Since Christmas officially ended yesterday with Epiphany, I guess there's no denying that it's time to chronicle our Christmas festivities with Itty Bitty! She was way into Christmas this year; that is, she was way into unwrapping presents and playing with the paper, and I was way into making Christmas special for her. I honestly can't remember a Christmas that was so much fun, simply because I got to experience it through her eyes -- and got to shape that experience! Next year is going to be even better!
Our first Christmas celebration was with my family at Thanksgiving, which was a great way to kick off the holiday season!
Next we celebrated Christmas with John's family the weekend before the big day, starting with...
...the Bethpage Christmas parade! I know I talk about Bethpage being tiny on here, and it is, but, wow, can this town put on a parade! It is truly a sight to behold. I don't know where all these people and their 4-wheelers, old cars (fancy and not-so-fancy), tractors, horses, mules, and -- yes -- side-winding monster trucks come from, but it's a heckuva lot more parade than I ever would have expected, and one of the gems of the Bethpage experience. Becca watched it all from her big red wagon, and she loved the attention from John's family and the church members who gathered in our driveway to watch it (front row seats!).
That evening, we opened presents (lots of them, thanks to Santa Dana!). It would be tough to say which one was Becca's favorite, but she definitely loves her "Rebecca" puzzle from Colin and Jen and her kitchen from Nana and G-Diddy. We were actually going to store the kitchen for a while and pull it out later, but Caroline, our wonderful feeding therapist suggested that we go ahead and set it up so Becca can have fun playing with "food." She likes to walk around with a "hot dog" in her mouth (Becca, not Caroline, that is), and the kitchen even distracts her enough to let me prepare dinner with her by my side. Isn't she an adorable cook? (My favorite present was probably Becca's big girl Britax convertible carseat. She's still facing backwards, but now she's sitting up more and can see out the window. What a big girl!)
After presents, we enjoyed the most massive fondue feast I have ever seen. After much chopping and assembling by all (though we opted not to let Becca chop), we feasted on goat cheese fondue (super yummy!) with bread, veggies, and apples, and several kinds of meat with 5 different marinade/rub options and more veggies, and, after putting Becca to bed, peanut butter chocolate fondue with an array of dessert dippers. It was so fun, and just might become a Hill family tradition - who knows? Santa Dana gave us a fancy fondue pot and a Melting Pot cookbook for Christmas last year, so we used their own recipes - and after all that prep work, I can see why The Melting Pot charges so much! Even with 6 people contributing, it was a lot of work...but delicious.
On Sunday, Nana Dana and G-Diddy kept Becca so that I could actually *gasp* attend church for the first time during Advent! It was so nice to be there, and the sermon wasn't too bad, either. And the preacher is kind of hot. :) That afternoon Jen, Colin, Fred, and I went to see the matinée of The Nutcracker. Jen was a ballerina, and one of the girls she used to dance with is actually a member of the Nashville Ballet Company, so we got to see her dance, which was really cool! It was also special because Jen was in The Nutcracker for about a billion years in Ashland...and that might also explain why Dana and John were so willing to stay home and take care of Becca! :) I love TPAC; I have so many fun memories of going to see different productions there (including The Nutcracker several times - it's a lackadaisical tradition of mine), and it was so special to see all the little girls in their fancy Christmas dresses and/or tutus! They were so excited, and it made me really look forward to taking Becca to see it sometime in the next few years! That evening, we (as we Hills are apt to do) played a few of the new board games that we got for Christmas (yes, more games -- that puts us somewhere around 75 games that we have now!), and then everyone had to head out in the morning.
On Christmas Eve, my parents drove over from Tellico Village, and Dad and I braved the crowds at both Target and Wal-Mart to get a few last-minute presents. (I needed some things for John and decided that my dad had not bought enough for mom...you're welcome, Mom!) Becca's Bethpage grandma, Ms. Mike delivered Becca's Christmas present when we got home - a stuffed hound dog that she had made specially for Becca. Becca loves "Hubba Bubba" (as I've come to call her). She especially loves rubbing her face on her fuzzy "fur," which is very cute. We are so lucky to have Ms. Mike who loves Becca so much - and Becca loves her just as much, if not more!
