Thinking about Christmas and what it means to me. First, is it Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? That is the question. Our family does Christmas Eve and simply couldn’t grasp opening presents on Christmas morning for the life of us. To this day we celebrate Christmas Eve as a family and the husbands and wives of my siblings get Christmas Day. So, as you can imagine, I have a large family; 3 brothers and 3 sisters. When I was young it was it was all about the presents. We did, and still do, the one by one opening of gifts. Opening gifts this way does several things: it last longer, makes us focus on others and have patience to finally open your gift. So I’m guessing my parents wanted to teach us that? Ha ha.

So let’s go back to 2012. Remember the world was going to end? So I thought, “What the heck? I’ll go on a trip with my friend from Switzerland.” My friend Colleen wanted to do a river cruise with her parents and me. We started in Basel Switzerland and went to Germany and then the last stop was Amsterdam. Our cruise was 10 days before Christmas and it was 7 days long. After the cruise ended we got an apartment in Holland and spent a few day plus Christmas there.

Tanya & Colleen

So the cruise was awesome; small 100 people and with no assigned seating or times for meals. We got to know people from all over the world which was super cool. What does all this have to do with what Christmas means to me? Hang on to your Christmas stockings. I’ll get there.

I thought I was going to love Amsterdam and Germany will be nice but not great. SO not the case. I loved Cologne Germany with the cool churches and Christmas markets and shops and all. Beer, yeah they had it, but I’m not a beer fan. However when in Rome or Germany of course I had some beer and Glögg. It was so much fun. I totally loved Cologne the small boat, stopping in cities to discover that city, small or large. Discovering a city is so up my alley. I’m not an ocean cruise kinda girl, so a small boat cruise was my something I really enjoyed. Not to mention Heineken was close by!

Christmas Town Scene – Germany

The towns in Germany were rocking with the hustle and bustle that Christmas time brings. People watching at it’s best. The stores, food, coffee and chocolate were amazing. Just a great time relaxing, shopping, eating and this would all be a “do over” the next day kinda thing.

Christmas Market – Cologne, Germany

Fun was had when we went to the Schloss Biebrich Sekt Factory for a tour. However, we got bogged down with shopping and fun and then went to the factory about 4 hours late right when they were closing. They were so nice and gave Colleen and I a private tour and a glass of their bubbly! Again, we were late leaving and getting back to the boat it almost took off without us. We were happy because we had been “early” drinking!

We arrive in Amsterdam, Holland and off the boat early – and where did we go – to the Red Light District at 9am. Thank goodness not open yet on a Sunday because I got paired with my friend’s dad to walk around. We’re walking and, what do you know, the curtains open. Shit! I’m with her dad! Can you say AWKWARD!? So I made light of it, and said, “Whatya think?” he replied, “Hmmm, not my type,” and we both busted out laughing. So that went well. Later that evening we went to the Ann Frank museum. Umm, I saw things I had never read about. I saw letters she had written that had never been delivered. Upon leaving I couldn’t contain myself I began to cry and just couldn’t hold it in anymore. My friend and her parents were concerned and didn’t know what to do. I just said let me cry. I was overcome by what this young woman had been through and had to endure. I let it rip and I felt better.

Colleen & Her Dad

Christmas Eve was the next day. We had a great lunch and fun walking around the city. We came home and prepared dinner and got ready to spend Christmas Eve together. Dinner was awesome and then we opened gifts. Something happened to me at about 10pm. I thought of my large, whacky family at home. I thought about all the fun and food and stories and, all of sudden, I got sad. It was about 11pm by now and I could tell I was going to burst into tears. I told Colleen I just wanted to take a walk around the block. She freaked out a little and said she would come with me but I said, “No, I need to be alone.” I started walking and decided to call home. I called and my sister Tina picked up. All I could get out was I miss you and then broke into a hard cry. I couldn’t  speak and she just said, “Oh sweetie, we miss you.” I hung up because I couldn’t speak. I just balled for the next half hour. People were kind, and asked if they could help. I just said no thank you and kept walking.

Christmas Eve Dinner

You see, I had never been away from home for Christmas. I was 46 and had never experienced not being with my family. I was grateful that I was with my friend and her family and on a trip. But what I felt was loneliness. I kept walking and the talk I had with myself was, be grateful you are in Holland, be grateful you have friends that would want to be with you for Christmas. It’s all happening for a reason. And then, like a sign from the universe, all the bells in Amsterdam started to ring. It was midnight and it was an amazing feeling and experience. Everyone within my view stopped and listened. It made everything right as rain. I went back to our apartment and Colleen greeted me at the door and we had a long night of talking.

The takeaway for me: I love my friend but I’m never leaving my family for a trip at Christmas again – evahhh!

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