First Christmas Abroad 🇳🇱
Heya! Thought I would give an update on life and whatever else happens to run through my brain while I'm writing. I want to first shoutout my buddy Ben for poking me to write another post. I probably would have been content to coast until something interesting technical happened, but I'm thankful for the prompt to write regardless.
Let's back up a bit! This is the first year in quite a while that Alanna and I would not be visiting any of our immediate family for Thanksgiving. If we did go out of state, it wasn't uncommon for my mother in law to come with us. Personally, I think it was a mostly-good mixed bag. We spent Thanksgiving weekend with Alanna's relatives in Belgium, about a two hour drive from where we live in southern Netherlands. (Oh yea, we bought a car!)
Alanna's aunt and uncle made a delicious Thanksgiving spread, complete with turkey, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and all the fixins you would expect in America. There were a couple of oddities, the lack of pumpkin pie being the most noticeable, but I definitely couldn't complain. Apparently buying a turkey large enough to feed 7 people in November is quite a challenge, because here turkey is usually associated with Christmas, so most of the birds are too small in early November as they still have another 4-6 weeks before slaughter for Christmas.
Overall, we were thankful for the familiar experience and to spend time with family nearby.
Sinterklaas & Christmas
December came quickly after Thanksgiving and our small town was decorated with lights all around downtown in the final weeks of November. In the Netherlands, there are really two major holidays in December. The first is Sinterklaas at the end of the first week in December. The celebration originated around the patron saint of children, Saint Nicholas. It's important to note that Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are not the same person, though the design of Santa historically has been heavily modeled after Sinterklaas. Imagine those sort of "fancy Santas" that your grandma has littered around the house, with the big flowing robe and carrying a small staff; that's Sinterklaas!
The holiday itself is celebrated much like Christmas, where children leave out a snack for Sinterklaas and wake up to a present and candy left in their shoe the next morning. There are parades or meet and greet's around town with food and fun for the whole family! Unfortunately, we weren't really paying attention and didn't participate. While walking the dog, I did happen to hear the parade coming and was able to text Alanna to come outside. There was a marching band, some people with flags and Sinterklaas riding in a horse drawn carriage.
The day came and went, we didn't notice much and then things got a little quieter around town for a couple of weeks. Now that it's closer to actual Christmas time, things are getting interesting again. There is a nativity scene setup in the town square, the supermarkets are stocked with special chocolate treats and I even saw a group of carolers singing on Saturday! I have no idea what the song was, but everyone seemed happy. :)
This year, Alanna and I will be staying home here in our small town. I took next week off work and don't have any plans. I might try to work on some more personal projects or chill and play some video games. For New Years, we'll be driving back to Belgium to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with the relatives and exchange gifts and eat lots of food.
Wrap up & Next Year
While it's disappointing to not be able to see our immediate family for the holidays, it isn't practical this year to travel back to the US. For one, with our trip to Europe this spring, we've already spent an ungodly amount of money traveling. Plane tickets during the holidays are already expensive and we can't really afford to buy them now without dipping into our savings. Additionally, since starting my new job, I wanted to make a good first impression and during my probationary period. Taking a 2 week trip around the busiest shopping season of the year while working for an ecommerce company did not seem wise. Third, there are some weird rules regarding tax liabilities depending on where you were physically located within a given calendar year, and we didn't want to potentially miss out on a tax break for coming back too often (yes that's a thing). Finally, we only left the USA a few months ago! It hasn't been that long! If we come back too early, you might not really appreciate that we came back to visit! ;)
All that said, we are tentatively planning to visit at least for Christmas next year. Now that I've seen how my job operates around the holidays, the big push really seems to be centered on Black Friday. Christmas certainly sees a bump in sales, but not so much that it requires all hands on deck. Maybe that could change, but for now, I think I can squeeze out two weeks at the end of the year.
If you did not receive a Christmas card from us this year, I hope you can forgive our mismanagement! Life has been a little hectic adjusting to the new schedules and mail is unfortunately really slow to go in and out of the Netherlands right now. If we mailed a simple postcard today, I think you would be really lucky to get it by New Years. If you're reading this post, please consider this a formal application for forgiveness and we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Here's to a great 2023! :)
P.S. since Twitter has gone to hell, you can find me over on Mastodon 🐘