Viewing: Christmas

All I want for Christmas is..

Two front teeth

Look what Santa brought us for Christmas morning!

Tala’s teeth really started coming out since we arrived. She started teething nearly three months ago, and now her teeth are here. I don’t blame them for not wanting to come out in the cold—looks like all they needed was some sunshine.

From Tala, Marlon and myself: Maligayang Pasko! Have a merry, merry Christmas everyone!

DIY hand-lettered Christmas cards

I always make my own Christmas cards, but after having Tala, I realized this year would be different. Nobody would care about my artistic ideas anymore—everyone just wants to see the baby!

I wanted to give the holiday photos my own unique style without going the standard “family posing under the Christmas tree” route. Inspired by this Elle UK spread featuring Michelle Williams and some cool hand-lettered script, I created my own set of hand-lettered Christmas cards using Tala’s black-and-white holiday photos.

I hope everyone I’ve sent them to has received them by now, so I can share them without spoiling the surprise!

Hand-lettered baby Christmas card

I started out with a simple “Merry Christmas!” to warm up. To soften the stark black and white photos, I decided to keep the script fun, loopy and childlike, rather than ornate or fancy.

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Christmas in Amsterdam: Vintage tram ride with Santa

As a young family, we’re constantly discovering and creating our own family traditions. Marlon and I are both the youngest children, so we love finally being able to make the rules now that we’re parents—especially where Christmas is involved!

Not only do we get to draw on our own growing-up experiences of Christmas, but also on the traditions of the country and community we’ve chosen to live in. Because we live in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas becomes woven into our holiday fabric; because we live in cosmopolitan Amsterdam, friends from all over the world show us many new and different ways to celebrate Christmas.

Over the weekend, we found a new family tradition right here in Amsterdam: Santa’s Vintage Tram Ride.

Amsterdam vintage tram ride with Santa

Organized by the Amsterdam Mamas, a network for English-speaking parents in Amsterdam, Santa’s Vintage Tram Ride sets off every December from the Electrische Museumtramlijn Amsterdam.

This little museum dedicated to vintage electric trams is housed in the former Haarlemmermeerstation, a lovely old brick building in the Old South of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam vintage tram museum

The museum’s collection of old trams come from all over Europe and are in perfect working order. They ride every Sunday from Easter to the end of October, and can be hired for special events—which is exactly what the Amsterdam Mamas did for Christmas-loving young families like us.

Amsterdam vintage tram conductor

Christmas with children is truly something special. It was a joy to see all the excited little ones climbing aboard this stately old tram from Vienna…

Amsterdam vintage tram ride with Santa Claus

and sent off by the man of the hour, ringing a big gold bell… Santa Claus himself!

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Black & white Christmas photo shoot

I know Tala will only be a baby for a very short time. And I know I should probably take advantage of her first Christmas to do something ridiculously cute, such dress her up as an elf or a reindeer or a Christmas cupcake, or something equally silly.

However, as you’ve seen from our minimalist/alternative Christmas tree, keeping things simple is what feels natural and right this year. Having a baby also leaves one with significantly less time to scour the Internet for the most perfectly adorable (but not tacky) Christmas baby costume.

So when Amsterdam-based lifestyle photographer Maud Fontein conceptualized a series of mini holiday photo shoots with a Scandinavian-inspired black and white theme, I couldn’t resist.

Besides, between you and me, I don’t think Tala needs to dress up like a cupcake to look adorable. But maybe I’m a little bit biased.

Baby Christmas photos black and white

Naturally, on the day of the shoot, we were running late and Tala was being… shall we say, less than delightful and charming. (That’s the way it always works. Trust me.) So there I was, literally rolling around on the floor on my belly in front of a woman I had never met before, manically trying to get my daughter to smile before our thirty-minute clock ran out.

If there’s anything I learned from doing this quick shoot with Maud, it’s that motherhood kills your ability to be embarrassed about anything. I think after you allow your breasts to be used as a food source/pacifier in public, you tend to be a little less uptight about these things.

“All it takes is one good shot,” said Maud reassuringly—and all that matters is that in the end, we got it. Look at that soon-to-be-toothy smile!

