I don’t usually get very excited about Christmas. My holidays of choice are Halloween (which caters to my inner child creative) and Thanksgiving (which is just plain nice). If you ask me, it’s all downhill from there. This year too, I heard some complaints about my Grinchy demeanor. The commenters were rightly justified in this – I even wore my Grinch t-shirt to work, between laundry cycles.
So how to snap out of it, and get in the Spirit? Well, that’s always a challenge. There are a few things that will soften my stony heart, and Christmas music sure as hell isn’t one of them. This year (and just about every year, for that matter), strings of Christmas lights to help light up the dark evenings will help. As mentioned in my Wednesday Vignette a couple of weeks ago, my husband talked me into getting a tree. Dressing it, and reacquainting myself with some of my favorite decorations started the thawing of my icy reluctance. I must have been a fly in a former life – I’m helplessly drawn to these lights during the dark months.
I enjoy giving gifts, and when I find the right one, I can barely contain myself, before I can present it to whomever I had in mind for it. But Christmas… meh… I despise the commercial hysteria associated with it. In my pragmatically inclined family, it has all gotten completely mechanized. We all write our wish lists in a Google doc, which we share with each other, complete with links and suggestions on where to get the items in question. It makes it really easy, but also very unexciting, as the element of surprise is pretty much completely eradicated. I also have a terrible time of even thinking of things I want. Often, whatever goes on my list is a replacement for something that might have broken, or gotten lost or worn out. This difficulty in itself speaks volumes of my (our) privilege – I have just about everything I could wish for. Even the kids are having a hard time coming up with a list. I find this mechanized, structured giving rather devoid of soul. A couple of years ago, I came up with an antidote to my apathy, which has been working fairly well. I think of someone(s) who has done something I admire during the year that has passed. Then I present them with a small gift – usually something I’ve made, and often something edible. Nothing big, but even if it’s a small token of sorts, the act of surprising someone, and let them know that they and their hard work is appreciated, self-servingly adds to my Christmas spirit. Since its inception, these small tokens of appreciation have gone to people around me whom I know are doing good things for our community. They have always been acquaintances or friends – they are never complete strangers. (Probably smart, or I’d likely be accused of stalking.)
Another thing that added much needed Christmas cheer this year, was my friend and fellow blogger Loree’s idea to put on the Poinsettia Challenge. As always, I was late to the party, and turned my contribution in late on the last possible day – the deadline was Christmas Eve. The photos I sent in were pretty bad, as they were taken in that yellow, incandescent lighting, but no matter… I had fun putting my attempts together even so. I ended up taking a new photo of the one I submitted the following day, which made the colors more representing of what they actually look like.
Pigs are a prominent symbol in Scandinavian Yuletide celebrations. It harks back to Särimner – the hog that was slaughtered each night in Valhalla, fed to the warriors, and resurrected the following day – only to be slaughtered once again, and again… Those traditions are ancient, and Swedish Christmas traditions in general are pretty meat-centric. Mind you, this year we ignored pretty much all of the traditional (and labor intensive) goodies. My Pinoy husband brought traditions from another pork-loving nation, so by family vote, we decided to do pretty much a repeat of our slow-cooked pork roast from Thanksgiving. Again, it was heavenly. As the aromas wafted from the kitchen from morning to late afternoon on Christmas Eve, I felt my Grinchy resolve melt away at a rate comparable to the mouthwatering drippings in the roasting pan. I know and respect all the social, environmental, and economic reasons for vegetarianism, but as I peeled off a little piece of the crispy outer layer of that roast, I knew in my heart that I’m a weak soul who would never, ever be able to completely wean myself off pork – it was simply too delicious! Other meats maybe, but not pork. Although I don’t know how this particular pig met its fate, I can assure you all that it did not die in vain. I swear, any king would have been honored by a seat at our Christmas dinner – however non-traditional it might have been – it was so good!!!
As far as libations go, this year brought another favorite – through the brilliant minds of two of my friends and workmates; William and Tamara. Spiritopia is a local distiller (Corvallis, OR) who makes the most incredible ginger liquor. The genius pairing with Coconut milk egg nog has kept me happy for days, and has pretty much completely out-competed my more traditional Glögg. I’m honestly not entirely comfortable knowing how quickly I nearly emptied that bottle, pretty much singlehandedly. Thinking of it as actively supporting my local economy justifies the means though, and makes me feel better.
So far so good. Poinsettias, crispy pork, Spiritopia and a general sense of gratitude toward a few select humans all contributed to making me embrace Christmas a little more, but I still wasn’t quite there, and some stubborn measure of Grinchy-ness prevailed. A vital element to Complete Christmas Spirit (in my book, at least) was missing. This year, Portland had more rain than any previous December since records have been kept, but (as is the norm) no snow. I think I’m genetically programmed to require snow, in order to get it on. Another family vote had dictated that we do Christmas American-style this year – meaning gifts on Christmas morning, instead of on Christmas Eve (as customary in Sweden). So, in the afternoon, after reveling in our gift-giving abundance and the required poetics, the kids and I headed up to the mountain, and I volunteered my first shift of the season as a Mountain Host – an organization under the umbrella of the Mount Hood Ski Patrol. The mountain has been pummeled with snow to the tune of about a foot per day in the past week, and night skiing was beyond wonderful. By the time we returned home around midnight, it finally felt assured that Christmas was indeed here. And, that wondrous feeling hasn’t left yet. Amazing what gazing out over a frozen Winter Wonderland can do to a Grinchy constitution. 🙂 I’ll end this post with the photos from the mountain. I hope this season, you will experience some of the same kind of boundless beauty I was privileged to see up there – quiet, still, peaceful, magnificent, snowy expanses in near solitude. It was indeed MAGICAL – just like Christmas is supposed to be. 🙂