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Our Chinese Food Christmas

In 2021, the polar vortex left millions of Texans with no electricity or water available. My niece’s family, warned about the stoppage of water, filled bathtubs and containers with the precious liquid. Other friends with no electricity left their homes to go to warming shelters or to live with those who were experiencing only temporary electrical shutdowns.

We connected with our three daughters during that challenging week through a joint text fest. My husband and I experienced rolling blackouts but had water. We camped out in our smallest room, the office, a sanctuary in the middle of the house with only one window. We ran a small electric heater when the power was on and hung blankets in front of the lone window. We even wore our long underwear, coats, and hats while working puzzles and reading during the daylight hours.

In one text, our youngest daughter said, “When it’s this cold, I get a taste for Chinese food.” Her comment drew immediate responses of LOL, happy faces, and Yum-Yum. We all regard our Chinese-food Christmas as one of our best holidays.

The year before our girls left home, we planned a family vacation to Europe. We dreamed of a delightful Christmas as we boarded the airplane to take us from sunny Texas to the “blessed plot” of England, the place we’d seen in films, on television, and imagined when reading books.

My husband mastered driving on the left side of the road and roundabouts. Our youngest daughter organized our underground excursions, and our older daughters organized our must-see stops. Emerging from the tube station and seeing Big Ben brought gasps from all of us. We walked cobblestone paths with a nippy chill in the air and marveled at the shop decorations celebrating the season. As in America, people rushed through the English streets, many armed with packages, and most wearing smiles as the bells and recorded carols competed with the busy traffic sounds.

For our English Christmas, we’d booked a charming bed and breakfast in Bath, which promised a separate apartment for our family. With Jane Austen’s memorable characters in our heads, we rang our host for final directions and confirmation.

“We’re expecting you, but the weather is going to be unusually cold. Bring your jumpers and plenty of 20p and 50p coins.”

After she terminated the call, we surmised that a jumper was a sweater, but we were puzzled about the need for coins.

Advertising pictures can be deceiving.

When we arrived, our daughters dubbed the abode as the Munsters’ Homestead as the exterior reminded them of the black-and-white television show. Optimistic that the inside would be better, we knocked on the door. We saw no spiders weaving webs, bats flying through the rooms, or a dragon peering out.

We issued a collective sigh of relief until our hostess led us to our private apartment–a cramped and unheated space unless you put 20 pence or 50 pence in the heating meter. Our abode did have four beds as promised but distinctly lacked charm and ambiance. We unpacked and went to the local market for breakfast and lunch supplies as we planned to celebrate Christmas in an elegant restaurant.

The predicted unusual cold arrived, and we abbreviated our scheduled Christmas Eve exploration of Bath. We hurried back to the apartment, snuggled up under blankets we pulled from all the beds, and sat on the sofa wearing hats and gloves. The heating meter had a voracious appetite, and our stack of pence coins dwindled. We decided to feed the machine only when absolutely necessary. It became a game as to who would be the first to request heat. Despite the cold, we were warm and happy, all bundled up and spending Christmas Eve together.

Christmas Day dawned, and we dressed warmly as we searched for a nearby restaurant with notions of a blazing fireplace, gleaming china on white tablecloths, and perhaps some figgy pudding.

Nothing. We agreed to postpone our special English dinner until the next day and compromised on Chinese food for Christmas. Stomping our feet to keep warm, we begged for as many 20 and 50 pence coins as the proprietor of the take-out shop could spare and gratefully ordered our favorite dishes and extra egg rolls. Of course, we received fortune cookies.

Our fortunes didn’t tell us that restaurants would not be open the next day either. England celebrates Boxing Day on the day after Christmas, a holiday designated for the workers to spend with their families. So, we ate leftover Chinese food on Boxing Day. Fortunately, we didn’t worry about spoilage as our tiny apartment was colder than the inside of any refrigerator.

The morning of the 27th, we boarded a plane back to the United States. When family and friends trot out stories of Christmas memories at holiday times, I often notice smiles or winks between our daughters. We all remember our perfect English Christmas when we learned that shared times with family members create a warmth greater than any 20 or 50 pence coin can purchase.

So, when our daughter texted that the polar vortex conditions made her want Chinese food, she reminded us all that bad times pass, but the joy and love of family and friendship are forever.


  1. Linda this is a fabulous story! Hope your Christmas this year is a memorable one!🎄

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