I have a mixed history with Christmas in London. I love the pretty lights, and London is the home Christmas traditions (thanks Victorians) but its just not Christmas to me no matter how hard I tried. Its not that the traditions are unfamiliar, England is probably the most traditional you can get; it’s just that its not my Christmas. I wish I could tell you that Christmas for me is normally a picture postcard barbecue on a beach surrounded by sheep with a lost hobbit trying to return the ring to Mordor… but it actually just means a day with family, something that you can’t fake no matter where you are in the world. It means that London Christmas celebrations have always felt like a poor imitation, something to just try to cover up the fact that you are missing out. For me Christmas in London has always felt like trying to convince yourself that you really do love undressed salad leaves when on a diet and all you want is a pie.
So while I may have attended Christmas parties in body and had a hell of a lot of fun, it was always just a party with the addition of pretty lights. I had resigned myself to the fact that holiday time in London would always just be a bit of nonsense fun. That was until the magical Jess from Jess on Thames made the fateful error of explaining Thanksgiving to me. An entire day of eating surrounded by loved ones? Now that sounds like my kind of Christmas. So after one too many cocktails we bullied Jess into throwing an orphans Thanksgiving for a bunch of clueless foreigners. She even moved the date to after the traditional Thanksgiving season (is it a season?) when I booked a last minute trip to Paris the weekend before.
Life became even more fun when we added the Dutch component. Jacintha had similar holiday expat problems, and the orphans thanksgiving happened to fall on the biggest Christmas day for the Dutch – the day that Sinterklaas comes to town. I love hearing about different beliefs, and this is my favourite so far. Sinterklaas lives in Spain (yes, Spain) and travels to the Netherlands on a steamboat on the 5th of December. Families gather round and eat all sorts of sugary treats, and then any boys and girls who leave their shoes by the chimney will find presents in them come morning. Love love love. Since two celebrations are better than one, I introduce to you the new expat tradition of #SinterThanksgiving (dude, we were mostly bloggers, of course we had a hashtag for a dinner party).
I was on pie duty, and spent an evening battling with the concept of Pumpkin Pie. First up the pumpkin is from a can…A CAN. What the hell America. Apparently the can is full of densely packed pumpkin with no added ingredients, but still…a can? Then there was the added problem that I didn’t have a pie dish. So you know, I did what any cook would do and just started drinking gin and hoped for the best. It was all going swimmingly until I checked on the pie and the top had risen to the height of a two story building and in a panic I had to stab it with a carving knife. A totally normal cooking experience. I swear a crucial part of being a grownup is being able to explain the stab marks in your pie when sober. And that was just the first pie, the second battle was the pecan pie. Again going swimmingly until the oven where I forgot to put on the timer, got distracted (read: drunk on gin) and decided to defrost the freezer (read: further hone my stabbing skills by taking the carving knife to the icicles) and then just took it out when it looked done. But I didn’t kill anyone and my fellow #SinterThanksgiving goers were very polite at the results….so win?
Jess had taken on the bulk of the cooking (which after reading about PieGate you might understand why) and did a freaking amazing job. Not only did she manage to cook the turkey perfectly and wrangle the sides, but she did so with two cats meowing around trying to convince her they were starving. Dinner was just so damn nice. Seven of us sitting around the table, eating ourselves silly and talking absolute bollocks. For me it was the family Christmas I had been missing out on in London. I think maybe because it was a SinterThanksgiving so it didn’t feel like I was trying to recreate a home Christmas. It was just a night about friends, cats and finding out that chipmunks are not a mythical creature.
The only downside is that I enjoyed myself so much that the campaign has already started for #SinterThanksgiving2015, Jess you don’t really have a choice. But I promise next time I wont stab the pie?
Thank you thank you thank you to the amazing people around that dinner table. For a kiwi so far from home it was more than my wildest dreams to have a family holiday sans family on the other side of the world.