Five years ago, when I was baking special Christmas cookies called Basler Brunsli, made from almonds, chocolate, sugar, egg whites and spices (hmm, I guess this makes them gluten free, as well as delicious) my grandchildren Sophie and Rowan were close at hand, faces aglow, as I removed them from the oven. They were four and eight, at the time.
Sophie, leaned over and quietly said this to her younger brother, as he eyed the tray of small, chocolate bears. “Rowan, you need to know that Nana turns a blind eye to the cookies at Christmas.”
At that moment, I felt pure delight, if not enlightened. Like I had done something so supremely good in the world that I hadn’t even been aware of. As I looked into the faces of these dear children, I was grateful to be the one who “turned a blind eye to the cookies at Christmas.” They were unaware that I had overheard the conversation. I thought then, as I still think now, that this is enough for me. This is what I want to be remembered for.
And it isn’t completely about the cookies.
It is about the confidence they have in me that at Christmas time they can enjoy these special little cookies with ease and joy and on their own terms. When I open the freezer and see crumbs scattered and the container not fully closed, I smile to myself.
Am I worried that they will eat too many and get sick? Nope. I’m not. It hasn’t happened yet. My confidence in the ritual of certain traditions and the knowledge that chocolate is also a vitamin (vitamin CH) allows me to celebrate their joy. And that is one of several reasons why I love Christmas.
Christmas also deservedly gets a bad rap due to consumerism. However, I mostly avoid those aspects by staying out of malls, not being caught up in the excesses of it all and concentrating on small things that mean something to me and my family. I claim my own traditions and ignore the rest.
In the darkness of November and December, in our northern climate, we need to warm our bodies and souls. Lights, candles, fireplaces, good food and a beautiful green tree in the house does just that for me, along with the good company of loved ones. The fragrance of the noble fir transports me to a wondrous place the moment I come in from the cold and my senses are greeted by that old, familiar smell.
As we decorate our tree, we dedicate the first few favourite ornaments to others, and say why. It turns the process into a reflective and fun event as we sometimes have tears and laughter in our remembering. After a couple of rounds we go back to finding just the right spot for whatever decoration we hold in our hands and then at random times one of us pauses (me, in this case) and says, “I want to dedicate this beautiful star to my friend, Helga,” as an example. The children always remember their family who live in different areas of the country so Grandma and Grandpa, Opa and uncle Rob, Jonathan and Michael and Great Grandma and so on…they eventually all get named.
Jolabokaflod – a new Tradition
Don’t get me wrong. I too can be overwhelmed at Christmas, yet, I still love it. This year, we are starting a new tradition, adapted from the Icelandic custom of bookgiving, called Jolabokaflod. This Sunday night the five of us will deposit our phones at the front door, exchange books, and curl up in comfy chairs in front of the tree and the fire, and read for the evening. Oops, I almost forgot that there will also be our favourite chocolates. In Iceland this takes place on Christmas Eve, but in our family this new tradition will happen the Sunday before. I love the idea of intentionally setting aside an evening to exchange books and read together. I can’t think of a nicer tradition to start, than this particular family gathering, with time to sit and read together in front of the tree.
And so, the holidays have arrived, and all of us arrive with our own traditions of bringing light to the darkness.
However we choose to spend this time may it be with love and joy and yes, sadness, too for all of our losses. May we say yes to what is important and meaningful and no to the things that no longer matter to us.
I do urge you, nonetheless, to celebrate all that is good in your lives and not succumb to the cynicism and despair that can so easily gather in a crowd of sorrows and/or consumerism. Find your people, those whom light you up, and be that light to others.
Warmest wishes, Trudy