Posts filed under Christmas

"Nollaig Shona" from Galway, Ireland

No matter where you're from, Christmas just feels especially right there. I have grand visions of Dallas at Christmastime in a way that makes no logical sense-as we didn't have snow, cultured outings to make annual traditions of like the Rockettes, or any distinguishing factor besides it being home. (And as they say, there's no place like it at the holidays.) 

But sometimes you stumble upon a place that feels perfect- like you've walked into a real Christmas card. And while it may not be your home, it's easy to imagine why someone would be proud to call it theirs.  

That's how I felt when we arrived in the cheerful coastal Irish town of Galway a few weeks ago. The brightly coloured houses all sparked with Christmas cheer as shop owners mingled outside chatting to each other and hung decorations and painted Christmas scenes on the glass panes of their windows.

Sparkly lights twinkled "Nollaig Shona" across the street- wishing those who walked below a Merry Christmas in Gaelic.

So while I'm not sending out Christmas cards this year- I hope you can enjoy this Christmas card-esque view of this special town.

Find more of my posts on Ireland here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 22, 2016 and filed under travel, ireland, holiday, Christmas, love, life, uk getaway.

Anthropologie Gift Guide 2016

For me, there's an undeniable nostalgia and excitement that comes from walking into a mall at Christmas time with a list of presents to buy. I remember as a kid, we would all head to the mall and split up in groups to take care of finding everything on our list. I'd always have to be talked down from buying my mom a bejewelled brooch from the ladies section of Dillard's- thanks, dad- and would spend a while wandering around until I found a less obnoxious alternative. After a successful find, our little group would run bags out to the car and throw blankets over them to keep them hidden.

Running around together with Christmas carols playing, sales clerks in Santa Hats and the endless lines for Santa and Starbucks wrapping down the halls- it all added up to a moment that really only came at Christmas and signalled that we were just a few days away from Christmas!

While I love dashing around the high street in England for shopping these days, I loved going up to Brent Cross and wandering around inside the cosy mall in its Christmas hustle. It just felt like how Christmas should be.

I went up to see the new Anthropologie that opened this month. Needless to say, the combo of Anthropologie styling and holiday decor made it feel like I'd walked on to a movie set. (How do they always do that?)

They asked me to pick my ten favourite items for holidays gifts… which was no hard task! The only hard part was trying to find gifts for people other than myself. :)

ONE  | TWO | THREE | FOUR | FIVE | SIX | SEVEN | EIGHT | NINE | TEN

But really, this was the tip of the iceberg of what they have in store. While online might save time, you really need to make a day out of it and head to Brent Cross for a real Christmas shopping day.


Do you have fun memories of Christmas shopping? Or better yet- have you ever been a crazy Black Friday shopper? (I haven't ever been in person- just online!)



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 5, 2016 and filed under Christmas, shopping.

A Field Guide to British Christmas Dining

If you're new to England this Christmas, have found yourself visiting family in the U.K. or are simply looking to decode some terms from your favourite British Christmas movies, use this handy guide to help you navigate your way around the Christmas dinner table like a local.

1. CHRISTMAS PUDDING | The Christmas Pudding is the queen of all Christmas desserts- though, confusing to Americans- it's not a "pudding" like you may think of in all it's Bill Cosby-piano-playing glory. Pudding refers to dessert here, so this is a cake that has dried fruits and is soaked for months in booze. It is covered in some sort of cream and then, for dramatic effect, lit on fire when served. 

2. MINCE PIE | A Mince Pie. Not a "Mince Meat Pie," because meat in this pie is disgusting. Even if my Southern grandfather may have loved it- something about the idea of meat in a pie always made me gag. Now that I eat (too regularly) the real mince pies, the idea of meat in it really makes me shudder. A classic mince pie is nearly bite-size and full of dried fruits and spices. They're best served warm, in quantity of 2-3, and alongside a big mug of tea. These appear in every store in late October, are eaten by the millions in the lead up to and on Christmas, and then magically disappear from existence by the start of the New Year. 

3. BRANDY BUTTER
 | This is the aforementioned cream that is poured on top of Christmas puddings- but, as the name may imply, has brandy worked into it. Typically, the final product is served alongside a glass of brandy. 

4. TRIFLE | There isn't one specific recipe for a trifle, but assume it will come from a general pool of ingredients including: fruit, whipped cream, jell-o (or "jelly" as it's called here) sponge fingers and sherry. Imagine it layered up in bright layers and served in a big glass bowl to show off each layer.

5. GOOSE-FAT POTATOES | While much of the British Christmas dinner seems similar to a US Thanksgiving- they skip mashed potatoes and roast theirs in chunks in a pool of goose-fat. The result is a crunchy, golden potato that resembles a hoof more than a vegetable. It's the perfect consistency for absorbing gravy.

6. PIGS IN A BLANKET | These aren't the same crescent roll stuffed hot dogs you might be thinking of... but they are slightly similar. Small sausages ("chipolatas") are wrapped in bacon ("streaky"- just like us Americans like it) and roasted. These are served alongside the turkey to add saltiness to, what some consider, a bland meat. These are often also served as nibbles in the holiday season.