Gaga over glühwein

One of the things I love most about Christmas markets in Germany is drinking glühwein, or hot spiced wine. Marlon and I once received a bottle of glühwein as a gift when we were still living in Singapore, and it stayed untouched in our refrigerator for over a year simply because we couldn’t bear the thought of drinking hot wine in a hot, humid climate.

The whole atmosphere is part of the enjoyment of glühwein: being all bundled up, feeling the cold winter air on your face, warming your hands with the cup, standing under the twinkling lights that brighten up a prematurely dark afternoon or evening.

I think we must have hit every single glühwein stall in Dusseldorf. To attract attention in a thick crowd, every stall has its own little gimmick, and that’s part of the fun too.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein carousel

I’m pretty sure this glühwein carousel on Flinger Strasse features celebrities, whom you will probably only recognize if you’re German. I’m willing to guess that the portly lady on the left is Angela Merkel.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein stall chandelier

There’s kitschy… and then there’s classy. These beautiful chandeliers lit up the stall at the Sternchenmarkt, or Little Star Market, on the Stadtbrückchen square.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein copper pot

Traditional or trendy? These huge copper pots at the Marktplatz market are both, and they’re attention-grabbing, too. I loved the simple, clean lines of the terracotta mugs at this stall, but I sat out this round so I didn’t get my hands on them.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein

Every glühwein stall has its own mug with the year and the name of the market. A small deposit is built into the price of the drink, which you can forfeit if you want to take the mug home.

After three winters of Christmas market trips, Marlon and I have found ourselves with a small collection of these glühwein mugs. Still, we never seem to have enough mugs at home at this time of year, when we’re constantly making coffee and tea at home.

Dusseldorf Christmas market Schneehuttendorf gluhwein

This year we added another one to the collection, mostly because it’s the coolest one we’ve seen so far: a tall, skinny frosted glass mug from the market on Schadowplatz.

I can just imagine Tala in her teenage years rolling her eyes at our mugs. “Can you please get rid of this tacky glühwein mug collection? Please?!”

Dusseldorf Christmas market Sternchenmarkt gluhwein mug

Sorry, anak. I got you one of your own: a little star mug from your first Christmas market. Mommy can’t throw that away, now can she?

Off to find some Christmas cheer!

Now that our Christmas decorations are up, I fully intend to get into the Christmas spirit. The pursuit of Christmas cheer begins this weekend with our yearly visit to Germany for its famous Weinachtmarkten, or Christmas markets. In between strolling, shopping and stuffing my face, I may or may not try to squeeze in an emergency Ritter Sport Nugat run.

Frohe Weinachten cookie

I’ll be back on Monday with lots of holiday goodness, including a fun little photo shoot for Tala’s first Christmas. In the meantime, here are some merry links to help you get into the Christmas groove!

One striking difference about Christmas in this part of the world: Northern Europeans love their advent calendars. They start on December 1, so you still have two days to pull off a last-minute wonder. Get ideas from these 10 beautiful Advent calendars on The Style Files.

Working on any snowflake-related holiday crafts? Draw inspiration from these stunning snowflake macro shots taken with an inexpensive lens taped to a point-and-shoot camera. Resourceful process, gorgeous results.

I wrote about my 10 favorite things to do at German Christmas market for The Filipino Expat MagazineHop on over to their Facebook page to check out the December issue and find out how you can get your own copy.

It’s never too early to start shopping for gifts… or wrapping them, for that matter. Perk up your presents with these free printable mercantile-inspired gift tags from Design Editor. The black, red and white palette makes them chic and classy.

What is Christmas without carols? Insanely talented a capella group Pentatonix just released its official video for Little Drummer Boy on Youtube. I love this group, and I love a capella Christmas music!

Our alternative Christmas tree

Are you feeling the Christmas spirit yet? I sure am! Last weekend, Marlon and I put on some Christmas carols and started putting up our Christmas decorations at home.

After moving here and discovering the beauty of decorating with fresh and natural materials, I’ve tossed out most, if not all, of our matchy-matchy plastic Christmas decorations from Asia—yes, including our fake Christmas tree. Since we don’t get to enjoy them for very long before our annual trip home, I’ve learned to keep our Christmas decorations simple, minimal and natural.

This year, having a baby poses a new decorating challenge. With Tala grabbing onto all our furniture and trying to pull herself up to a standing position, a big tree would just be too hazardous to have around. We needed an alternative tree that would be safely out of the baby’s way, but still colorful, cheery and Christmasy.

