On Christmas Eve Day (is that a thing?), Mike and I packed the car with clothes, presents, groceries, baby gear, games, diapers, blankies, electronics, toiletries, etc. and when nothing else could possibly fit— we took the kids to Newport, Rhode Island to spend Christmas with Poppy and Nonna (aka my dad and stepmother). My sister and her family of three (which includes my one-year-old nephew Jack) made the trip from the city as well.
You might remember that my family is Jewish and we have never officially celebrated Christmas before. We’ve visited Santa and seen the tree in Rockefeller Center, but this would be our first Christmas morning.
FYI- Nonna is Catholic so that gives us permission to celebrate without guilt.
I tried to explain this to Mazzy but I think her takeaway was— I should marry someone not Jewish— which was not exactly my point.
Nonna is from Rhode Island so my dad has spent Christmas there with her family since as long as I can remember. This year, they bought their own house which is why we were all given the invite.
It’s about a 3-4 hour car ride from NYC to Newport, so my sister and I agreed to stop midway for lunch and a visit to the aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut.
At lunch, CNN was playing the US Military Santa tracker which was the perfect thing to get Mazzy and Harlow in the Christmas spirit.
“Look guys! The military is tracking Santa’s trip from the North Pole!”
“What’s the military?”
At the aquarium, the kids were greeted by three Beluga whales, who waved, gave us kisses and acted like we were all old friends.
I hope their happy greeting wasn’t because they thought we were there to take them out of their tank and place them back in the ocean, but I am no sea life expert, so I really can’t say.
We arrived in Newport on Wednesday evening and saw the house for the first time, which is exactly the kind of house I always imagined people celebrate Christmas in. It has colonial style windows, a curved bannister and a little bathroom underneath the stairwell. There were even french doors separating the dining room from the living room, or as the Mikes (that’s my husband and my sister’s husband) like to call it— “the parlor”. Throughout the long weekend, they kept fixing themselves drinks and saying “Let’s adjourn to the parlor.”
It’s not a fancy house. It just seemed quintessentially New England. A traditional house on a suburban block with good climbing trees and sidewalks along the curb.
Most importantly, it had a fully decorated tree visible through the windows from the street.
Originally Poppy and Nonna wanted to have Christmas Eve dinner at home but then when they realized how early children eat dinner and how many different diet restrictions they all have, they reconsidered.
Smart move. We went out for dinner at a seafood restaurant in town called The Mooring.
Harlow and Mazzy were both awesome at dinner, I think mainly because my sister (aka Dr. B) was there. She is a master of corralling and entertaining children at the dinner table. She also does not allow me to post pictures of her, which makes her presence seem way less significant than it was. One of the best parts of Christmas was hanging out with my sister and watching the kids play together. I also love how well our husbands (aka “The Mikes”) get along.
That’s not my sister’s husband on the left above, by the way. That’s Poppy. My sister is married to someone age appropriate.
You can’t tell in the picture but Mike is wearing a blue velvet dinner jacket he bought the day before we left, proudly claiming it to be “Perfect for Christmas Eve dinner!”
Seriously? This from the man who didn’t want the trip to be “too Christmas-y” because he was afraid we would confuse the children? Now he’s honoring the importance of the occasion with velvet???
After dinner, Nonna went to her Great Aunt’s house and left us with a second little Christmas tree in the den just for the kids to decorate. My father and the Mikes were tasked with getting the thing to stand which was way harder than it should have been. At one point, all three of them were hacking away at the bottom of the tree with a knife over the kitchen sink, prompting my sister to say, “How many Jews does it take to put up a Christmas tree?”
More than three, it turns out.
Finally, we had it standing/leaning in a corner and got to have our very first tree trimming party.
Mazzy put on an ornament she had brought especially for the occasion, bringing both a bit of NYC and a splash of her favorite color to the tree.
That night the kids went to bed after feeding them all the lies we possibly could about Santa.
We set up carrots, crackers and a glass of milk for Santa and the reindeer. We talked about Santa coming down the chimney and leaving gifts in the empty stockings. We wondered if Santa was still in China or if he had made it to this side of the world yet.
When Mazzy walked downstairs after bedtime, claiming she couldn’t sleep (right around the corner from where we were getting the presents ready), I shooed her back up by saying, “You have to get back in bed! Santa will skip our house if he thinks you are still awake!”
Then my sister and I gnawed on the carrots (leaving the appropriate reindeer-sized bite marks), crushed the crackers and poured the milk back in the carton, like good Jewish girls should.
FYI- If Jews believed in the afterlife, then both my Jewish grandmothers would have been tsk tsking from above.
The next morning, Mazzy ran into our room bright and early and we all went downstairs together. Initially, she was confused by some of the carrots still being there, until I pointed out the gnawing and that they were obviously remnants from the reindeer. (Perhaps we tried too hard.)
Then we opened gifts including a set of matchbox cars meant to answer Mazzy’s Santa request for a race car. There was also the Madame Alexander doll she wanted from Macy’s and a bunny mask she had tried to get me to purchase a day earlier when she was supposed to be shopping for her little sister. There were also several unwrapped gifts including an official Disney Elsa and Anna that made a believer out of Harlow.
Even though I think we did everything right, toward the end of morning, while sitting in a pile of torn wrapping and toy boxes, Mazzy said, “This is all pretend right?”
To which I said, “It’s not pretend! It’s Santa!”
I guess it’s hard to introduce a magical character five years into your child’s life. Still, whether she is a believer or not, the holidays were wonderful.
My family all lives in and around NYC, so it’s not often I get the feeling of “coming home”. We go to my mom’s for most holidays but we stay for dinner and then leave because we live a half hour away. It was great to be in a house with my dad and my sister and our families all at once for a long weekend. I don’t want to lie and pretend there was no family drama— there was some. But from what I hear from people who do this every year, that’s all part of Christmas too.
Beisdes, a little drama was totally worth seeing Mazzy chase Harlow around the house trying to get a kiss under the mistletoe.
We had a big Christmas dinner at the house, Italian style with Eggplant Parmigiana. Then instead of putting Mazzy to bed, I drove her 40 minutes to see the Crazy Xmas House in Coventry, which was recently named the 6th best Christmas light display in the country.
I swear I have never seen Mazzy so floored by anything in her life.
I posted a video of the house on Instagram.
Even Mike, who in the past has been my own personal Christmas Grinch, embraced the festivities completely by wearing his famous onesie pajamas (last seen at Harlow’s pancake pajama party) on Christmas morning.
“We hit our first Christmas out of the park,” he said.
Indeed we did.
For more photos of our trip to Rhode Island, follow @mommyshorts on Instagram. I’ll probably follow up with a second post about the rest of our trip— Rhode Island is a really beautiful place.