To me, there's only one Christmas. It's celebrated in LA with my mom, brother and Mickey and it just wouldn't be Christmas without...
- a fabulous family party at Aunt Tina's with a bit of glamor, lots of cousins and an impromptu talent show - The Mallinson, Rennie and Pakfar clans used to gather on Christmas day when we were little, but now that our families are growing, we generally get together at my Aunt Tina's house in Northridge during the weekend before Christmas for a dinner party. We have some good-looking family members, so mom and I stepped up our game this year by getting our makeup done at MAC before the party. I used to be intimidated by the makeup artists at MAC because their own faces often express the drag queen/Lady Gaga-spectrum of their talent, but they're perfectly capable of creating normal party-pretty looks without a touch of Marilyn Manson. Anyway, it was lovely to catch up with all my cousins, especially the Oettinger contingent from Texas who I hadn't seen for several years. Aunt Tina unfailingly serves up a fantastic feast and this year was no exception. The saffron sour cherry rice, a Persian dish this year served up by Uncle Hamid's mom, is always a highlight. We were entertained by seven year old Brandon who sang Justin Bieber's hit song "Baby" twice. Though he was good, my cousin Brittany's three year old son Charlie's effort to literally push Brandon out of the way and then sing the same song was even better.
- taking turns opening presents on Christmas morning and wishing I had maybe gotten dressed and put on makeup because Mickey's taking a ton of pictures - On many Christmas mornings of my youth, my brother would awaken me and our parents at around 6:30am. There were plenty of Christmases where the whole thing would be over by 8:15am. Nic's still an early riser and jet lag contributed to another early start to Christmas morning. Some families tone down their Christmas celebrations and the quantity of gifts once the children leave their childhood and teen years, but my family remains remarkably generous and the number of gifts under the tree seem to increase as the years go on. This is also because our family has grown to include Tom and his family, Mickey and his family and Kat, of course. In one critical way, I've matured enough to realize that it truly is better to give than receive. I'm rising early not because I can't wait to see my haul, but because I'm eager to see how everyone else likes the gifts I gave them. This year's highlights were the xBox 360 Kinect with Dance Central game for Nic and Kat and a tortilla press for Mickey. I was thrilled with several generous gifts from my family: clothes from Mom, a signed cookbook from Nic and Kat and games, music and more from Mickey.
- my childhood stocking and the luscious chocolate orange inside it - I sometimes feel sorry for families who hang the traditional red felt stockings with cheap white faux fur trim because my own stocking is so special to me. It's white and green with a delicate quilted pattern; I've had it since birth and my mom recently had my name embroidered on it. Every Christmas I find it filled with a number of small, delightfully useful things: cute pocket Kleenex, Chapstick, socks and a magazine. Without fail, it also includes a chocolate orange fashioned like a real orange complete with sections and pith. You know the type; you have to knock it firmly against a hard surface to separate the sections.
- exchanging gag/ugly gifts with my cousin Holly - We initiated this tradition when I brought home my first lot of teacher Christmas gifts. Bless their little hearts, but the gifts I received from my darling first graders were... well, exactly the types of trinkets that a six year old would find beautiful. I saw my fair share of red and white stuffed animals, silk roses with glue meant to look like dew/rain drops and lots of porcelain, glass and faux-crystal figurines. It sounds cruel, but I found most of these figurines profoundly ugly and perplexing and I would literally cry laughing while imagining the thought process that went into them. A porcelain ballerina pig with a real tulle mini tutu and Dreamsicle-esque flower crown was particularly memorable and inspired me to share this peculiar joy with Holly. Now that I no longer teach, Alyssa generously donated her "best" gift to our cause. It was a mermaid figurine with a glittery bikini top and inexplicable belly chain. Priceless.
- going to the movie theater on Christmas day and choosing a film to suit the whole family - Our family are big on movies. For some of us, the Academy Awards are a holiday on par with Easter or the Fourth of July. Finding a movie that's appropriate for all of us (and that most of us haven't already seen) can be a challenge, but we found a winner this year in The King's Speech with Colin Firth.