That evening, my parents babysat so that I could serve Communion at the Christmas Eve service, which is probably my favorite service of the year. It was really special to get to serve Communion again, as it had been months since my last opportunity. After the service, we had the traditional Speas family Christmas Eve meal: hamburgers and chocolate mousse by candlelight. I do not know how this tradition began, and I think that at one point it involved steak and not hamburgers, but I'm pretty convinced that Santa might skip our house if we didn't have this special meal. Becca even wore her fancy red Christmas dress that she didn't get to wear to church (darn germs!).
I begged John to let me open one present after dinner but was de-nied, the old Scrooge. John and I put Becca to bed together, reading the Christmas story from Luke, which was really special. Once she was down, we did a little work to make Santa's job a bit easier...which was really fun!
Christmas morning, Becca woke us up at 8 (nothing unusual about that -- how early do you think it will be next year?), and we opened presents before breakfast. I had cleared out some of Becca's regular toys from the den so that she could easily see what Santa brought her, and I think she was pretty pleased (though the big winner has turned out to be her Little People farm)!
And Dad was pretty happy with his radio-controlled plane from Mom. Too cute.
(By the way, to Dad's credit, he got Mom something very pretty and sparkly, but I decided she needed more presents to open. Mom was pretty happy with her new jewelry, even without the extras.) John actually liked ALL of the presents that I got him, which is really, really rare, so I felt like I had succeeded, and I was pretty darn excited about my surprise Uggs from my parents - yay for bonus gifts!
That afternoon we feasted again, this time a more traditional Christmas meal with my parents and our good friends Rob and Jeannie. Since they are both also pastors, they can't travel for Christmas, either, so this was our second year to have Christmas dinner with them, and it was really special...and it would be even without Jeannie's most amazing chocolate chip bread pudding for dessert. Yum!
And just when we thought Christmas was ending, Becca and I travelled to Tellico Village on the 27th to see my Uncle Doug, who was visiting my parents. (Unfortunately, John had to stay home to work.) Doug's a music minister (and an incredible one at that), so we've always celebrated Christmas with him after the 25th, too. Silly church work. When we were little, he used to pull himself out of bed early on the 25th (after a midnight service!) to catch a flight so that we could all open presents together that afternoon. Now that we're older, we give him a few days before we demand his presence...and Christmas wouldn't be the same without it! My brother Rob and his family came down to see him as well, so it was nice to get to see them briefly, too! Doug, Rob, and I even managed to catch our traditional post-Christmas movie. And then I managed to leave my phone there, so the next day, we trudged back out to the theater (40 minutes away) to get my phone. Oops. Mom and Dad were going to take us somewhere nice to eat that night, but they were full, so we ended up (happily!) at Cracker Barrel...where Becca threw up. Good times. I guess it was good we didn't make it into the fancy restaurant! She wasn't sick or anything; she just vomits during meals about once a week or so (thanks to the feeding issues), though this was the first time it happened while we were out. We cleared out of there pretty quickly and left a big tip! The next morning, Becca and I scooted home just in time for her two therapy appointments.
Phew. It was a whirlwind of a holiday, but a really special one. We got to see a lot of family (though not everyone - we especially missed seeing John's grandmothers!), but still managed to have some special just-the-three-of-us time. I also got to see several of my old friends (as in, from elementary and middle school old), which is such a special treat and one of the significant benefits of living back in Tennessee. There's just nothing like time with women you've been friends with for 20+ years...especially when you are only 29. So thanks, ladies.
It wasn't my typical Christmas - no choirs, no kid-filled pageants, no parties (unless you count the district preacher party), no Christmas cookies, and definitely no snow - but I can say that I experienced the Incarnation in a different way this year. Waiting with Mary, cherishing my baby-turned-big-girl, hugging the necks of family and good friends, seeing the joy in Becca's face whenever she saw "her people" - it all brought it home to me in a different way. I can't say that I was all warm and fuzzy, but I did feel the importance of physical closeness to the ones you love...and that's what the Incarnation is about, right? God coming down to us to hold us, hug our necks, see the joy in our faces...this year, Emmanuel - God-With-Us - came to the Hill house again. I hope you experienced the same miracle as well. Merry Christmas, all!