Sunday, November 30, 2014


The funny thing about living in a strange land and a different culture is that the big things that I thought would be hard, or intimidating, or intense, are often not. Another language, a different political climate, a different bio-region, those are expected and can be adapted to.  Ultimately it's the million little things that sometimes push me over the edge and into if not exactly homesickness, then an unnamable longing for that small difference. In flavor, in attitude, in habit...

It can be any old little thing, not in an of itself significant, but ultimately, when added to the stresses of everyday life they compound to my frustrations...

How bad American baked goods continue to taste (Sorry, but my palate can't handle the amount of sugar that's standard here.). The atrocities of a non-decimal measuring system. Antiquated seeming online banking. How drugstores don't have make-up testers…

Life is just moving along at its usual pace and then suddenly some small detail throws me off. Even after all these years.

One of the things that I continue to struggle with year after year here, is the holiday season. Overall, I can't quite put my finger on what bothers me about it, but it's a lot of little things.  It's probably an equal mix of our particular lifestyle, cultural differences and circumstances.

I can't remember  ever having "holiday stress" back home, but here I can't really remember a year it hasn't happened at some point. Living in Finland I was both indifferent to Christmas, and always involved in it the way you are in a homogenous culture where everyone celebrates it more or less the same way.

Our family was never that into the material side of Christmas, but we have a lot of traditions around food and they're common ones, the same that most everyone in our small county has. Most of the joy of Finnish Christmas is in preparation, from advent calendars, to baking gingerbread all through December, to making all the food and decking out the tree together well before the day of the celebration. It feels handmade, instead of store-bought.

On Christmas Eve everything quiets down and stays so for a couple of days: stores close, freeways quiet down, public transportation stops running. Everyone has time off. Compared to this, the American holiday season seems to me a little harried and slapdash.

There are almost universal rituals to Finnish Christmas, from going to Church, to listening to the president declare Yuletide Peace, to lighting candles at the cemetery, to the Christmas sauna, none of which I miss on their own, but all of which somehow add to that quiet pace, that driving to be somewhere just doesn't do.

Over these last six years, we've been working on cultivating our own traditions. We only drive to see family on Christmas and stay on Island with our other family for Thanksgiving. We participate in the community's Solstice celebration in many ways. We do something with friends on Christmas eve.  I've introduced certain foods I make each year from "the old country". We try to make all of our gifts and create all of our own decorations.

To ward off the holiday blues, I've made plans for all kinds of little celebrations and small measures that will hopefully keep reminding about what I really like about this season: the lights amidst the darkness, the giving and reciprocity, good food, handmade things, the chance to turn inward, yet embrace others.

Still, I find myself missing the quiet darkness of the Finnish Christmas season. I miss the cemeteries lit with candles. I miss the good gingerbread and the less-than-chipper Christmas songs. The straw goat decorations. The St. Lucia parades. The weird green marmalade marbles on every coffee table. Yet none of these things would by itself alleviate this feeling. It's the combined absence of hundred small things that makes me a little sad. I guess maybe that's what homesickness is, missing those things you can't quite name.

What are your traditions?  Any (realistic) tips for a stress-free holiday? (The just don't give into it-advice is not really helpful.) Anybody out there who doesn't celebrate the (something that as product of a uniform culture is still really hard for me to wrap my brain around.)? Any other expats with the holiday blues?


