by one of my first bosses about 20 years ago.  Note the broken foot.  Though it looks pretty bad, the scarring is minimal considering he shattered into about 50 pieces on ceramic tile a few years back.  I painstakingly put him back together over the years, piecing together his head, arms, and legs, pulling together teeny tiny pieces with tweezers to make him whole again.  He still has a big hole on his bottom which I intend to fix this year, together with his foot.  Unfortunately I can't show a pic of his backside because an angel's butt on display would be seen as inappropriate in the ME.

Strange shrunken head Santa given to me by my BFF many, many years ago.  He and his odd, tiny little head come out every Christmas to greet visitors by the front door.

This poor little guy's got one button leg that's shorter than the other.  The result of Kiddo tugging on it when she was about 3.  She was quite horrified when a final tug amputated the leg and the buttons scattered across the living room floor.  I managed to retrieve enough thread and buttons to patch a stump back together.  Memories!

A beautiful gift given to me by my mentor (circa 2001); a lovely woman who worked for over 36 years for the same healthcare organisation and made her way up the corporate ladder by listening, smiling and displaying compassion and patience every single step of the way.  

Ornaments (2002?) that have followed me from Northern New Brunswick to Qatar.

I love, love, love these little dudes.  They just look so happy :-)

Plush ornaments bought at a half-price sale from a hospital volunteer boutique in 2001.  Loved those kind giving souls who shared a bit of themselves every week with those less fortunate; I think of them every time I put these up on the tree.

Christmas decoration made for me by my niece (2003) when she was about 7 and I was spending my first Christmas as a single divorcee.  She and her twin sister are  now accomplished artists, writers, musicians; already in university.  Time flies.  Memories ...

The angel that sits upon our tree each year, given to me by my mom to celebrate a new beginning with Smilin' Vic the year Kiddo was born.  It meant a lot for her to recognise the new beginnings.

Knit decorations given to me by my mom.  They remind me of my early childhood Christmas trees and much simpler times.

Finding Christmas in the ME ...

When we first moved to Doha in 2006, we had no expectations of ever finding Christmas mementos in the desert.  To our great surprise, we have managed to find and make a few pieces that are now very near and dear to our heart.

First Christmas decoration I purchased in Qatar (2007) - A wooden advent calendar from Carrefour.  We take it out each year on December 1 to kick off the Holiday Season.   This year, each door hides either a mini Mars bar, mini TicTac box, Double Bubble gum, or mini Smarties box.

A wooden plate I painted during our first years in Doha.  We didn't have many decorations to put up back then ...

First handmade gift from Kiddo (2008).  She was 3 when she brought this home from daycare.  She didn't cut the shape, but she applied the glue and glitter - red on one side, green on the other.

Kindergarten Christmas napkin holders made for me by Kiddo.

Christmas paper maché ornaments depicting desert scenes and some with Canadian/Qatari flags.  These are a favourite to bring back to Canada as gifts; made by a very nice man from Kashmir who shows up at all the Christmas fairs in Doha.

Keeping Canadian Christmas Tradition Alive in the ME ...

Kiddo's greatest excitement is when a Christmas parcel arrives from Canada.  It's always sure to be filled with awesomeness.  These packages most often come from her Godfather and her unofficial Aunt and Grandmother.  Here are a few examples of the Christmas goodness we've unwrapped in those parcels over the years.

A gift to Kiddo from her 'adopted' Grandma.  It comes out every December 1 for a nightly reading before bed.  It's a beautiful book, with a spectacular cardboard pop-up of Santa and his reindeer at the end.

Christmas classics from my childhood ... back in the day, these specials only came on once a year, and we'd anxiously scour the TV Guide to make sure we didn't miss a single one.  These DVD's are a gift from Kiddo's uncle.  They only come out December 1.  And I put them away January 1.  It keeps them magical in an age where everything is available on demand.

A beautiful First Nations ornament given to Kiddo by her Godfather last year for Christmas, together with a book and a plush toy raven.  In First Nations animal symbology the raven, though a little naughty, teaches right from wrong.

Manger that my sister brought me when she visited Doha in 2007.  You can now find these in some stores here, but at the time they were nowhere to be found, and I really couldn't imagine a Christmas tree without a manger.  I love it; it's just a simple run-of-the-mill manger, but it reminds me of my childhood Christmases.  The little shepherd boy has had to have his foot glued back on after an altercation with Kiddo, and he topples over occasionally as a result.

Christmas orange with clove.  A true childhood Christmas fragrance that we recreate each year.  

A Bit of Everywhere Christmas Memories ...

Below are a few of the ornaments and decorations we've collected on our travels over the last few years ...

A collection of pewter ornaments from over the years ... from top left, clockwise:  (1) a picture of my godson from New Brunswick, and souvenirs from trips to (2) London, (3) PEI, (4) Halifax, (5) Zurich, and (6) the Cabot Trail.

Wooden memories of a Mediterranean cruise, image of Mother and child from Strasbourg cathedral, turtle chimes from the Maldives, and hand carved winter scenes from the Interlaken region in Switzerland.

Ornaments from Florence, Vienna and Pisa, respectively.

I love this very simple and child-like plaster manger scene from the Strasbourg Cathedral.

Kiddo's manger scene, bought in Florence, Italy.

Tree skirt bought during a spontaneous trip to Manama, Bahrain with Smilin' Vic.  At Pottery Barn, of all places!  I loved Bahrain in December; despite the unrest which remained when we visited in 2012, the malls were a bastion of Holiday cheer.  It really felt like being back home, and I often find myself longing to go back to visit.

Sitting Back to Cherish the Past and Enjoy the Moment ...

At the end of a long day of unwrapping, the decorations are up, the memories abound, and a sense of calm envelopes the house.  I truly love this time of year.

The moments all come together in the end, to make new memories that will be enjoyed in Christmases future. 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night ...

Where will we get our memories this year?  Well, we're off to Nice to see Kiddo's BFF as an early Christmas gift, and then to Austria to enjoy the Christmas markets .. I'm sure we'll find something.

Leave me a gift below by sharing with me the memories you're unwrapping this year ...