If ten years ago you had told me I’d be living in Sweden in 2014, waiting for the snow to arrive on a chilly December day, I’d have called you crazy. I would have also been wrong.
As I stare at our tree, I get the feeling the year sort of zoomed past without me knowing about it, and maybe it’s the lack of snow, but I don’t feel the Christmas spirit yet.
It can’t be for lack of trying on the country’s part. Our local shopping center is lit up with stars, glittering tinsel and a giant Christmas tree guards the movie theater. Christmas fika invites keep popping up on Facebook. Most of the Christmas markets have opened. Yet the best word that can sum up my Christmas feelings is ‘meh’. I don’t want to walk around humming the Little Drummer Boy. I even made my own Christmas coffee, hoping it would drag me begrudgingly into the proper frame of mind. Did it work? Nope (coffee was fantastic, though!).
Which is a shame, because I LOVE Christmas.
Maybe it’s everything that’s happened over the past couple of months. Or maybe for the first time in a long time I’m feeling the pangs of homesickness. Maybe it’s a combination of both.
When I first moved to Sweden, I had this crazy idea that it would be a breeze. The culture shock wouldn’t be too bad because it wasn’t that different. I mean, sure it was cold, but snowmen are fun, right? Sledding! Need I say more?
The thing is, even if everything on the outside looks almost the same, your entire world changes. All of those changes, even if they’re small ones, add up. You begin to feel like someone plopped you into a new world, but you’re not connected to it. The threads of your past aren’t there, the memories . . . the traditions.
I went through this phase when I first came to Sweden and now it feels like I’m going through it again. This time around, I’m going to build my connections to the country by focusing not only on new traditions, but on older ones as well. What better time to start, than Christmastime?
1) The elf.
Every year, a tiny elf comes to visit us. His name is Wackack (perfectly acceptable name from a three-year-old). Originally given to us by a very special person in my life, this tradition takes on an extra layer of meaning. Some families insist their elf gets into all sorts of mischief. Hard to believe something so small could wreak such havoc, but I’ve seen photographic proof. I’m thankful we got one of the boring ones. He doesn’t dive into flour or scatter cake sprinkles all over the floor. He sits there. Occasionally he leans over. Every night, to the delight of both children, he disappears to the North Pole to report to Santa. By the time the kids wake up in the morning, the elf’s back in a new spot. The kids wake up, rush into the living room and look around everywhere until they find Wackack. For an entire month, our kids are happy to wake up and get ready for school. Well, at least they’re happy to wake up.
2) The stories.
On Christmas Eve, we read The Christmas Story and The Night Before Christmas. If Batman had a Christmas book, we’d probably read that one, too. In fact, we read these before Christmas Eve, and after. The point is we take time out of our busy schedules, snuggle up together, and we read them :). Because someone must remember the stories.
3) The cookies.
In Sweden, everyone bakes gingerbread cookies. I haven’t seen statistics, but I’m almost positive when I say ‘everyone’, I mean ‘everyone minus the poor souls who hate gingerbread’. Our kids don’t fall into that category. Thankfully, it’s one of the few packaged things Sweden does sell. I never have to worry about screwing up the dough, I can just swing by the dairy section and grab a tube of it. All I need to supply is a rolling pin, two super-excited kids and cookie cutters.
4) The music.
In my past life, I began listening to Christmas music on December 1st. I haven’t done that since I became a mom. I’m not sure I want to either. Something strange happened after the kids came along. The value of silence has come to mean more to me than music does. But, I’m thinking I can turn this into a new tradition. I hope I can find some carolers after Lucia has come and gone and bring the kids along. I have no idea if carolers exist in Sweden. But Halloween doesn’t exist either and that didn’t stop us from dressing up like superheroes and princesses and knocking on every door in our building :).
5) The calendar.
The only calendar I spent time with before moving to Sweden was my personal calendar. I spent hours with my Franklin, even adding things to my daily lists just so I could cross things off once I’d completed them. I loved it. I didn’t get chocolate every day, though. Six years and two kids later, I do advent calendars. If anyone is able to resist the temptation, they have a stronger will than I do. These things are everywhere! Walk into any grocery store and you’ll run into towering mountains of cardboard calendars hiding squares of chocolate behind 24 brightly-colored flaps. I like the idea. Not crazy about the chocolate. This year, we didn’t get a chocolate one. No. We decided it would be more fun to teach the kids they get a toy every single day in December, so we gave them the Lego Advent Calendar. I must have been drinking the day we made that decision.
6) The giving.
It’s hard to teach kids the value of things when they get so many, well, things (see the above point). So this year, I want to try something new. I haven’t even shared the details with my family (honey, if you’re reading this, surprise!). I want us each to do something for someone else. We could spend time with someone, help a friend at school, stick up for someone who’s being bullied, give away something that was precious to you, gather blankets for the homeless. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s an act from the heart. Like a secret Santa, but the gift you give your mystery person (or persons) doesn’t have to be tangible. Then, I want us to write what we’ve done and put it under the tree as a present for each other.
As time goes on, we’ll end up with more traditions. Traditions about chocolate milk and cookies, maybe even a carrot or two, or maybe a tradition about sending a gift to someone who we felt was mean to us. Maybe bake a whole plate of cookies and give them to a random stranger. Whatever those traditions are, I’m ready to create them. Because traditions are so much more than doing the same thing every year. They bind us to our own special place and time in history, and in the world.
What about you, which traditions do you have at Christmastime?