  1. Voi sinua, kyllä tuo kuulostaa koti-ikävältä. Ja luulen tietäväni mistä puhut, vaikka en olekaan kokenut samaa. Muistot ja mielikuvat kertautuvat, lapsuuden tuoksut ja muut muistot siltä ajalta kun ei vielä osannut nimetä asioita kuten aikuisena. Minulla on vanha valokuva jossa istumme koko perhe joulupöydän ääressä, olen noin 10-vuotias. Sisareni ja minun kömpelöin käsin leikkaamat punaiset tontut juoksevat ikkunassa, kynttilät palavat puisessa aarikka-tyylisessä kynttilänjalassa. Valo on pehmeä ja tunnelma lämmin ja rauhaisa. Mistään ei voisi päätellä kun tuota kuvaa katsoo, että se joulu vietettiin ihan muualla kuin Suomessa. Ikkunasta näkyy vain pimeä ilta, joka hyvin voisi olla Suomen pimeä iltapäivä tai ilta, lumikinoksineen ja tähtitaivaineen. Mutta oikeasti pimeydessä levittäytyy maailman suurin autiomaa, Sahara ja sen tuhansin tähdin täyttämä taivas. Vaikka elimme silloin aivan toisessa kulttuurissa, riitti että oikeat ihmiset olivat paikalla. En tiedä onko tämä nyt hyvä neuvo, mutta jospa soittaisit perheenjäsenille Suomeen, juttelisit heidän kanssaan jouluvalmisteluista, muistelisit joitain yhteisiä jouluja.. Se saattaa tosin pahentaakin ikävää, mutta toisaalta tuoda jotain tutusta ja pysyvästä sinne sinunkin kotisi ja mielesi sopukoihin.. Halauksia sinne, täältä pimeästä Helsingistä. Odotan jouluviikkoa kuin kuuta nousevaa, perheen tapaamista, pientä lomaa...

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  2. I wish I had some useful tips, but in the last few years I began to feel the stress of the holiday season too. I still love it, as I love the cold season in general, but it seems a little bit of magic is lost... who knows why...

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  3. "marmalade marbles" sound very intriguing.

    I think a lot of people get the xmas blues (I always do!), and they don't admit it because it's supposed to be "a happy time", even though trying to avoid the depression or pretend it doesn't happen seems to just make it worse. There's so much pressure to be full of joy that you end up feeling guilty if you're not, and not wanting to admit it because you don't want to spoil anyone else's fun, both of which just exacerbate the negative feelings and make it harder to enjoy yourself. I think it's good to acknowledge it's going to happen every year, as you have done in this post, and try to find space to let it happen without becoming the *only* thing that happens, if that makes sense. We do it with physical hurt all the time (like walking on a sprained ankle for example -- you have to acknowledge the pain but you also have to walk) but it takes more practice to do it with emotional stuff because we're conditioned to just suck it up and not complain. But there's a difference between complaint and acknowledgement, even though to a lot of people they can sound like the same thing.

    Making your own things is a good way to avoid stress. If you don't have to deal too much with the retail side of things, you don't have to deal with other people's stress -- that stuff comes off in waves and you pick it up by osmosis, I swear!

  4. The Finnish holiday sounds like all the things I want Christams to be. I want it to be homey, comforting, full of significant ritual. I want to enjoy making presents and thoughtfully wrapping them and baking and cooking. I want enriching gatherings. I'm trying to desperatly to make this holiday better than years past-- full of joy and thanksgiving and love. And hopefully, hopefully, short on the stress that is usually served in great heapings.

  5. Talk about a dichotomy! I completely understand what you mean. With a Czech birth, a Czech mother and British father and living all over Europe as well as Canada for my whole life, over the years, whether here in Canada or the UK, I've evolved a familial tradition of rituals around Christmas. A Canadian-Czech-British mix which probably no one but my family can relate to, and then I shut out the rest of the world. Actually, the older I get, (and that's dinosaur years already), the more I appreciate that we just make it up. I don't go into any of that commercial nonsense like Black Friday etc, my mother's birthday is on the 26th of Dec, so that takes over the Boxing day frenetics, the tree is trimmed in ornaments gathered over millions of years, (which are like old friends), there's a traditions Czech supper with carp on the 24th evening, and the turkey goes in for a traditional Sunday lunch...aka British style on the 25th, the queen's speech and a Dr Who marathon usually follow. I also miss the St Nicolas evening in Prague, the midnight mass with our village church lit by hundreds of candles in England, and a million other comfortable things.

