There were years when Christmas, or I should say, the time leading up to Christmas, seemed like a chore, rather than a happy, glowing month. Being Swedish, we live in a very secular society, and most people (IMHO) celebrate Christmas as a present-giving/receiving holiday with tons of food, rather than a religious event.
As a kid and a young woman, I was very traditional in my approach, and if things weren’t just right, just like it had always been, Christmas was threatened, and my life destroyed—yes, I know, dramatic much? And for some reason, when I was in my thirties, the pendulum swung the other way, and if I hadn’t had kids, I could have gone without Christmas. I barely saw the point.
I felt bad for it. I mean, I really wanted to experience the wonder of the holidays again, feel the anticipation, and sort of be like the kid I once was. Regaining some of that took some effort.
In 2007, our daughter and son-in-law bestowed upon us our first grandchild (they’ve added three more since then) and we also got two bonus-granddaughters in one go. Suddenly there were little kids around who were literally bouncing with anticipation. This turned out to be inspiring as I could focus on them, rather than my own “failure” at achieving Christmas spirit for myself.
So, I took stock! What was it that I missed the most about feeling Christmassy? I wasn’t going to clutter the house with porcelain Santa figurines, or drag in a damn tree in our tiny house, but surely there had to be other things? I figured, scents! Scented candles, baking bread and pastries, and making caramel. That turned the Christmas feeling up a notch, for sure.
Food—yes, of course—but only two staples on the Christmas buffet per person. You know, “the two things it’s not Christmas if we don’t have”. For me, the ham and the red and brown cabbage. For Elon, pickled herrings in several flavors and home-made bread, for Henrik, also ham and the special Edamer cheese. Satsumas, chocolates, saffron buns, gingerbread snaps, and, of course, glögg (mulled wine). And—most importantly—JULMUST. It is a soft drink that outsells Coca-Cola in Sweden during the holidays. (I think you can get it worldwide at Ikea where it is called “Vintersaga”.)
The third thing that helped was splurging on lights for the garden and indoors. It automatically gave me a fairytale feeling, something I truly respond to as a romance writer. (And perhaps as a sci fi writer as well, since some lights look like faraway stars.)
So, the taste, scents, and the lights, of Christmas helped me along, but mainly it was the arrival of grandkids. I realized it was the nudge I needed to get back to a place of where I used to be. To see them so excited, waiting for Santa (Jultomten) and be just as happy for their siblings when they open their presents, as for their own, it made me feel what they felt.
I know it sounds like a cliché, but I firmly believe that I needed a reminder of the holidays being a time of giving. Not fancy presents, but of my time. In planning, in baking, in sitting down with the kids and doing some Christmas crafts—all of that gave me back some of my own childhood anticipation.
For me it was important to get out of the “what’s the point” funk I was in for quite a while after our own children grew up. Perhaps I truly needed to actually see the holidays through the eyes of a child to remember how I used to feel, and still remove the musts, the demands, and the pressure of trying to make things “perfect”.
Everything I have written above gives me pause. I was in a funk because of my own doing, but there are people out there who have nobody during the holidays (or any other day) and though I found my way back to the warm, fuzzy feelings…it pains me that there are people who perhaps never will. If we know of anyone who has nowhere to be, or nobody to visit them, during the holidays—do reach out.
Perhaps we can help someone else feel like the holiday season means something and that they matter.
I wish for everyone to have a great season, no matter how you choose to celebrate, or not to, and for you to have that sense of wonder that comes with being with the people that we love.