It's the 28th December. I'm sat at my kitchen table in bright red tartan pyjamas eating my weight in peanut butter cups with the promise that chocolate will stop being my main meal of the day on the 2nd January (it won't).
I've got big, fluffy, comfy socks on my feet and the Christmas episode of Mrs Brown's Boys playing in the background.
All sound about right so far?
Except one thing.
My kitchen table is in Orlando, not Essex, and apart from the sound of Mrs Brown's beautiful Irish tones, my house is silent, because I'm in on my own.
Two years ago I wrote that I totally believe that I am able to live and work away from home 362 days of the year only because of the knowledge that I would be back with the four most important people in the world for those three important days of December.
I knew when I wrote those words that this would not always be the case, and this year it finally happened. I had Christmas away from home, and away from my family.
Now if you're going to be away from home for the holidays, Disney is certainly the place to do it. Aside from the fact that they fill their Christmas shows with the songs "I'll Be Home for Christmas (if only in my dreams)", "There's No Place Like Home" and "Home Is Where The Heart Is", it is warm and magical and beautiful and I am so grateful that I was luckily enough to experience it.
But it's still hard being away from your family over Christmas, no matter where you are or what you're doing.
I Skyped my family as soon as I woke up on Christmas morning and have since been told that I was not myself at all. My mum thought it was because I was embarrassed of them. Embarrassed? Of my family? Not a chance. Everyone at work had already seen the picture of my little brother Chip, sleeping on the landing out of excitement for Santa (or maybe it was the seven beers before bed that made him choose to nap at the top of the stairs in just his boxers? You decide.), and I don't think there was a cast member or guest around on Christmas day that didn't hear the story about my Grandad talking into the webcam and waving at the speaker. Nope, it definitely wasn't embarrassment that stopped me from being myself on Christmas morning.
I think I was probably too busy thinking of my favourite things about Christmas at home...
1. Leaving out the mince pie and carrot before bed.
As most of you will know I love the idea of mythical characters coming to life and playing in the real world (see my June post on my birthday if you're not sure what I'm talking about), so the idea of leaving out treats for Santa then seeing them gone in the morning because he's been there is far too exciting for me, even at twenty-four years old. One year (about three years ago), my mum foolishly ate the last mince pie so that we didn't have one to leave for Santa. A new tradition in my house is for my mum to tell that story and laugh about how upset I was even though I was twenty-one. Cruel, is what it is.
2. My parents still insisting on pretending they've no idea what we've got in our stockings despite the fact that we now know that they...ahem...help Santa.
My brothers and I play along with it so that we don't upset them. It's been about eleven years since Chip found out about their...ahem...helping Santa and still none of us has ever let on.
3. My Dad's sausage and egg sandwiches.
My friends out here were shocked and horrified when I said that we have cooked sandwiches for breakfast and then Christmas dinner for lunch. Isn't eating until you just cannot stay awake anymore the true meaning of Christmas?
4. The Comfort of It All.
I always think everything feels so cosy when you're surrounded by family. Everything feels safe and predictable- in a brilliant way. My Auntie Hazel always smells nice, my mum always has a special Christmas dress, my Grandad Ed always wears his hat, Uncle Dave has always seen something funny on the tv he needs to tell us about, my brother Mowgli always answers 'yeah good fanks' (no matter what you ask him), my dad always insists on having a music channel blaring Christmas music from the living room so that whoever's upstairs still getting ready can sing along without having to hear their own voice, Chip's last downstairs because he was having a shower (first one of the year Chip? Someone will always, inevitably say), Grandma's presents are always wrapped to such perfection that it seems a shame to open them, Grandad Derek will give each person an individual lesson on his latest computer gadget (and will subsequently be calling every day until Easter asking them how to get it to turn on), Auntie Alice will regale us with brilliant stories of our great grandparents, Uncle Simon will have us all in hysterics for the entire day and my cousins will pass meaningful looks to me and my brothers that only we would ever understand.
It's really, really hard to recreate that with anyone you're not related to.
5. Mince Pies.
They don't exist in America. It is mentioned in one episode of Friends that they don't exist in America (when Rachel tries to put beef sauteed with carrots and onions in an English Trifle with the argument that English people eat mincemeat pies for dessert so maybe they like to mix sweet and meat?), so I did know what I was letting myself in for when I moved here but still...for a nation that like to think they're ahead of the game it's a bit of a failure really....