    I'm not sure how long you two have been together, but I'm sure it's long enough to have formed some traditions of your own. I'm so bad at giving any good advice, mainly because I hardly ever follow it, but the main thing I would offer is to build on your family rituals and traditions. Oh, and one more thing, my children, who are adults and one has a family of her own, grew up with a non-Canadian Christmas, and are carrying on some of our mixed up traditions on their own. So make rituals of the things which are valuable to you. Make it a big deal for both of you. Revel in them, look forward to them, even to one moment...even if it's only having a plate full of walnuts to crack and munch on while watching Dr Who. Hope this helps. Much love, x

    1. Dr. Who always helps.
      I second this advice. Make rituals of things that are valuable to you.

  6. Slapdash, indeed! Every Christmas is an exercise in cultivating our own traditions, as well, amid an otherwise canned holiday. I was fortunate my family was never over-the-top about Christmas, and feel more and more grateful for this as I celebrate the holiday as an adult. They instilled in us an appreciation for the small and meaningful things, versus the vacant, materialistic ones. Admittedly, I find the season paradoxically infectious and repulsive. I hate so much about it - the pervasive push to spend, spend, spend; the way everyone's running around mindlessly to fulfill their holiday duties; the downright gluttony (EAT, EAT, EAT). But the things I do love, I really love: preparing heartfelt and nourishing meals for the people I love; brisk afternoon walks with my husband and pup; hand-crafting gifts as a token of love. I am trying so hard this year especially to release the self-induced stress of the season, and to soak in all the parts that make my heart glow. :)


  7. The way you describe Finnish Christmas sounds much like how Dutch Christmas was as a kid. I suppose in many ways it's still like that, but not necessarily for me. Of course, when I was a kid, no one exchanged gifts at Christmas, because we do on December 5th as part of our Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) tradition. Now many families do gifts at both festivities. I like giving gifts because I like making gifts, but most people in my life do not share my handmade values so there's no exchange (which I don't mind much, but would be nice every once in a while) and no chance for me to make that into much of a tradition. Maybe someday with a family of my own :)

    Anyway, back to Finnish Christmas: I thank you for that image you paint, because like I mentioned it reminds me of Christmasses past. That quiet darkness, that's what it's all about. I love that, yet I have walked past that in the last few years. I have blamed it on not being a kid anymore, but I think that might be just partly true. As a kid you have no responsibilities around Christmas, so you can just take it all in. Yet you do enjoy decorating the Christmas tree, helping out in the kitchen, baking cookies. So maybe it helps taking on a little less responsibilities and enjoying others as if they aren't responsibilities. From "I have to decorate the tree", to "I get to decorate the tree!". Maybe you already do this, but I think I get lost in "having to", so I'm saying this to myself as much as to you.

    And back to that quiet darkness again, oh I miss getting to go somewhere and doing everything by bike, which takes you into the cold and the dark. Now I hardly go out when it's dark and only by car. And that quietness can now only be found on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Boxing Day is just a shopping extravaganza/hell because people are bored and have nothing better to do with their day off.

    But to end this on a positive note, I think the key really lies in doing those things around the holidays that you like best and doing them with plenty of time and attention, as if they needn't get done and are just done for fun, which in essence they are because why else are you doing them?

    (As for the homesickness, I kind of had this idea when I was in Canada for six months that if we stayed, I would have that exact experience you describe. The big things were what made us go there, the little things are what made us leave.)

    Much love!

  8. Oh my, I have so many feelings on this subject, but I'll try to tie them up neatly.
    I hate Christmas. I am a Christian who hates Christmas, which doesn't go over well with other Christians, in case you wondered. I do not like the standard, "white America" Christmas. I hate corny decorations and inflatables. I hate that you can't browse a bookstore during this time of year without someone acting like you're in the way.
    That said, I love the traditions my family and I have created over time. Like getting all the shopping done super early so as to avoid crowds, and having quiet get together's with homemade bread and cheese. We light candles in every room and listen to music--anything other than the Christmas songs played EVERYWHERE. Gifts are small and well thought out, and some are made by hand as well. We do everything we can to slow down the pace as much as possible, and seal ourselves inside our cozy world.