Christmas decoration with winter berries

There are tons of alternative Christmas tree ideas on Pinterest, but as the mother of an eight month-old baby, I don’t exactly have a lot of time for crafting these days. What I did have time for was a visit to the market, where I found these gorgeous bright red winter berries in abundant supply. An armful of these branches in a big glass jar make for a simple, easy and fuss-free alternative Christmas tree.

Traditional German wooden Christmas tree ornament

I didn’t want to overload our tree, so I chose to use just a few special Christmas ornaments. I took out only the ornaments we’ve collected from our visits to German Christmas markets (in Cologne, Aachen and Monschau), and kept the rest in their boxes until next year.

Christmas tree ornament gold star

Christmas tree ornament tin angel

Glass Christmas tree ornaments from Germany

To complete our little Christmas vignette, I dusted off our hand-carved miniature Nativity scene and placed it at the foot of our “tree.” With the candles lit plus some tea lights on the side, it becomes a cozy sight in the evenings.

Miniature wooden Nativity

I like how this simpler, more pared-down tree made me more choiceful, and reminded me that we really can be happy with less. I’m still hoping we get to put up a real Christmas tree someday, but until Tala’s a little more grown up, this berry-branch tree will be our chosen pop of Christmas cheer.

Have you started Christmas decorating yet? Are you doing anything differently this year?

My Ateneo Christmas

How was your Christmas? I hope it was filled with lots of good food and great presents! (And not so many nosy relatives.) I enjoyed a nice, low-key Christmas with my family at my sister’s house in Laguna, with our usual holiday traditions: carving up the Majestic ham with the wrong knife, fruits and queso de bola at the Noche Buena table, and guessing what each present is before opening it (something my mom is really good at).

Aside from these holiday rituals, there’s one Christmas tradition I truly treasure… but it’s not one that I share with my family. And that’s celebrating Christmas at my university, the Ateneo de Manila.

For me, Christmas isn’t complete until I do what I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years, which is sing at the last Simbang Gabi mass before Christmas, on the evening of December 23rd. As part of the Ateneo Chamber Singers (which always sings at the same mass every year), I did this all the way until I moved to Singapore. Even when I wasn’t in the choir anymore, I’d still fly home, make the trip to the university, and sing at mass with my friends.

My Ateneo Christmas always makes me feel that I’ve come home. In fact, my Ateneo Christmas has a home: the university church, the Church of the Gesu. I think it’s one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in Manila, but I may be biased.

It’s illuminated by garlands upon garlands of Christmas lights, strung from the massive trees lining Bellarmine Field in front of the church.

It’s warmed (and fed!) by freshly cooked bibingka—rice cakes with hot butter, salted egg and grated coconut, for my non-Pinoy friends—and light, crisp churros con chocolate.

It’s made beautiful by the gentle faces of the Nativity by the altar, and by the decorations hanging from the highest point of the Gesu’s peaked ceiling. They’re different every year, but they’re almost always in the school colors of blue and white.

And my Ateneo Christmas is filled with music—with songs that I’ve known by heart for years, sung by the beautiful voices of people I love and miss. Their voices really are beautiful, and this time I’m not biased!

It always makes me a bit sad to just be a member of the audience—instead of singing with them for the mini-concert before the mass—and realize that there are songs I don’t know anymore. But I’m just too happy to be surrounded by this music, to really dwell on what I’m missing. And when I do get to add my voice to theirs for the mass, it’s the happiest feeling. It’s Christmas, and I’m home!

Merry Christmas!

I found this funny little snapshot in my mom’s stash of old photos. This holiday greeting goes out from the little girl in me, to the child in each and every one of you.

Wishing you joy, laughter, peace, and all good things. Have a very merry Christmas!

Handmade Christmas cards inspired by Amsterdam

One thing I’m determined to do every year is produce my own handmade Christmas cards (see last year’s watercolor cards here). This year, I wanted to do something that clearly said Christmas in Amsterdam. When Marlon showed me this photo he’d taken with his iPhone en route to Centraal Station one December morning, I knew I had found the perfect inspiration.

So one morning, with Christmas carols playing on my laptop, I sat down to drew Amsterdam’s distinctive old houses with a metal nib and black India ink.

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