6. Advent Calendars.
Again, Americans aren't as ahead as they think they are....I did, after several hours of trekking across several Disney Parks manage to track one down but nobody that I spoke to knew what I was referring to (imagine Peter Kay's garlic bread sketch but with chocolate advent calendars and you'll be very close to what I heard approximately fifty times on the 30th November) and it cost an absolute fortune.
7. British Television
I managed to watch all of the American films this year- Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, Elf, even a few cheesier, straight-to-Netflix ones called The Mistletones (starring Tia Mowry- one half of the Sister Sister twins) and Holiday In Handcuffs (starring Melissa Joan Hart or- as she's far better known- Sabrina the Teenage Witch)- both of which I highly recommend, but it really didn't feel like Christmas without the British staples.
On Christmas Eve I found myself so desperate to be watching the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special (one which I have been known to watch three times a day during December) that I just watched the wedding episode (the only one I could find on Netflix). I watched The Vicar of Dibley Christmas episodes twice each but there's only so many times I can stomach the one where she eats four Christmas dinners (uuugghh), and in the end resorted to watching totally-not-seasonal-at-all episodes of Keeping Up Appearances just because they had English accents and a British sense of humour.
Today I finally found Mrs Brown's Boys (the most watched tv show on Christmas day this year, so I'm told) and at last feel relatively Christmassy. Sadly it's looking like Miranda and Eastenders will have to wait until I'm home. (I don't even watch Eastenders but the Christmas episode is always a must, right?)
8. British Food In General.
I know I've already mentioned mince pies and advent calendars but I miss all British food. I miss decent bread for turkey sandwiches, tins of Roses, English sausages, Robinson's squash, sage and onion stuffing and good cheese and crackers.
You know how guilty you've felt for eating so much this past week?
Don't. Don't feel guilty, savour every mouthful and be grateful you come from a nation with such wonderful Christmas food.
9. Christmas Crackers.
Yet another amazing Christmas tradition that our pals on this side of the pond haven't caught onto. As far as I know we are actually the only nation to have these wonderful inventions. I've lived with people from Austria, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Germany, Africa and America and one of my favourite things ever is explaining what a Christmas cracker is. Try it now. Say it out loud. It's funny.
10. The Stories.
There are certain stories in my family that only come out at Christmas and I am heartbroken that I have to wait another year to hear them.
The time that my Grandma immediately regretted her perm so my mum (in her 8-year-old innocence) told her that she looked like one of The Three Degrees to cheer her up. The time that my little brother Chip gave my cousin his wrapped Christmas present with the line 'it's a truck!', the time that my Grandad was so mad at my misbehaving mother (again, she was about 10- not 45), that he called her a 'cow-face', and the time that my (three year old) dad was so mischievous that he covered himself and a nearby car in freshly laid, not-yet-set tar from the street.
I'm sure your family have them too- they're the part of Christmas that make it yours, and the thing that made me miss home more than anything this year.
I am honestly so sad to have missed Christmas at home this year and it's the most homesick I have ever been in my entire life but luckily for me the alternative was fairly magical in itself....
As I couldn't spend my Christmas with my family I spent it with some of the amazing people that I have met out here. All of us wanted to be with our families but we managed to remain positive (some of us better than others and for that I apologise) and create some special memories of our own...
1. The moment that I pulled out a present for Piglet, explaining that I hadn't intended to buy her anything but that I had seen it and thought of her and couldn't resist- and she then did exactly the same thing! Who knew that actually happens in real life?
2. The moment that it turned 7pm on Christmas Eve. Midnight at home. I was chatting to a guest about their plans for the rest of the evening when they told me that they were planning on being in Magic Kingdom at 12.
'Ah how lovely, see Christmas Day in in Magic Kingdom. Wait! What's the time now?'
'That's good enough! It's Christmas in the UK! Merry Christmas!'
At that exact moment I was lucky enough to have the only four nice tables that I had for the entirety of Christmas week. All four of them shouted Christmas wishes at me and celebrated with me in all my excitement. After that it became surreal. I walked into the kitchen, in Walt Disney World, Florida, repeating to myself that it was Christmas day. One of my friends walked past muttering 'kind of bittersweet hey?'