  9. The aspect that I most like of this holidays it's the fact of being with family and feel comfortable, I love the lights I just find it so magical and I like going to Christmas markets, I find them adorable and not just for the fact of sghopping but for the atmosphere that they create. But I feel you when you speak about homesickness as I am living in foreign country ( I am from Catalonia and I live in The UK ) and I understand when you say that you don't miss that particular thing or person but a whole set of feelings, emotions, memories, colors, smells. .. Thanks for sharing those feelings!

    Have a nice week!


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  11. Milla, you look incredible in this incredible skirt. And with this white blouse! The combination (particularly on you) looks very Finnish to me :o)

    Christmas is mostly, for me, a time for crafting in the evenings, and being outside in the snow during the day. On Christmas Eve, I feel a very strong connection with all the sincere people on earth who are also, on that same day, opening their hearts to humanity as a whole. It is, for me, a sacred moment precisely because of that connection.

    Just like the solstice or the new moon is a sacred moment because of a heightened sense of connection with Nature and the universe :o)

  12. Hih, lähetetäänkö sulle vihreitä kuulia?
    Meillä on ollut yleensä sellainen hyvin idyllinen perhejoulu maalla noin.10 hengen voimin. Tänä vuonna taitaa mennä uusiksi sillä siellä oli tulipalo ja ainakin tupa kärähti aika lailla.
    Onneksi ei pahempaa.
    Pikkuperheemme saa kaupunkijoulun.
    Vähän ihmeessä nyt minäkin uuden edessä.
    Joulukranssi askarreltiin oveen puolukanvarvuista ja kortteja ja paperilumihiutaleita on jo tehty.
    Kyllä tämä tästä. ..

  13. oh christmas! why must you be such a thorn in my side? it is a love/hate holiday for me. I love everything about it except all gifts.
    I really enjoyed this milla :)

    Not having money during this time of year is the hardest and while some people appreciate my handmade gifts, many don't. And I get super bummed that I can't buy gifts for all the people I'd love to give one to. Other than the financial aspect it's usually a pretty quiet time of year for me. I don't do much shopping, never go to malls and do a lot crafting which is nice. I love the Mass on Christmas Eve, it's dark and quiet. I just try to stay focused on what it means to me and that seems to help. You mentioned the less than cheerful Finnish songs, it'd be great if you would share some! The slower more somber songs are my favorite.

    1. don't know why it jumbled up my comment? "I really enjoyed this milla :)" was suppose to be the first sentence.

  14. Finnish Christmas sounds lovely! Growing up (in the States) my family focused a lot on the prep as well. Baking with my mom was a standing tradition (we made cookies for every single teacher, leader, and inspiring figure in my life, every year), as was decorating the tree with my father (while listening to instrumental holiday music). I don't recall dealing with much holiday stress then, and I don't know- I make most of my gifts, I only buy small stocking stuffers, and our meal is a potluck type of affair. You're already living in a way that is simple and connected, so I imagine this is your general approach as well.

    The best stress-busting tools I've found all revolve around music: singing Christmas songs (even badly and at the top of my lungs) makes me laugh; listening to instrumental or choral Christmas music calms me down; going to see carolers always cheers me up. Maybe that would help for you? You could teach the community some Finnish songs, even!

