A quieter Christmas

Christmas this year was quite lovely albeit a little more low key than usual due to Covid 19 restrictions. Thankfully everyone I know is in good health, so we actually could still have a nice Christmas and see a few people.

This year we didn’t get to go to a Christmas market in Germany with two good friends of ours from college, like we do every year. At the Christmas markets we sometimes keep the commemorative mug from the Glühwein (mulled wine) that we usually drink then. This year there would be no Glühwein in mugs at markets like we’d been having for more than 20 years. So, I had our own commemorative mugs made with selfies from Christmas markets past, for Mr Esther, myself and for our two friends.

The text translates to “Due to Covid 19, a mug instead of a Christmas market. Merry Christmas 2020!”

We were going to try a socially distanced get together instead of a market at one of our friends’ houses about a week before Christmas but then the other friend canceled because she had some cold symptoms. Good thing she did too as she tested positive for Covid 19 a day later! She and her husband both had it, although luckily only mildly. I still wanted to get my mugs to our friends, so last Monday mini me and I drove to the healthy friend, handed her her mug and spent half an hour drinking tea with her at a distance. On Christmas Eve Mr Esther, mini me and I drove over an hour north and dropped off the other mug. We set it down infront of our other friend’s door and then, keeping a good distance outside despite her not having any symptoms anymore, we chatted across her front garden with her for about 15 minutes. It was good to bring a little Christmas cheer that way.

We had a nice drive back home coming through some typical Dutch landscapes and the picturesque town of Volendam, which was quite deserted due to the lockdown we’re now having…

Back at home again, we had a quiet Christmas Eve dinner with Junior’s girlfriend also present and we unwrapped a few small gifts with her as he wouldn’t be seeing her for the rest of Christmas. Afterwards I dedicated myself to finally reading the rest of my Michelle Obama “Becoming” book that I had bought second hand a while back and had started reading the first 3 or 4 chapters of but still needed to finish. The cats seized that opportunity to lie on and next to me.

One of my favourite things that day was my brother sending us a video of my mother reading the Christmas story from our old family bible. On Second Christmas Day (or Boxing Day, December 26th) we usually have a big family get together where she does that but, as the whole family get together wasn’t happening this year, I loved that my brother (who’s temporarily living with her) made that little video and sent it out. It’s one to cherish for the ages.

On Christmas morning, Mr Esther made us a nice brunch, we then unwrapped our gifts. I got lovely cat socks that I adore and chocolates from mini me, Junior got me Barack Obama’s “Promised Land” that I had wanted and Mr Esther got me a Audrey Hepburn calendar and a portable record player, so that I could play my old Bowie records. My fave thing that I got for Mr Esther was a “Blessed are the cheesemakers” t-shirt (a line from the brilliant Monty Python’s The Life of Brian). As Mr Esther is a cheese nerd, it felt like a very fitting gift for him.

Mr Esther has no siblings so we could adhere the ‘no more than 3 guests’ rule easily by inviting our in laws (whom we hadn’t seen in months) over for dinner. We table grilled. On Second Christmas Day in the afternoon we went to my mother and my brother and had a low key delicious turkey buffet dinner at her house.

In between these social activities we played a game or two and I read and read and read, really enjoying the Michelle Obama book. Today is a lazing around day, I finished the book a few hours ago but, even though I love the Obamas (even made a video once as they left office in January 2017), I need a little Obama break before I start Barack’s book.

Anyway, I hope all of you who celebrate in one way or another had a nice Christmas too. Now it’s back to the real world again, I guess. For me that means that from tomorrow I should become productive again (we have some storage clearing out to do). For now I’m loving the down time, though, so we’ll see if that happens.

Merry Christmas

From me to all of you a little Richard Armitage and a Christmas wish…

Yes, I wish you all wonderful days for Christmas this year, despite celebrating it differently and probably more alone due to the corona virus that is still raging around us. I hope everyone who reads this is well and I hope you can all find some happiness and peace this holiday season, despite the difficult year we’ve just had. May the memories of the loved ones who can’t be with us be a comfort and may those of us who are going through difficult times right now find the strength to go on, may we all find some light in the darkness. May those of us living in freedom and peace, with food on the table and a roof over our heads, be thankful for all the privilege we do have and may we all have empathy for the less privileged and pay it forward, each in our own way and not just at Christmas.

Allow me to share some David Bowie and Bing Crosby from 1977 with you all, wishing for peace on earth. I was in an online group chat earlier this week with a refugee from Eritrea and it made me wish even more fervently than ever for there to be peace, near or far, within this world we live and love in.

Take care of yourselves and each other. Merry Christmas. 🎄

Christmas tree & Talmudic law

Learning and questioning and arguing certain points of life, philosophy, theology, etc. are central elements of Judaism. The Talmud (Jewish law with countless commentaries on it) is made up of thousands of arguments rabbis have made about everything that governs life, it’s basically a sacred book (made up of several volumes) of arguments. In yeshivas (Jewish religious schools), the Talmud is studied and the endless laws and arguments are argued about. To give you a little idea, the kashrut (the dietary laws for eating kosher) alone are made up of 613 rules!

Historically, yeshivas have only been open to boys although nowadays in non-Orthodox Judaism women are allowed as well. In the 1983 movie Yentl, Barbra Streisand decided to dress up as a boy, just so that she could try to enter a yeshiva in early 20th century Poland to broaden her learning. Her happiness at being accepted into one is a beautiful moment of triumph in the movie. It also gives you a little glimpse at what a yeshiva looks like…

Anyway, all this yeshiva explaining is just the context for the video I actually wanted to show.

