Over decades of time, traditions can turn any day into a holy day. Christmas is one of those days for many:
Children with bright eyes, gleaming with joy are made to believe in Santa Claus, who is no more than dad or grampy is disguise. This however takes years to figure out, as older siblings play along in keeping the younger ones in the dark until they one day discover the truth themselves, and join forces with "the other side" and continue the tradition of purposely keeping those not yet in the know, in the dark. This tradition is as old as Santa himself... Dad's annual disappearing act is never questioned as Santa is absolutely hypnotizing as he comes pushing through the snow, burlap sac on his back, lantern in hand casting light on his path. He bangs on the door and demands to know in a booming voice if there are any nice children and tasty libations in the house. No wonder he frightens the very young.
Let's start at the beginning: The madness begins the 1st of Advent, which marks four weeks of frenzied activity: buying gifts; sending out Christmas cards; obtaining and decorating the tree; making gingerbread cookies, saffron bread, toffee, ham, salads with kale and beetroot, sausage, meatballs, porrage (for Santa), sill; creating a riddle for each and every gift that goes under the tree; putting up lights and decorations around the whole house. And outside too. It's absolute mayhem. And worth every effort. Easy for me to say... who drop in a few days before Christmas and do nothing of the forementioned, but enjoy the increased level of energy all around town, sipping a latte, smiling, watching hurried people scurrying around, elbowing their way through a parcel-packed crowd. I'm on vacation.
My Christmas begins at 9 am when I wake up, listening for the Christmas carols mum always plays on Christmas morning. Not before. Not after. Only at Christmas. Since it isn't playing I can't get up. Besides, I know it soon will, as I am to be woken up at 9:15, in time to get ready to go to my sister's house to meet her in-laws for the first time. She's been married for ten years and they want to verify that I am made of flesh and blood, and not just an imaginary aunt who lives in the US.
Blustery but dry cold keeps me company on my walk down memory lane, through Södra Ängby, a neighborhood that looks like a colony of sugar cubes. The architect behind almost all of the 500 houses is Edvin Engström and they were built between 1930 and 1939. The architecture is what we say in Sweden "functionalism" - modern architecture with influences from cubism. This is where I grew up, these houses occupied by my friends from grades 1 - 9. Some of them have taken over their parents' homes and now have children who are classmates with my nieces and nephews. Strange place to visit...
The three children, and the in-laws are all dressed in Christmas garb, like Santa's little helpers and are already into a few gifts but moreover, deeply into the sugary goodies. Us adults sit down to "fika", which can be translated as a moment together, with coffee and "and". "And" varies, but is always a cookie, bisquit or a pastry of some sort. Today it's saffronbread, orange biscotti, gingerbread cookies, toffee and chocolate pralines. Homemade, of course. It is Christmas. It should be noted that "fika" is holy, and vastly different from "having a cup of coffee".
With time to spare before the remainder of the family arrives, I take a walk to get some fresh air. Yes, it is -15°C, and it is lovely outside. What was a really, really long walk as a child takes me fifteen minutes so I carry on, walking as far as I can without crossing my own path (who wants to walk in circles?), a limiting factor in a small neighborhood. Many other people have the same idea as I do and we nod and wish each other a Merry Christmas. The atmosphere is peaceful and friendly.
Dinner is a festive meal with an abundance of food, beer and snaps. My brother in law has selected a variety of microbrews to try and we have fun experimenting. My favorites are called "Mysingen" and "Dalle's stout".
At 3 pm, everything comes to a complete halt. Ours and every other TV set in Sweden is turned on and set to channel 1. For as long as anyone can remember, this is the time for Disney's classical Disney Christmas greeting: a number of classical, sacred cartoon movie clips such as Lady and the Tramp, The Bull Ferdinand, Snow White, and one or two new ones each year. It's enjoyed with a massive red and white peppermint lollipop and can under no circumstances be interrupted.
Just as the Disney greeting comes to an end, Santa arrives. Imagine that!? Hours of giftgiving begins, with the children being the focus, but being high on sugar, they are far from focused on anything. At last, the final gift is opened, some family members depart, the children are fed again, and I sit down with my sister and brother in law to a, for them, much welcome rest, and a glass of whiskey.