  15. Dear Milla,
    I am American so I cannot relate to your feelings for your homeland, but I work very hard to go against the Christmas current. I am Catholic, so I celebrate Advent, and hold firm to that time BEFORE Christmas gets underway. I don't have a TV or the internet at my home so I am spared all the holiday marketing. (I also immediately pitch catalogs and circulars that come in the mail.) I don't attend holiday gatherings and I keep the radio turned off so that I don't have to hear Mariah Carey tormenting everyone over all she wants for Christmas. I shop for presents almost exclusively online and have them shipped to my work so I avoid the stress of my daughters begging to know "what's in it?" I go to Mass on Christmas morning so the focus is on Christ and not the presents under the tree. I don't do a big holiday meal, just a regular dinner with maybe something special for dessert. Decorations are found (berries and evergreen boughs) and my girls and I decorate our tree together. Aside from all of that, I resist the push of the season by deliberately (and literally) slowing down. I walk more slowly, take stairs more slowly, and most important: I drive more slowly. I also keep up with my regular habits of exercise, being outdoors and fasting one day a week.
    That's how I "survive" Christmas. Hope it helps and that you have a lovely holiday season!

    1. Just to clarify, while I don't go to holiday gatherings outside of my extended family, there are many birthdays in my family between Nov and Jan, so there are more than a few get-togethers. (I didn't want to sound like a total Scrooge!)

  16. Hello! I just found your blog today via Alicia Paulson - she mentioned your blog in her post today. I enjoyed reading about your life in the Salish sea. I live in the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side and also lived on my sailboat in Friday Harbor for a long summer. I invite you to visit my blog if you'd like. Nice to meet you! Teresa :-)

  17. I was an exchange student in Oula (Haukipudas, actually) in 1992-93. I remember Christmas in Finland being very quiet and dark, with lots of pikkujoulu parties and stories of joulupukki... the prune tart/cookies, good gingerbread, glogi.. The strangeness (to me) of having the Christmas tree erected on Christmas Eve and taken down soon after (I missed the season-long tree)... I missed the general gaiety of American Christmas but as I get older I look back and would probably prefer a quieter, darker Christmas such as that one I had in 1992 in quiet Haukipudas...

  18. Wow, I just happened on your blog from Posie Gets Cozy… Glad she mentioned you!!! Lovely blog, lady!!!
    I understand your feelings about the holidays. I have battles with it myself. I don't buy the "commercial" christmas and used to make most of my christmas gifts. But as my kids get older it has been an interesting transition as their wishes are for things far outside of these simpler ways. Well, I can't recommend anything except perhaps putting your foot down and a trying to make it as you wish it to be. Several years ago I told family that we would see them after christmas and that we just wanted christmas to be less hectic. For years my dream for each holiday was to invite all our friends to feast. Now I do that. I host the feast in the evening so there is no-time pressure to getting it done. I love this. Feeding people is my favorite way to celebrate anything.
    Best wishes and I'll head over again soon!!!

  19. I lived for 20 years in the most northern area of Wisconsin. Many people are Finnish and I can see why they chose Wisconsin and upper Michigan for their new homes as I look at the Finland landscape it all seems so familiar. People don't decorate their houses with lights there, perhaps because there aren't many who will see them. Perhaps because landscaping isn't a huge element of desire there for the native born locals. The harsh climate doesn't support many bushes and plants and it is pretty hard to decorate the tall pines. I missed the outside lighting at Christmas time, the lack of trick-or-treaters at Halloween, and spring arriving in time for Christmas. But, I will always carry with me the sound snow makes when the temperature is 40 below zero and the startling, sparkling and brilliant stars on a long winter night.

  20. I just found your blog via Posie Gets Cozy, and I am so glad I did! I read a ton of it last night (at work...) and I love your photography of your beautiful island, and the lifestyle you and your husband have is truly inspiring and very much what I hope to have for myself someday.

