In the last few days Heather, Mary and Julie have written sweet posts about what the Christmas/ Solstice/ Holiday season means to them. Heather talked about her admirably positive attitude in relation to family and tradition, Mary about how to make the holidays less stressful and more fun with planning and spreading out events and traditions all throughout the month and Julie wrote about creating a celebration out of thin air, love and resourcefulness.
I hail from a country in which the celebrating of Christmas is universal and pervasive and practically mandatory, a true part of our cultural landscape. While I can grasp it intellectually, I still reflexively puzzle over people who don't celebrate Yuletide, Pagans, Jewish folks, Taoists...I get it, but I don't seem to quite get it.
There have been many times since my teens that I've not spent the holidays with my folks, but I've never not celebrated, whether it be with friends, or a few glorious times, all by my lonesome.
While most of my life my holiday stress has been low to nonexistent, there have definitely been times when I wish we could just skip Christmas for a year and hibernate for the month of December.
Since we started our life as a married couple, the last two weeks of December have been a kind of overwhelming tide of celebration for us. First it's Solstice, then Christmas Eve, which is when I like to celebrate the holiday, then Christmas Day, when everyone else likes to celebrate it, then C's birthday and New Year's Eve. Five celebrations, ten days.
Considering that we start preparing for the Solstice Long Dance the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it can all sometimes feel like a little too much. As in the wider world, where Christmas time seems to be the premium consumerist holiday, a stress-inducing money-pit and even a play-like mock-up of the real event, everyone dutifully playing their part without much genuine emotion; every once in a while I wake up and notice that the preparations actually swallow up all the joy of the season.
Feeling so removed from the traditions of my own country, living in this snowless expanse where, no matter how you try to avoid them, the idealized, sanitized, materialistic side of Christmas is ever-present these days, the holidays sometimes feel like a burden, something to trudge through.
At those times it's important to me to remind myself of all the things I do enjoy about this season, all of which are ritualistic: the crafting, making cards and wreaths and wrapping up homemade teas and syrups, and condiments the baking and the traditional foods, the gingerbread and mulled wine and Christmas bread, the candles lit in the darkness of long, cold nights. I even enjoy the traditional Finnish songs and hymns of Yuletide. This year I've decided to just try to make the most of December, but do it my own way.
It's important to me to separate that which I love about Christmas traditions, from that which I feel like I should keep, but actually are just so much of learned behavior.
For instance, I would love to have a Christmas tree, but since we don't have little people and I've heard plenty of my hub's tales of Christmas tree farms and the fact that I don't know anyone with forest plot full of tiny firs in need of thinning, I'd rather just grab some windfalls and get that smell of fresh tree from them.
I may have mentioned before that we're not big on "obligatory gifts", such as birthdays and anniversaries, but rather prefer giving and receiving gifts when the right one comes along. Therefor, I have some gifts for some folks and no gifts for others and am absolutely not going to stress out about it this year.
As foor foods, I'm excited to bake a lot this season, but to spread it out so that I'll do gingerbread this week, bread next week and so forth, instead of cramming it all into a few days before the holidays. That way, as Mary pointed out, the "Holiday Season" actually feels like a season and not a month of preparation for one day, which often cannot possibly live up to your expectations.
And if you're like me and find eggnog somewhat unpalatable and puzzling, fear not, I have invented a wintry drink with a little bit more bite and less sweetness: black tea, honey and whisky. Or maybe if you're adventurous, chai tea and whisky.
During out recent cold spell, hot beverages have been a lifesaver.
The best way to snap out holiday funk, is of course, a genuine winter experience, like a sudden freeze, or snowfall.
There's something totally magical and childlike about cold weather here in these latitudes. While winter in Scandinavia lends itself to thousands of storybook landscapes and adventures, six months of ice and snow, frozen lakes and oceans take on a ho-hum quality, compared to two inches of snow, or two days of frozen ponds out here.
I don't know if I've ever felt so over-joyed with cold weather, than I have here, in spite the poorly insulated houses, dull ice-skates and pitiful snows.
During a cold spell our daily routines are suspended. We make time to play, to hang out with friends, to marvel at the world.
There's a sense of real joy sitting by the fire under a new moon, watching the determined, but mostly hilariously inept skaters glide and fall and whoop with delight.
It is the strange feeling that one is in a book, or a scene, a story, but at the same time there's a complete attentiveness to one's surroundings that often accompanies true happiness, the feeling of being fully embedded, present in a moment.
It's then that this season really feels merry and bright the way the darkest time of year must have before electric lights and central heating. When we had gratitude and wonder for the light of the stars and the warmth of the pale winter sun. I never thought I'd say this in a million years, but I really, truly love cold weather and Christmas time really doesn't feel the same without it. How things change...
How about you? Christmas: yay, nay, or WTF?
ps. Current favorite Scandinavian un-Christmas music to put you in a clear and wintry mood.