7. WASSAIL | This warm holiday beverage can either be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. The non-alcoholic will typically be a version similar to our cider. (Though ordering a "cider" will get you a cold, alcoholic beverage- so beware!) It can also be mulled wine which is wine that is cooked over the stove and, often, has fruits, cinnamon sticks and other spices added to it. It's for sale in most pubs and passed at most holiday events.

8. CHRISTMAS CRACKER | This isn't a pretty tin of saltines that is passed around- a Christmas cracker will sit on the the place setting of each guest. At some point in the meal (often debated as when the official time is- though I prefer sometime around the arrival of the main course!), these will be cracked with a loud bang, and everyone will then rifle through the insides of their cracker and share their findings with the table. The standard lineup of contents include: a paper crown (mandatory to wear), a silly joke that everyone loves to groan at, and a cheap toy or gift.

9. BREAD SAUCE | This is a sauce not for bread- but made of bread. It's really thick and clumpy, but it actually goes really well with roast chicken or turkey. Combined with cranberry sauce- it's definitely worth trying.


After you've made it through the meal, pat yourself on the back and get ready to cozy in for the Queen's Christmas address which broadcast every year on Christmas Day. The Queen will discuss the year gone by and it, somehow, makes the day feel perfect. (Even if you do quietly chat through the whole thing with your sister.)


Spending the holidays in England? Find my travel guide to London here and my guide to London with kids at Christmas here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 1, 2016 and filed under eat, drink, Christmas, holiday.

Pack Your Bags: Christmas (with Kids!) in London

In travel consults, I'm often asked if coming to Europe at Christmas is a bad idea. My answer is- most always- not at all! Christmas in Europe feels so magical. You simply can't beat the charm of a German Christmas market, sipping chocolat chair from a tiny cafe after shopping in Paris, or being absorbed into the grandeur of a carol service held in a candle-lit Westminster Abbey.

While so many destinations in Europe are steeped in various traditions, I'm biased to the way that London celebrates Christmas. It's a style that would make Dickens proud and Hugh Grant smile. In a big way, the city embraces the "festive season" and splashes out weeks of fun, holiday events full of the quirky items you've heard of in movies and books: mince pies served with mulled wine, nativity plays, potatoes roasted in goose fat, Santa's Grotto, and of course- the Christmas pudding.


You'll find no other time of the year to have so many great options for kids, either. Days out for families are all just waiting to be enjoyed during the run up to Christmas. I've put together a list of my favourites- the ones we share with our own kids and make into a yearly tradition.

CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING CEREMONIES | Each year, the major areas of town will have tree lighting ceremonies in early November to kick off the season. The bigger areas will often have celebrity performances and tons of festive fun. The largest ones are typically around Oxford Circus and Regent Street.


HYDE PARK WINTER WONDERLAND | This is our family's favourite Christmas tradition- Tyler & I have gone every year since we moved to England! Set up in Hyde Park (on the East side- between Hyde Park Corner & Marble Arch), is Winter Wonderland. Think of a State Fair and a German Christmas market having a baby. A really big baby. Entrance is free, but rides aren't. (You pay with tokens purchased in endless kiosks in the park.) Food is paid for in cash and most stalls now accept credit cards.

Come early in the day with kids to avoid the really long lines... and come hungry! There are so many great stalls and things to do- you're going to be glad you have room to eat.


FESTIVE AFTERNOON TEAS | At Christmas, tea rooms around London will swap out their regular afternoon tea menus for a Festive Tea. These teas are afternoon teas with a Christmas twist. Expect to get all the standard items like tea, scones and sandwiches:.. just with some seasonal items tucked in to the menu: turkey and cranberry sandwiches, mince pies and miniature Christmas puddings... and most will have a sweet children's version, too.

This is one of my favourite things to do in London with a little girl at Christmas, as it typically involves dressing up and strolling through picturesque streets for window shopping when you've finished.

CAROL SERVICE AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY | In the Advent Season, most of the churches will have carol services. We like to take guests to Westminster Abbey for their big one on Christmas Eve when we can get tickets. The service on the 24th is ticketed so you'll need to get tickets in advance. Tickets are free, but allocated in advance.

However, they have a few other services which do not require tickets. The full schedule can be found here on the Abbey's website.

ICE SKATING AT THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM | This is a great example of how doing something ordinary can become cooler when it's in a pretty place. Book tickets for ice skating in the courtyard of the Natural History Museum and you'll not only have fun- but some gorgeous photos to look back on.

You don't need to be a good skater to skate- most people there won't be! For the little ones, there are helpful little penguin/standers to push along!

SANTA'S GROTTO AT HARRODS | Again, this needs to be booked- but you can book a special trip to see Santa. When you enter, Santa will be waiting for your child(ren) and will speak to him by name. As they wait to see Santa, the children get to play games and explore his "workshop." It's really sweet and feels very fancy! See our visit here from last year. 

CHRISTMAS CAROLS AT TRAFALGAR SQUARE | This is a great free option for families on a nice day. Throughout the month, various groups and charities will sing carols in Trafalgar Square throughout the day. Take a seat on the steps in front of the National Gallery and enjoy the sounds of Christmas and Big Ben in the backdrop. It's best to bring a warm drink and some mince pies with you, too!


Looking for more ideas of what to do in London? Find my travel guide here or book a travel consult.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
 

Posted on November 28, 2016 and filed under Christmas, kids, london, holiday, love, life.