    My family has a lot of Christmas traditions that we look forward to each year, and while some of them do fall into the category of "American Christmas", I think we have always focused on togetherness above everything else. Our holiday season often does feel a bit stressful sometimes, but I think that is because we want to do so much together that only comes around this time of year. One month isn't that long!! We do decorate our houses with lights and have a big tree, but those are all done together. Most of our other traditions include lots of cookie making, crafting, watching the old Christmas specials, and going sledding or on walks in the snow. It is only stressful because now that me and my sister are grown up and work different shifts (she works retail and I work 2nd shift in a hospital laboratory) it is hard to find enough time to do all these things when our schedules actually match up.

    My dad passed away two years ago, and while we never bought too much into the commercial aspect of Christmas (although I would be lying if I said we weren't excited about presents and a steady diet of cookies and candy for a month), my mom, sister, and I have certainly streamlined our holiday routines a bit to be able to just enjoy time together. Which is ok with everyone, because that is what it was always about for us anyways, we are just more aware of it now and don't take it for granted...And the food. It was and will always be about the food too :)

    One last thing! I am curious if you have a gingerbread recipe to share or if you can point me in the direction of a traditional Finnish one. As I get older I am beginning to understand more and more about what people mean when they speak about the sugary-ness of American pastry. While I can't say I don't enjoy it, I find I do long for stuff that isn't quite so sweet. Thanks in advance if you have any information!

  21. I think you are on the right track in starting your own traditions and making as much as you can by hand. Finnish Christmas sounds peaceful, so you will probably never adjust to our way of celebrating it, nor should you. :)

  22. Lovely blog. I too found you through Posie Gets Cozy. I like to bring the "outdoors in" during the dark days of December. Lighting candles, smelling fresh cut greens and baking bread makes a warm cozy home. It seems like you are cultivating that at your place. I see someone asked about your gingerbread recipe. I'd love to see how you make it too.

  23. Hi, I also have arrived at your lovely blog by introduction from Posy. I lived in USA for 5 years and agree about the amount of sugar in baked goods, even breads. But I adored the Christmas decorations in the city and the houses lit up at night and having Christmas in winter seemed magical. I liked it because of the novelty and the darkness. I imagine I would adore Finland at this time of year. Down in New Zealand we add extra stress. It is summer, so we have different traditions, but we add to them the preparation and cost for the big family vacation either at or immediately after the holiday, end of year celebrations for every school and club (the new school year starts in February/March so everything shuts down for a couple of months). We might not have Christmas stress to the same extent as in USA but we add more by doing everything at once. It costs so much trying to do the holiday and the vacation and the end of year parties all together. and it's hot. I liked the northern hemisphere style better.

  24. Your blog is lovely! I came across this post through Posy Gets Cozy and I can really appreciate what you talk about in the Christmas tradition and how it differs from place to place and how subtle differences make up the feeling of homesickness. I grew up in the States, but now live in the Netherlands, married to an Irishman. We create our own little Christmas cocoon here in Amsterdam coming up to the actual day and that feels good because the Dutch don't get too excited about Christmas (for them it's Sinterklaas on the 5th of Dec) and we can make it low key, putting up a small tree and a small selection of decorations. For the actual holiday, we generally travel to family in Ireland where we also take it slow. I think the stress is probably still there, but we've found our own way to avoid it for the most part.

  25. I tend to take a lot of time to reflect. For instance, after dropping my girls off at school this morning I sat on the couch with a sigh...after an enjoyable weekend. But now I get to enjoy the quiet. Outside my window the sun is shining but there's also bits of glittery snowflake in the air. The chimney next door is belching woodsmoke into the sky and it is bitterly chilly out. These are the moments that bring me holiday joy. My plans for the rest of the day (at least until pick up time) include making cosy scarves for my girls, listening to anything other than radio Christmas music and probably eating gingerbread for lunch....all in the peace and quiet here.