My sister shared a comedy video in our family group chat that is a couple of years old but that I’d never seen before. Watching this, you just know that the comedian, Elon Gold, must have attended a yeshiva himself as the arguing of rules and regulations in it is just so typically Jewish (useful to know before you watch this: “Shecht” = ritual slaughter / “Bracha” = a blessing)…

As someone who grew up around and with Jews and has Jewish family, this just feels so familiar and is really the funniest thing I have seen this Christmas season! I do wonder, however, if it as funny to people who are less familiar with Judaism. Regardless, I thought I’d share anyway, along with just about all the basic knowledge I have of yeshivas and Talmud. And hey, if you’re not familiar with Judaism, at least you’ll have learned something, i.e. it’s a good thing Jews don’t do Christmas trees. 🙂

Strict lockdown & Christmas

The Netherlands is going into a strict lockdown again to bring down Covid-19 cases that have been re-surging due to en masse Christmas shopping and people not adhering as strictly to the semi-lockdown restrictions that were already in place. Schools are closing as of tomorrow, non-essential shops are closing, restaurants were already closed and hotels aren’t allowed to provide any room service or restaurant services anymore, no more than 2 visitors allowed in your household (and 3 for Christmas), no more group gatherings, no travel abroad, and theatres, cinemas, museums and public buildings will be closed. All these measures will be in effect for five weeks, until January 19th. Does this mean…

Well, Christmas isn’t exactly called off but it’s certainly going to be a bit of a lonely Christmas this year. With three visitors allowed, we will be able to invite my in laws over if we are all healthy and socially distanced and we will be able to visit my mother another day and that’ll be it. No large Christmas gathering with the family on my side like we usually have, no going away for a few days during the Christmas holidays and no nice outings like to Christmas markets (which have already been cancelled). I am and will be really missing all that! So, let me wallow a bit in music.

“It’ll be lonely this Christmas, without you to hold…”

“It’s gonna be a cold, cold Christmas without you […] it’s gonna be a long and lonely Christmas without you, missing you my darling in oh so many ways…”

“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you, I’ll be so blue just thinking about you; decorations of red on a green Christmas tree, won’t be the same, if you’re not here with me…”

“Nobody ought to be all alone on Christmas…”

Let’s just hope for better days: “Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings, and designer love and empty things, just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days…”

Yes, I know this lockdown sucks but it really is for the greater good and I hope it can save many lives and spare our healthcare workers from the horrors of this past spring. One somewhat more lonely Christmas, even if disheartening, seems to be a reasonable price to pay for that…

The holidays are (almost) here

Yes, the Christmas season has finally reached our house! We’d been waiting for a (free) Christmas tree to be delivered, it was supposed to come between last week Monday and Saturday afternoon. We were supposed to get a track and trace notification the day before delivery but when by Saturday at the end of the afternoon we had not received a track and trace or a tree, we figured the tree wasn’t coming anymore. Well, to be exact, I figured that, while Mr Esther remained hopeful. I was already working on Mr Esther for us to go out and buy a tree ourselves on Sunday but then on Saturday evening my son happened to be in the front garden when at just around 8.15 pm a van drove up, a guy jumped out, grabbed a tree from the back and thrust it into my son’s arms. “I have a Christmas tree!” Mr Esther junior called out to us inside and sure enough, there it was, still wrapped but looking just about the perfect size for our house, the size we normally get.

Yesterday afternoon the tree went up, it’s supposed to be a sturdy tree that loses fewer needles, a Nordmann fir. It would be lovely if that turns out to be the case and we’ll have less needles to deal with throughout our living room when we take it down again in a few weeks time (usually just after New Year’s). Mr Esther strung the lights and mini me and I decorated the tree. Mini me mandated a blue and silver/white colour scheme, but I did manage to sneak in a few small red ornaments, some olive tree ornaments from Bethlehem and a few small wooden toy ones (like a rocking horse and little wooden men) here and there.

Our front garden was already looking festive with some twinkle lights to guide the way to our front door. All of this pretty much sums up our complete Christmas decor: we have the Christmas tree, some twinkle lights and extra candles throughout the house and that’s it, relatively simple and just how we like it. I like that I can also see some of the twinkle lights on our big outside fir tree from the window in our dining area as I work (which I’m supposed to be doing now but no motivation and really not that much to do). I’m wondering now, whether that huge fir in our front garden once started life as a Christmas tree for the first inhabitants here back in 1978 when this house was built…

Anyway, we’re ready for the holidays now. This past weekend we’ve had to forgo our yearly German Christmas market trip we had planned with two close friends of ours, so this decorating is a little consolation.

This evening our prime minister will address the nation again, as numbers of Covid-19 cases have been rising too quickly here in The Netherlands. We were already in partial lockdown but if rumours from ‘well-informed sources’ are to be believed, we’ll be going into complete lockdown again from tomorrow or Wednesday, with all but essential services/shops closing and no visitors at home allowed anymore. It’ll make for a very bleak Christmas. I was already mourning not having the large family Christmas at my mother’s like we have each year and now it looks like even the tentative staggered socially distanced Christmas plans we were making won’t be happening either. If complete lockdown is what needs to happen to save lives, then that’s what needs to happen and we will abide but it still sucks.

In the meantime, here’s a festive virtual sing-along video to enjoy, which gave me a bittersweet feeling but also brought a smile to my face…

These remain such strange times… Just this week left for me to work and then I have two weeks off for Christmas break. It will be a very weird one.