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So this year, for the first time, I celebrated Christmas in America.

Now, my mental image of Christmas will always be the one from my childhood: a christmas tree, candles, soothing music, a little nativity scene. And, if you're lucky, special candy. Gift giving we Dutch people do on Sinterklaas, on December 5th. Christmas is for, well, Christmas.

Still, it has become the norm to give gifts at Christmas. I'm sure the American movies, series and books featuring trees with giant presents under it had something to do with it. But I don't associate presents with Christmas. They are for Sinterklaas.

So this year I wasn't sure what to expect. American media make it seem like Christmas is all about giant gifts and gluttony, with a little sauce of learning about the True Meaning of Christmas (which is, apparently, that gifts aren't important, but you can have them anyway). So here is my Christmas experience:

As it happens, due to circumstances Christmas celebrations at Beedoo!'s parents' were small. This was fine to me; I like small. We had a Christmas breakfast and a Christmas dinner, both of which were good, though I wasn't good at eating all the different dishes. Such a picky eater. :)

I liked the gift part. Not just for the obvious reasons. I liked it because I have been tought that we all watch each and every present be unwrapped one after the other, showing polite interest in every one of them so as not to offend (but not too enthusiastic; we have to do all the other presents too, you know!). In this case, it turned out the rules were to each start unwrapping our own pile of presents and look at each others' later. A small detail, but something that stuck with me...

Present-wise, I feel like I came out on top, and that I got a lot more than I gave. Most important of these was without a doubt the last six BONE comic books. Bone is a fantastic comic series, a trilogy of trilogies, written and drawn by Jeff Smith between 1991 and 2004. Since then they have been slowly rereleased in colour, a painstaking process for over 1300 pages! In 2001, having heard of them somewhere, I bought the first trilogy and loved them, but never followed up until I showed them to Beedoo! earlier this year. I am incredibly pleased with these, and the colour versions are terrific.

Other things that I got, off the top of my head, are ear muffs, Where is my Cow? (writer Terry Pratchett answers some burning questions about this one), a shirt... It's hard to remember more than a month later.

I discovered on this Christmas vacation that Beedoo! has a big box of ornaments, many of which come from her godmother Mary. She may want to tell more about that. Me, well, my taco's are ready, I am told, so I'd better finish this up.

Will we do this again? Probably, but not for a while, I think. Travel around Christmas is hideously expensive. We're probably going to try for Thanksgiving this year. Beware, turkeys!

As for me, I had to figure out what all Arno did and didn't know about American Christmas. (I'm sure that he experienced a little sticker shock at my usual Christmas generousity.) The Los Abrigados Red Rock Fantasy light displays were one such tradition (more on that later, when we DID get to see the lights on... I know, we're into February and we're not done talking about Christmas yet... talk about a backlog!).

I attempted to indoctrinate Arno with all the classic holiday cartoons... How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman... The only one that wasn't available--possibly the most important, imho-- was Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. I think he enjoyed them, for the most part, though what he liked the most was the cartoon of Horton Hears a Who, which was an unmentioned bonus on The Grinch DVD. (Unfortunately, Frosty the Snowman's DVD included the awful sequel, Frosty Returns... badly animated, with a somewhat lackluster attempt at an environmental friendliness message.)

I also trotted out my Gingerbears Christmas books (apparantly a rarity... out of print, and there's one listed on eBay for $99.99! And I can find no trace of "The Gingerbears Save Christmas" online!) These are picture storybooks that I have had for years... photographed pictures of long-legged gingerbread bears who come to life and secretly help out a family around Christmastime, earning them a little heart from Santa. I also have an angel-gingerbear ornament which I treasure dearly.

Arno mentioned that I have a box of ornaments... he calls it "large," but we must remember about sizes of things in the Netherlands... what they consider big, Americans consider small. In fact, my mom and I cleaned out our large collection of ornaments a couple of years ago and only kept the ones we really liked/had emotional attachment with. I have a smallish box of my favorites, and Arno and I decorated my parents' white wire tree with these. Arno is more used to the uniform colored glass balls and stars and such on his tree, so the collection of mine was interesting to him... I have things like plushie and wooden reindeer, figures of dogs, Santa riding on an alligator with reindeer horns on, a Nutcracker Mouse King, etc. Aside of the yearly ornament from my Chinese godmother, we also have several ornaments my Mom and I bought as souvenirs from places like Baltimore, Hawaii, and New Orleans. (The alligator one was from Florida.)

As to our "feasts," Mom fixed a few pans of cinnamon rolls for breakfast, which is more than Arno is used to, of course, and dinner was a spiral ham with various side dishes. Arno did shy away from some of them, though when it comes to something like Aspic salad, which is a weird combination of orange jello, ketchup, olives, walnuts and mayonnaise, I can't say I blame him. (Despite the recipe sounding like someone cleaned out their cabinets for the local food drive, it's pretty tasty!)

Present-wise, and at this point, I remember more of what I gave rather than what I got, but I received a jacket I had asked my mom for (which I don't think I'll be able to wear until Spring), a pair of MukLuk slippers, some thermal underwear (which I needed here desperately, given how cold the wet weather is!), moneys, and a donation in my name of a hospital for the poor (which I must say, is awesome). Andy gave the two of us a dreydel game (wrong holiday, Andy! *lol*), a tiny puzzle, and a Prince of Persia game which we haven't gotten to yet due to an overflow of games we have accumulated for ourselves. Countess also sent us three beautiful prints of dragons for use to hang on our very blank walls. ;) Thanks much, everyone!

Mom and I also made our traditional Christmas cookies--deephlies, a deep-fried Greek batter cookie-- which Arno and I delivered to neighbors and relatives over the next couple of days. Since our family did not have our usual CHristmas party, this was a good way for Arno to get to meet some of my extended family around town. I think he had a good time with it; they all loved him. He's such a charmer. ;)