Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Merry And Bright

In the last few days HeatherMary 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. _DSC6664
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._DSC6620
During a cold spell our daily routines are suspended. We make time to play, to hang out with friends, to marvel at the world.

We stand on the ponds watching leaves and vegetation, still-lives inside the ice, we look for fish, for bugs moving beneath it.
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.


  1. Christmas, YAY!

    And you, my darling, are adorable.

    P.s. I totally freaked out when I first saw that picture of you standing on the ice. I thought it was water as still as glass! You must be made of magic ;)

  2. I'm a Christmas YAYer, all the way-er. I think what I've realized- and I think partly what you're getting at here, too - is that Christmas isn't made or celebrated in a single day. It's a smaller season within a season. (Which then has me wondering if Christmas is even the right term for it at all? Especially considering that I'm not religious..)

    When I was young, my mother worked herself miserable every year with decorations. Complained about putting them up before and during putting them up and then complained about having to take them down. It was an incredible (hated) production. And it was all accomplished in one high stress day, thus leaving us to just wait for Christmas. This year, now that Gus can be involved and really is a present person, I've given a lot of thought to then vs. now with how I celebrate my holidays. What works for me/our family is to build the holiday season over time. We only have our ornaments that carry over from season to season. All else is handmade based off what we're doing- walking through the woods, cutting down too tall trees and leaving ourselves with wreath fixings for days, etc., etc.

    The hardest part for me is always the gift giving though, and it has more to do with the expectations of others and the dreaded only grandchild syndrome than anything else. While I feel perfectly content receiving homemade there are many on the receiving end of our gifts that I know feel shortchanged, which really saddens and frustrates me. For them it's seen as not caring enough, despite the fact that it's giving off a part of myself when I gift handmade.

    I really do feel like this year we're finally carving out our own space in the craziness, and I think each year we'll only get better at it. I've got many things to work out (like will we really continue celebrating Christmas while being completely secular??) but I feel happy with the direction we're headed.

    And for the record- I can't stand eggnog. Each year I try it thinking things will be different and it's always the same- not for me at all!

  3. I love Christmas/Yule. Mostly, it's the traditions for me. My Grandparents brought a lot of their traditions over from Germany and I grew up celebrating Christmas with these traditions. And it's nice to see my cousins continuing them with their own kids. Our family is growing and changing and spreading so we are making new traditions while still holding on the old ones we can. We still listen to the "Christmas on the Rhine" record while trimming our tree with candle lights, and on Christmas Eve eat a kale and pork dinner and open presents one at a time. For the longest time I never knew that other families just dove into their presents, all at once. Realizing that might have been instrumental in the way I saw Christmas gifting because since then I have put a lot of thought and effort into gifts. If I can't make it then I buy something I know they really need or want. So to me, "obligatory" gifts are frustrating. And I always feel sad when I receive a gift I know had no thought behind it. Because that is really what it's about.

    (What are those white berry looking things in the one photo?)

  4. Oh, the cat on the pond - so great!

    We're the same when it comes to gifts - not obligatory gift givers, and we've made it pretty known among our family members, who are all too happy to adopt the same attitude. We still buy for the little ones, but that's about it. It kind of baffles me to see people racing around frantically to buy stuff that other people don't actually need. Even my sister said not to bother for my nephews, 'cause it's "just one more gift under the tree".


  5. i love this whole post so, so much and i realize i've still been busier than i like because all the words you use to muse about this time of year have been there for me, but swimming under the ice, like your poor cold fishies. thank you for bringing me further down into the stillness.

    i think my fave pic is actually of the two cats on the chair. it so perfectly captures those amazing moments of a cozy day indoors. you look over, and there are your two friends, being ridiculously cute on a quilt. you picked up the camera and captured love. of course, i also love all the pics of you and it looks like you've got some mighty fine leg warmers on. and the snow berries! we have those in shasta too, where the landscape looks similar to yours this time of year...the browns, greys, lichen greens...its my favorite palate. xoxox

  6. Nay, bordering on WTF. We live in the desert....with sporadic snow and relentless sun. It doesn't make for a very Christmas-y attitude. On the other hand, it's nice to see you enjoying your recent cold spell. There's nothing like a good, hard freeze to bring out the child in us, and maybe THAT'S the true spirit of Christmas. :)

  7. Lienee sanomattakin selvää, että pidän talvesta, sen pimeydestä, kylmästä, ja eritoten siitä kun suomalaiset ovat taas "normaaleja", kun aurinko ei enää liikaa paista aivolisäkkeeseen ja villitse :). Täällä Helsingissä vaan ei ole vieläkään lunta, lupailee aina, mutta sulaa heti pois.. Mua surettaa aivan liikaa se kuinka valtava muutos säässä on ollut, ihan viimeisen kymmenen vuoden aikana. Ääri-ilmiöitä; järkyttäviä pakkasia, seuraavana päivänä yhtäkkiä plussaa, kovia myrskyjä. Siis todella kovia, niinkuin Euroopassa on ollut viimeaikoina muutenkin. Jotenkin on tottunut siihen, että täällä on ehkä kerran kymmenessä vuodessa jossain Juupajoella yksi trombi, ja siitä sitten hälistään ja kirjoitetaan iltapäivälehdissä :).
    Mulle joulu tulee perheestä, laiskottelusta, yhdessä kokkaamisesta, vanhoista elokuvista, kovista (kirja)paketeista, ja siitä että voi hengailla koko päivän yökkäreissä.. On FM:kin jouluviikon kiinni, aah, tulee loma tarpeeseen, lähden ehkä siskon luo pohjanmaalle, siellä on sitä luntakin. Kauniita kuvia muuten, tuo eka jossa seisot jään päällä, ihan mieletön!

  8. Autumn, winter, heaps of snow, cold weather, warm fires, cheesy Christmas films, homemade mince pies and shortbread, Scotch & chocolates, and of course the chance to really indulge in crafting, making and baking! Yes, I'm definitely a Yuletide lover!

  9. How I love love this post Milla, it is just what it says, merry and bright - the amazing light! the frozen sceneries! the colours!

    Not to mention your own radiant self :o)

    I celebrate both solstices with a strong sense of wonder, of connection with nature (in June) and with the rest of humanity (in December)

    This always a month for creating, crafting, going outside when the sun is the brightest, lighting candles when I'm home... and yes, if I can find fallen fir branches somewhere, I am really happy for its unique scent in my home, but a cut tree makes me sad. I always think of trees as people :o)

  10. Thank you for linking that recipe to the Finish Christmas bread! The words "Christmas bread" (!) reeled me in and I ended up making it. 'Twas delicious and fun to make (kneading bread dough=sticky. Kneading bread dough with molasses= a level of sticky I have not previously experienced).