Sadly, while I took pictures fairly diligently the first half of the week, during the second half of the week it became more important to just be with the family and not necessarily take pictures of everything. So, there are only a few left and some of them not so great.
We enjoyed family meals together all week. Breakfast was usually a pajama affair and lunch was a general idea that could stretch anywhere between noon and four o'clock, but dinner usually happened with all eleven of us around the table. Some nights were quieter than others, some more rowdy, but it was always just nice to see everyone's face at the same table.
On the Christmas Eve eve, the 23rd, we had a fancier dinner with candles and everything. Santa even showed up and had presents for all. Somehow I made it into the "nice" book, and in some twist of fate my brother did too. But, we both have pretty awesome wives, so that probably explains it.
The 24th arrived and we went to church for the Christmas Eve service. We went to a church we'd never been to before because we assumed it would be smaller and easier for us to navigate with the little ones. We were also surprised by the service though. It's hard to say what it was we should have expected, but I'm pretty sure none of us saw what was coming.
It wasn't dramatic, there wasn't a pageant, and it was all fairly straight forward. But perhaps the kind way of describing the event is "unrehearsed". I could also add untalented, bad, poor, shameful, lacking, or pathetic to the list, but I'm trying to be nice. The two highlights were the special song and the candlelit number "Joy to the World". The special was indeed special, but only because the singer didn't know the words, was whispering more than singing, and seemed to be having an anxiety attack. To top off the awkwardness we were invited to join in on the last stanza. It was difficult not to laugh.
"Joy to the World" felt more like bad circus music than a rousing Christmas hymn. For the first two phrases the song leader swayed between three or four different keys. It wasn't slurpy country music. It was more like a his vocal chords were a slide whistle that just couldn't find home. At no point was the entire congregation in the same key, although I tried valiantly to belt out the correct one from the back row. I think a few families joined in, but it was the most raucous hymn sing I've ever been a part of.
So, Christmas Eve was kicked off with a memorable service, then we had dinner with Grandma and a neighbor friend and a few other family friends. Later in the evening we had a fantastic game of Settlers of Catan and tried to watch a little bit of White Christmas on TCM.
Christmas day was awesome. My nephew got a litte excited and started digging through his stocking before he was supposed to, but you can't exactly re-pack it and tell him to wait, so we were off to the races. The rest of the kids soon joined in and before too long the floor was a sea of wrapping paper. Later on we went to see the grandparents at the nursing home and then we cracked open the pinochle deck after dinner for a family game. Classic. Just classic.
So, Christmas was a success. It was hard to say goodbye when my brother left Sunday morning and even harder to leave on Sunday night on the train. As the fates would have it, our train was late getting home but spot on time to leave.
And after staying at a house of eleven people for a week, our little apartment felt like a glorified closet and a little too quiet. But such is life. Being home did much to remind me the value of staying close to my family and not losing touch with them in the next year. So, here's to family. Happy New Year, all!