3. The moment that we walked into our hotel. Dale had warned me that the hotel we finally booked was not going to be as nice as the one we had originally hoped for, and that I should prepare myself for that. When we finally made it to our hotel in the middle of the night after a very, very long night at work I could not have walked into anything better. It was beautiful.
4. The moment that Christmas Cheer seemed to infect Dale.
It was Christmas Eve, He had been fine. He'd been ever so slightly grumpy trying to get to the hotel at a decent time after such a long shift, he'd been happy when we walked into the hotel, and relatively cheery as we put all the food for our Christmas dinner away, ready for the morning.
Then as soon as it was bed time he turned into Buddy the Elf. He was running around the room, jumping on the bed, singing Christmas songs- but changing the words to include the names of the people sleeping on bunk beds right outside our room- it might be the most excited I've seen anyone, ever. Brought my Christmas cheer right back :)
5. Watching Magic Kingdom's Christmas Wishes from our hotel balcony.
The fireworks were beautiful, the cold outside made it magical, the fact that we were in our jammies made it cosy, and the Dairy Milk bar in my hand that I had just opened from my mum made it all the more exciting. But my favourite thing about the fireworks is that Scuttle was making stupid jokes about people on the balcony below us, whilst the rest of us made stupid jokes about Scuttle. Dale made jokes about me and Dopey made jokes about Dale and Jane laughed at all of us. It was almost like being with my family and I'm so, so happy that I got to spend those moments with such wonderful people.
6. My Stocking!
So as we all know Father Christmas sees us when we're sleeping, knows when we're awake and knows if we've been bad or good- he's watching all the time! So he was well aware that I had moved to Florida and made sure that I woke up to a full stocking despite moving across the world. I think I deserve a medal for waiting until the very end of Christmas Day to open it (especially because Father Christmas actually left it for me in Florida in the first week of October), but it was worth every second. I laughed and cried opening it and loved every single present.
Thanks Santa :)
7. Waiting for Christmas dinner.
We all laid on the sofa. I was reading my magazine (Glamour UK, thanks Father Christmas!), Dopey was Skyping his girlfriend, Jane was reading (mostly racist) jokes out loud from her phone and Scuttle was...putting the world to rights. We spent the entire time laughing, talking, eating, resting, mocking and relaxing. It was as close to home as it could have been.
8. Christmas Dinner.
I wanted to help, I really did. I even attempted to help at one point, but Dale was fairly set on doing it by himself. Having seen the results, I understand why.
Dale chopped, sliced, stirred, boiled, baked, sauteed and steamed, all the while managing to chat to the rest of us and stay totally calm and poised. Then somehow, out of nowhere, as the last of the party arrived home from work, he produced an entire, huge, delicious dinner. I have no idea how he did it, everything was made at the exact right time, temperature and amount...it was absolutely perfect. With no fuss, and no help.
9. Eating Christmas Dinner.
The food was delicious, I cannot say it enough. But my favourite thing about the dinner was the company. Like the fireworks, the entirety of the dinner was spent making fun of each other. There was one point where Scuttle made a joke so funny that Dopey is lucky to be alive. You know that scene in Mary Poppins where Uncle Albert's laughing so much he goes a funny colour and they're all a bit concerned about him? Yeah, it was just like that.
That moment was the most Christmassy I've felt this year and it could not have happened without these amazing people around me.
10. The moment I opened my Christmas Present.
I opened it on my own. On Boxing Day. I feel far too much pressure opening presents in front of people; I always end up doing a fake, over-the-top happy face when I really am happy, but feel like my actual happy face isn't quite happy enough....do you get that too?
For those of you who didn't hear my squeals on Boxing Day I am going on an actual cruise to the Bahamas next month- could I ever have made a face happy enough?!
So here we are, in three days time it will be 2014, my first (and only) Christmas away from home will be over, I'll be hitting up the gym 8 times a week (I won't), and my American Adventure will be coming to an end.
I wrote last year that I honestly believed that 2013 was going to be the most exciting, adventurous, magical and wonderful year so far.
It far exceeded that.
Right now I have absolutely no expectation for 2014....except that I'll be home for Christmas :)