First Sunday of Advent passed. And then the second Sunday passed too, and Lucia, and the Third Sunday and all gingersnaps are eaten. The stars are up, lighting up the windows and house. It should only be one star because – Jesus. But since the world evolved the number of stars grew. And we are all suckers for light, so you know – stars. If you are not religious, now is the time. Some Swedes never went to church back in the day but putting a star in your window is something you do, just because, it is now a cultural thing. I grew up with church, stone buildings, more than 1000 years old, culture, white Christmas lights… America is just the opposite and all the lights are in different colors and blinking. I am still trying to adjust after all these years.
Back in the day, many years ago, you had one star made out of straw, basically made during the time of Jesus and it was a bit burned and broken but it shone like the one and only every year. And then paper happened, and all Swedes went crazy. Paper stars with lightbulbs inside. And we all went crazy, visiting IKEA, buying more and more every year. And then the minimalistic era happened, and we scaled back. One star, one metal light in the kitchen window. One statement Eldflugan (that we happened to leave in Sweden when we moved) in the living room window. In 2020, I only care about light and bright stuff. We need happiness and vitamin D in our lives. Green trees, blue skies, friendly faces, trails, and online shopping.
We just finished Thanksgiving and we just finished the leftovers. And Christmas will happen this year too, even if it feels very unlikely. Apparently, Christmas shopping started early and as usual I am oblivious, no clue. For me it all starts December 20th. You need the glorious smell of glögg, saffron, ginger, cinnamon… you hear everyone else talk about everything being ready and I look around and see chaos. It is something I inherited from my parents. And the fun, interesting thing is that it all works out. With a few hours to spare. Same procedure every year.
Last week disappeared in a blur and a flour cloud. I am part of a board that decided to do a last-minute fundraising event to cheer up our members and raise some money before this interesting year ends. My part: bake saffron buns, a traditional Christmas bread. This event grew fast and so did the number of buns. I ended up baking over 350 buns. And the fun part, we ran out, so I need to bake some for us before Christmas.
Christmas food is Christmas. It is particularly important and as always, you gather around food and the dinner table. The love of food is one of the important things you can give your children. If you know the food, you feel more at home in a country. Music and culture are up there too. And of course, the language, how to communicate and express yourself.
The Christmas ham, sweet ginger ribs, pickled herring, all the salmon, vegetables, bread, cheeses, baked goods, chocolate… I am proud to pass this on to my kids, the small Swedes in a new country. Every year this is a problem. Where to find it and what to make yourself. The baked stuff, we are on it. We bake and bake, every day. It is all the odd things that are hard to find or make. And is it worth it? Things, rituals, routines, is it worth it? Why do you do it, make it? Some of it, absolutely. But I must admit that I have not had sylta or eel since we left Sweden. Sad, yes, but I would ever make it. No, I focus on the stuff we really like. Christmas food in America is…cannot think of anything. I cannot think of anything that feels Christmassy. A lot of cookies, eggnog, and hot chocolate. Peppermint. Candy. But no food. Thanksgiving will cover it all. That is the food holiday of the US. But that is good for us, we can focus on the Scandinavian food for Christmas.
The first few holidays we spent here were odd, missing family and the usual. And then we found our own ways. Our own routines and our own new holiday traditions. For us it is mainly about family and food. We hang out, play endless games and cook. You cannot really buy stuff readymade if you want it your way. We make some and we skip some. Bake the stuff that we crave, buy what we can and make the rest. Create new traditions mixed with old ones. We have not spent one Christmas in Sweden since we moved here. But somehow Christmas is celebrated every year with a bang.
I am on a few months rest from running and biking for a very stubborn knee injury that I got treated. My last run for the year happened a few weeks ago. I am trying to remember the running feeling when I hop out in the garage for some assault biking with arms only. If you can spend time outside, do so. Walk, run or bike if you can. I sure wish I could. I usually get up before sunrise. Get out of the house so early the birds are still sleeping and are all fluffed up like wooly balls and you can hear the leaves fall slowly from the trees. So early that the only one you meet is an occasional coyote sneaking around the neighborhood. I am not an early bird anymore, like I used to be. I like waking up and getting the fire started, coffee going and news on. Really early is fine, but I prefer staying in the house. Maybe it is a quarantine laziness or extreme stiff muscles, what do I know. My mornings used to be busy… dressed in running tights and layered clothes, one quick cup of coffee and a banana, comfy shoes and in the car, it’s not too bad. The moon shines and the air feels crisp. The puddles on the track or trail are frozen and shine in the moonlight. I run and run and it gets lighter. And then the sun comes up and waves to the moon and the sky is all of a sudden blue. And I regret not getting a picture of the spectacular phenomenon, how the moon goes to sleep, and the sun wakes up and turns the world light and blue. Instead I hop in the car and turn on my favorite song and drive home. If you could check how many times I have listened to this song it would break Spotify. It is almost embarrassing. Now I watch that phenomenon from the couch sipping coffee. I will try to remember to never complain once I can run again. Early morning trail runs, headlight on, rosy cheeks and happiness.