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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Santa Claus CAME to town

I hope that EVERYONE -- whether or not you celebrated Christmas -- had a very happy day yesterday. It was cold and rainy here in Washington, which means that whatever you did yesterday, it was a nice to be warm inside with friends and family.

Christmas cocoa

It was a lovely day filled with way too much good food, way too many presents and lots of family. Notice I didn't say "way too many family." ;)

As has been the case for years, the morning was spent eating and opening gifts at my mom's house before driving to my aunt and uncle's house in Alexandria, Va., for more food and presents with my dad's extended family.

Delicious vegan pumpkin bread

Tradition is a huge part of all holidays, no matter what your religion. Every Christmas as far back as I can remember has followed the same pattern: waking up early (although not nearly as early as when we were kids and the sky was still dark as we opened presents) and opening gifts next to the fireplace before eating brunch.

My grandmother made stockings for each of her grandchildren -- isn't this pretty?

Once everything has been unwrapped, it's time to eat. Egg-and-cheese strata, homemade cocoa and fresh cranberry relish are the norm, with the addition this year of vegan pumpkin bread and tamales.

NPR just did a story about tamales as a Texas Christmas tradition and sure enough, we've enjoyed them during several Christmases spent with my Houston-based aunt -- this year's varieties were chicken and black bean. Yum!

After opening presents with my dad's family, we broke out some classic English party games: Pass the Parcel, Spoons and Charades.

After chowing down on all the usual holiday meal fixings -- and lots of veggies! -- there were two vastly different desserts: ice cream cake, the crowd-pleaser, and a traditional English Christmas pudding, a harder sell.

English Christmas pudding

Christmas pudding, like fruitcake, is something you either love or hate. While the smell can be off-putting, I grew to like the taste while living in London and being served the fruity cake a few times.

You can't beat its presentation, either: alcohol is poured on top of the cake and then lit, creating deep blue and orange flames as the liquor burns off.

My big gift this year was an iPhone, which will come in handy while traveling Down Under and hopefully diminish the time and money required at Internet cafes. It's much easier to have wireless immediately at-hand!

Also appreciated were an external hard drive, a wooden bud vase from my aunt, a really interesting cookbook and, naturally, lots of socks and underwear.

Did Santa bring you everything you wanted?