  26. I have not celebrated any holiday with family (other than my husband) for 5 years. It is difficult for many reasons. I miss my mum and my dad and my brother and the full house of Christmas Eve. I also miss the traditions that we cultivated being so close to the ocean. Crab legs and shrimp dip around the kitchen table every year, followed by crab omelets Christmas morning. I cannot replicate it here so far from the sea, due to distance and price.
    Other things I miss: The peanut butter fudge that I never really enjoyed, but my aunt brought every year. New pajamas all around. Laying under the tree, staring up at the multicolored lights with my brother. The score from Gone with the Wind playing in the background (some reason it was always on TV x-mas morning.) And the smell of vinegar permeating the house while my father makes his famous, secret family recipe for chicken wings. Again, I don't even really like the chicken wings, but the smell! It is the smell of the holidays.
    I don't do gifts. We try to make cards every year using my husbands printmaking skills. But we've had trouble making our own traditions. We don't even have a movie we always watch! New Years Eve is When Harry Met Sally. My birthday is The Princess Bride. Thanksgiving is the Deep Fried, Korean Thanksgiving episode of Gilmore girls, season 3. But we have nothing for Christmas!

    1. Also, I work retail. I have been waking up at 3 AM every day with Christmas songs repeating over and over and over in my head. I will have undoubtably woken from a work dream in which I'm eating the jewelry we sell, or people won't leave the store when I tell them to, or my coworker is possessed by an alien. I come home from work and don't want to talk or smile for hours. I also can't stand to see any Christmas decorations or hear any Christmas music. It's a completely different stress than anyone I know deals with at the holidays.

    2. Hi Chelsea, I can totally relate on this as I have worked for many years in bookstores, including a chain of bookstores in which you can also buy all kinds of stuff: music CDs, children's games, a huge sections of stationary and the like. The two months before Christmas were not only hectic and exhausting, but maddening.

      I had always been wary of Christmas-induced consumerism, but this experience in retail made me completely allergic to the seasonal frenzy of buying. My family also lives across the ocean and they know I'll just send them homemade cards. I miss the family gathering as well, but it's a relief to be out of the seasonal gift ceremony.

  27. I'm relaxing and enjoying your blog posts- thanks to the tip from Posie Gets Cozy. I've loved reading about Christmas in Finland. I'm a "tradition gatherer," because I have a blog about Christmas. If you want a peek at lots of traditions ideas that I gleaned from friends and family, the link is:
    I wrote the post in 2008 (before Pinterest) and it's just a simple list called "Fifty Nifty Traditions Ideas." We only do a few of these, but it's fun to read what others enjoy. My favorite tradition is something we do when we drive around our community looking at the Christmas lights that decorate the homes of our neighbors. Before we go, I wrap a small box of candy or cookies in pretty wrapping paper and attach a note that says, "Your house is our family's pick for the best Christmas decorations of 2014." We choose our favorite decorated home and let one of the kids (now it's a grandchild) place the gift on the doorstep and ring the doorbell and run. (We live in a smaller community where this is acceptable.) We feel great glee thinking about the family finding their gift and knowing of our appreciation.

  28. Milla, I loved this and so related, even though I grew up in the U.S. My family didn't celebrate the holidays growing up, though my cousins did, and I was always inundated with sugar and rampant consumerism when we went to their place to celebrate! Now I have a little new family of my own and we still don't celebrate anything yet, especially because we live in farmer housing on a small commercial farm and the holiday season is a terrible tornado of back-breaking and thankless Christmas tree selling and custom wreath making bedeckled with trinkets made in Chinese factories. As you, I love the glowing lights in darkness, the spicy and warm baking, and the thoughtful making of gifts for friends and family--so we are trying to begin to create our own traditions. Since you posted about it last year I've started making Joululimppu as one of my winter traditions, and I love it. Do you have a gingerbread recipe that you like and would recommend? I usually just try to make up my own, with LOTS of the fresh uncured ginger root we grow on the farm and dark molasses and rye and no sugar, but I would love to try a Finnish recipe or one you love.
    Thank you for sharing these thoughts and for writing and posting here--it is delight to me to read through all the seasons, especially as we are trying to homestead too, though on an urban farm.