We had decided to combat all despair and Christmas blues that might try to surface in the midst of our Christmas celebrations from missing everyone and the typical robustness of the holiday. We were hoping that the reverse of the old adage "the more the merrier" was not true, which would leave us a very un-merry party of just two adults and two small children.
About a week before Christmas we made a family trip to the supermarket to pick out our Christmas tree. We decided on a lovely tree of 150 centimeters. We also picked up some expensive Christmas lights (12 euro when not on sale!) and gold and red ball ornaments. Savvy as we are, we got everything during their 50% off sale. We got home and put up the tree, then as soon as we put the Christmas lights on it, Dominic shrieked, "Oooooo!!!" and was very, very excited. It was all worth it. Catie kept alternately standing on her tip-toes trying to grab the ornaments and puffing her cheeks while trying to blow out the Christmas lights. We completed the night by eating some homemade chocolate cookies-- after all, what celebration is complete without food?--and listening to some Christmas music.
We celebrated Christmas Eve in style with smoked salmon, shrimp over linguine in a white wine sauce accompanied by salad and roasted zucchini and carrots. The only hitch was the shrimp still had tails...and shells...and legs! So, we had to spend a little time at Christmas Eve dinner in the messy, somewhat nauseating business of taking the shrimp out of their crustacean wrappers. Then we had homemade apple pie for dessert with a mound of whip cream. And, of course, everything was washed down with white wine. We each opened one present that night. It was nice that Dominic and Cate opened a present from Grandma and Grandpa over Skype. Technology can sure be great! Dominic got a toy camera that flashes and makes various noises, including, "hello" in a Chinese voice. He walked around for about an hour pushing the buttons and telling us to smile and look at him. Cate got a little telephone on wheels, and she loves to hold it to her ear and babble. It was hard to get them to bed after all that excitement, but they finally nodded off and Matt and I were left to clean up the mess from our festivity.
Christmas day we had our traditional "special" breakfast of french toast, or fridge toast, as it has since become, with powdered sugar and cinnamon and sugar on top. Yes, both powdered sugar and white sugar. That's why it's special. A few days ago Dominic was looking into the refrigerator for something to eat and asked me, "Mommy, can I have some fridge toast?" After breakfast, we let the kids open up all their presents. Dominic and Cate were quite the team. Dominic busily opened everybody's presents, and then Catie reveled in ripping the wrapping paper into little shreds all over the apartment. We were showered with love, even from afar. There ended up being plenty of presents under our little tree.
Then we cleaned up and got ready to go to church at St. Anthony's Basilica, the really famous and gorgeous Romanesque-Gothic church here in Padova. We were all bundled and ready to go an hour before church--quite a feat with two little ones--and trundled down to the bus stop two blocks away, only to discover that buses weren't running at all on Christmas day. Oops. Fortunately they were having services almost every hour all day, except during siesta, so we just decided to go later that day, giving ourselves even more time to get there by foot.
So we ate our Christmas meal. We ate it in courses. While this may seem like a rather posh thing to do, it was actually--like most traditions begin--an entirely practical decision. With only 2 burners and a little stove, I could only keep so many things hot at once and keep the lights on. So, we began with an Italian aperitif (a spritz: aperol and prosecco) and a salad. After eating this, we took a little break and I finished getting some things in the oven. Then we had duck consomme (broth) with prosciutto tortellini. Again, we took a little break where Matt danced with the kids to Christmas music, and I finished cooking the rest of the food. Then we reconvened at table for the third course of roasted duck, turkey, and mashed potatoes. I was happy to learn that duck is surprisingly easy to prepare and very tasty. Dominic especially liked the duck. To end the meal, we finished the apple pie and ate too many cookies, just as it should be.
After cleaning up from dinner, we sat around for a little while, then we re-bundled and put the kids in the stroller to make our way to church. About an hour later, about 10 minutes before church started, we arrived at St. Anthony's to find standing room only. We were standing with about 500 other people. The place must have had 2,000 people in it! It was amazing, kind of like being ushered into heaven. The unseen choir regaled us with the Hallelujah chorus (in Italian), and the church looked and smelled just like a heavenly celebration should. To top it all off, Dominic slept through the whole service (a bit sad that he missed it, actually, but nice for us!) and Catie acted as much like a doll as she looked in her Christmas dress.
It turned out to be a pretty lovely Christmas, despite missing everyone so much. I'm just glad we don't have to do it again. We can muster enough strength to make it through one Christmas away, but more would be pretty hard. Thanks for all your prayers and love. Merry Christmas!