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2012 marked my first year away from family for Christmas. Thanksgivings I’ve done, 4th of Julys, New Year’s Eve, but Christmas and, now that I think about it, my birthday, have always been spent in the raucous company of my beloved family.
Admittedly, I was apprehensive about this. I am very close with my family, and I”m a sucker for tradition, so I wasn’t sure how well I’d adjust to being away from Tucson for this holiday. I expected to cry a lot over Skype.
I’m glad that’s not what happened. 
Belgrad Forest
Instead, my honey and I made our own experiences away from home, and they were really fun, memorable ones! On Christmas Eve, we joined up with some other English teachers and headed to a protestant church service, which really turned out to be more of a lessons & carols service (which I happen to adore). Beforehand, we had drinks–wine for the gals & salep for the boys, a delicious, warm, creamy Turkish drink topped with cinnamon–and squished ourselves 6 to a pew into the small church.
Istanbul is huge, so the diversity in the church was really amazing. We didn’t chat with anyone really but it was clear that people from all over had come to be together on Christmas Eve. Although I can’t say I enjoyed it as much as a service from home, and I somehow managed to get the worst case of the giggles during the Gospel that overflowed onto Boris & our other friend, we did manage to light our candles at the end without setting anyone or anything else ablaze. A Christmas miracle!
Afterwards, we had a late-night snack (I had rice pilaf and soup) and headed to someone’s apartment for mulled wine and a screening of The Santa Clause. There’s nothing quite like sitting back, sipping hot, spiced vino and going back and forth listening to ridiculous conversations and seeing Tim Allen morph into Father Christmas. Win.
Belgrad Forest
On Christmas Day, the boyfriend and I headed to Belgrad Forest, which is only about a 20-minute bus ride from our neighborhood, Sariyer. The snowfall that had left the city paralyzed and messy and accident-prone only a few days before rendered the 5500-hectar forest absolutely stunning. The roads were clear but there was still at least a foot of snow left all over the woods, and we had a really nice, long walk through the forest to a lake and back again to eat at a little cafe in the forest picnic area.
Belgrad Forest
We made it home in the late afternoon (after making the most makeshift snow man ever), and I prepared myself for an epic holiday Skype date with my family. I was not disappointed. I got to see everyone open the gifts I had sent, got to experience the very real chaos and confusion of a typical Christmas morning, as well as witness a Google Hangout with 4 screens going at once (and noise for it all going at once, to boot).
Cool little snow dude, with a carrot nose found on the street, berry eyes and a little leaf toupee. 🙂
All in all, it was a really great day, and I feel so lucky to have spent it in person and virtually with people I love. I hope your holidays went well, whatever they were, and that you’re as excited about 2013 as I am!