Tuesday, December 16, 2014

May Your Days Be Merry And Bright

I know I've been tantalizing everyone with hints of some big news on the blog-front, but the holiday season has definitely knocked the wind out of me, as previously stated, so I think I'll save my surprises for the new year, and focus instead on the present here.

And presently, we're all surviving holiday season. I say surviving because that's how it sometimes feels at least on my end of things. As I mentioned before, part of our holiday stress actually has to do with circumstances. The other day I was trying to explain our Solstice/ Christmas/ Joulu -scene to someone and their reaction (as a fellow introvert) was something like "That sounds horrible!"

Which it isn't. But it is, shall we say, "challenging". Without going into too much detail, as it is sacred to us and a little secret, some of you may remember that our community does a Long Dance on Winter Solstice. This means that we stay up from sunset to sunrise (and well beyond), dancing, singing, making merry and doing ritual. While it's just one night, there's a lot of preparation involved, from practicing dances, to work parties, meetings, mask-making for Charlie, costumes, cooking, Solstice presents and so on. It takes up much of this month.

There's a whole day before when we're hustling to get ready and another afterward when we're pretty incapacitated.

Next we celebrate Christmas Eve, or Finnish Joulu with our Island family, before heading down to be with Charlie's family on Christmas Day. The days in between are, of course spent hustling for those two celebrations.

So lots of loved ones, lots of celebration. Also a lot of work.

Add to that that this year and last, since Charlie became a partner in his new business this is their absolute busiest season.

We try to make most of our presents, or find them used and even though we try to keep them to a minimum, with this many beloved family and friends that adds up quickly. Decorations, food, holiday cards…all that makes this season merry can also add to the stress. So here are some of my "holiday hacks", or survival tips to get you to merry and bright. I'm certainly in need of some reminders these days.

1. You can't do everything. So do the things you love the most. I know that for me personally, I always have about a million ideas; for gifts, for crafts, for cooking, for surprises. Pick a couple of things, do them and do them well and be proud of your accomplishments.

2. Lower your expectations. Boy, is this ever the season of heightened expectations. For yourself, for others, for the amount of fun we're gonna have and memories we're gonna make. Just today, when I finally got around to sending my holiday cards (better late than never, right?) I realized that it was probably not likely that I would be able to send them to all friends and family. Instead, I'm going to send my more faraway folks a really good Christmas email with pictures and stories of our year. I'm likely not going to bake ALL of the Finnish Joulu goodies, but maybe just one, or two kinds? I'm definitely not going to be able to make as many presents as I would like to, but I'll definitely make some.

3. Presents ≠ Love. If you're at all like me, you love giving gifts. If I had the means and the time, I'd probably gift our two hundred closest friends each Yule-time.  However, like I said, we try to keep it within certain confines. Mostly we give handmade things, often food, sometimes books (books are one of the few things I feel okay about buying new because I like to support their authors), however our rule has become more and more that we do not panic-make or buy gifts.

If the right gift doesn't come along we're not going to get something half-assed just to show we care. A card is good, a letter in long-hand better, a charitable donation works, our favorite subversive magazine has kick-ass holiday subscriptions… Whatever it may be, it's important to remember that our gifts are not a measure of our love. Which is why Charlie and I often don't get each other gifts, or if we do they're something we know the other person needs, or is planning to buy, or something cheap we'd get for them anyway (Charlie got me chocolate this year and I already ate it.). I also stockpile gifts and gift-ideas throughout the year, writing down potential book recipients and things I could make.

4. Say yes when you can, but don't be afraid to say no. This is particularly important to me this time of year because while I'm more than happy to complete everything I've committed to, somehow I always end up shouldering a fair number of other people's chores as well, or helping people when they ask for help. It's really hard for me to say no when someone needs my help and some people definitely take advantage of that, thinking that since their request is so small there shouldn't be a reason why someone couldn't help them, and not realizing that theirs is one of ten emails, calls, or small favors. Which is another thing about expectations in this season: consider what kind of burden your expectations place on others. I think that would ease a lot of the old gift-giving and general holiday stress.

5. Consider ends and means. It's good to keep reminding ourselves why we do these things. I love our Solstice and am happy to go to work parties and organize endless rehearsals. I love all of our family and want to share this special time with them. I feel lucky to have them all in our lives. The actual celebrations themselves are fun, loving, bright affairs.  The minute the end result stops feeling meaningful and good for all involved, trust me, I'm gonna be out of here.

6. Go all in. If you're doing any of these holidays, then get into to it and take joy in it. If we're just going through the motions might as well skip it all and catch a good movie and some Chinese take out.

But for now, let's celebrate!

Holiday hacks? How is your holiday season going? Is your Yule Merry, Your Solstice Joyous?

ps. It's proabably gonna be all holiday posts all the time for me from here 'till Christmas, 'cos nothing else noteworthy is happening in my brain, or life, hahaha!


  1. Homemade is the best. Good advice. Beautiful pics. Merry Christmas to you.

  2. Love the pictures and the way you layered your shawl and hooded sweater. Are you on Ravelry? If not, could you provide the name of the patterns?


  3. May I say, I just LOVE that hoodie! I adore red, and that looks fabulous! This said, I've had a not-so-merry Yule time so far, I really hope that the next few days will be happier and more light-hearted, that's what I need right now...
    Wish you a wonderful holiday season! xx

  4. Great holiday survival tips :) And, your red riding hood outfit is adorable!

  5. :( my whole comment just disappeared! booo!

    Beautiful pictures and great tips too! I hope the stressful part of this season mellows out for you :)

    What I basically said was that this Advent has been awesome so far. Best I've had in forever. I think not having expectations makes everything so much better and way more fun! Crafting, cooking, staying home... it's been cozy indeed!

  6. I understand you completely Milla. Just today thought that when I would not stress about Joulu. And when all other things in life twines with the holiday stress, it is a stress galore. But I do enjoy this time of the year, all the natural decorations, snow and pretending that I am one of the Little Women or an gnome in the woods ;-) But it is important for me to calm down, especially on a Winter Solstice. I hope you will have a very magic filled and beautiful Solstice and Joulu! Thank you for writing this blog, reading it actually makes me feel calmer, especially to see those cedar leaves and to read your thoughtful words. Delila

  7. Most of my gifts are handmade this year too. I've been knitting hats like a crazy lady!

    PS. love the mood of these photos!

  8. My girlfriends and I have a rule that we don't buy gifts for birthdays and Christmas out of obligation, but that gifts will be given when the right one appears. My good friend just gifted me a book on plant medicine, for example. These types of gifts are so much more meaningful because they're thoughtful, and a welcome surprise, versus searching the shops glassy-eyed looking for something to get for someone for the sake of expectation.

    My husband and I usually alternate the years we buy each other Christmas gifts. We haven't exchanged gifts in a couple years, so we decided we would this year. Other years, we forgo it altogether, and other times we've done up small but thoughtful stockings. It really does vary year to year, but it's never about amassing stuff. The "amassing stuff" is really getting on my nerves this year, mostly due to a trip to the mall to find something for my nephews and niece. The poor grandparents wandering the aisles dazedly trying to figure out which toys the kids have and don't have - so unnecessary!

    I absolutely adore these photos of you, by the way. And also, I would love to partake in such a magical Solstice celebration! What amazingness!


  9. All those celebrations do indeed sound simultaneously amazing and horrible (as a fellow introvert too)! Just celebrating Christmas with family is stressful enough for me, though I'm getting better at it by already following a couple of these rules, most notably "You can't do everything" and "Lower your expectations". I'm trying to spread out everything I need/want to get done over several weeks, one big task a week, which is now shaping up to be several days, haha! I've decorated the house, but I've no idea what I'll be cooking on Solstice or Christmas Day and I still haven't sent out my holiday cards. I haven't written a blog post in over two weeks because I also have nothing else on my brain than getting orders out the door (almost done!) and then onto preparations. Well, your big reveal and my return to blogging and fresh plans of my own gives us something to look forward to after the holidays, right? For now, all in!

    (I adore these photos!)


  10. Thank you for this sweet and lovely reminder. I think for me the holiday expectations have gotten even bigger now that I have little ones, because their joy in every little detail is so great, it's hard not to want to plan all kinds of special events and activities and fun. But just today I was thinking to myself, we have to just stay home more too, make stuff and bake and build blanket forts, these things do happen but once in a rainy blue moon. I want to soak in long leisurely holy moments as well.

    I wish you the happiest of celebrations this year. I hope that you take your own words deeply to heart, and thank you for spreading your wisdom, cheer, and steadfastness, these are gifts indeed.

  11. I'm on a little break from college which is nice, but it feels like most of my days are taken up with helping my grandmother baking - we live together now - or furiously embroidering and sewing my little heart out attempting to finish gifts in time. It's not that I chose to make too many things, I'm just a slow turtle heh. I'm making my honey a pillow that says "Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice" because he's a woodsman with an obsession about fire wood. I'm envious of all that green around you in the photos, it's all white dreary snow and cloud cover here and has been for days... I miss the sun!

  12. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post. I absolutely love the Solstice celebrations, singing, dancing, rituals. .. it just sounds perfect. With making your own presents you are not just giving a nice item but something beautiful and full of loce and that, it's priceless.

    Have a great celebrations!!

    Lluisa xx

  13. I really enjoyed your post. Thank you for sharing!

  14. thank you for this post and sharing your thoughts. living here in the new forest we are cut off from the commercialism that abounds at this time of year. my Solstice will be quiet~we usually join a ritual at Stonehenge but not this year so i expect to have a fire in my garden and a small solitary ritual.

  15. That sounds exhausting! I'm struggling with #6 this year. For some reason (illness, exhaustion, work stress) I haven't felt in the holiday mood yet. I've listened to music (usually my go-to) and decorated, but it's not a happiness I carry with me every day. I need to find ways to slice through the stress of my day, every day, with a bit of holiday cheer. And silent reflection. Right now it all (and only) stems from the natural high of gift giving.

  16. LOVE the beautiful red outfit in the woods... so lovely. reading your insights are wonderful as well. this time of year is hard for us. all of our family is very much into the buying lots and lots of gifts... where we continue to do mostly handmade and other simple, thoughtful things. so it can feel a little awkward and uncomfortable at times, but i have noticed it is slowly getting better over the years. i always have calendars printed for our family with pictures i have taken of our children over the previous year... and then we give handmades (that i have helped the children make for them)... this year we are also giving small bottles of our apple juice that we made from our own apples. it feels really good to give gifts i can stand behind and feel good about... and i do feel we are influencing the others in our family to be mindful and slow down as well (even if it is a slow process).

    p.s. your solstice dance sounds amazing!

  17. Milla, what great holiday advice. I also think your Solstice celebration sounds like so much fun! I think it is essential to be on the same page as friends and family about gift-giving. My brother and sister and mom decide to have a big feast for our families and do a gift exchange for the boys (there are seven of them) — they get one present apiece and end up being so much more grateful for them in the end. And that is something that is so important to me, to teach my kids to be truly grateful.

    Like everyone else who has seen this post, I too love your red hood in the dark mysterious woods. So beautiful and festive! Wishing you the happiest of holidays; you truly fill my heart with joy, friend!