Have yourself a hygge little holiday
December, with all its festivities can also be loaded with feelings. I get that — I feel them myself with the parts of my family that are fragmented, the expectations I have for when and how we celebrate secularly (more than religiously), how traditions are maintained or altered to fit our needs as the shape of our family (families) evolves. I want to be particularly mindful of what goes down this year as my daughter, Juniper, newly 3 years old, is more aware than ever. This is an opportunity to re-jig or solidify how Chanukah, Solstice and Christmas (yep, we celebrate all three! Albeit in different ways, and with different people…) is done, maybe for the rest of her childhood. Maybe for the rest of my days.
This brings me back to one of my favourite non-English words — you know, hygge. The two times - of the year, of life - when the cozy, comfy, warm and glowy concept of hygge come up for me the most are the cooler months, and the postpartum period. Today, let's focus on the former. I’d love to share with you some of the ways I’m cultivating hygge for my daughter, myself and our “people”.
Making fire, on a large or small scale, is beautifully metaphoric in cultures across the globe. We light a candle and sing every Friday night as we celebrate Shabbat during a dinner with friends (there are about 8 of us regulars) all year round. This week though, we’re lighting beeswax candles that burn in our menorah each evening for Chanukah. I’m somewhat cautiously giving Junip the opportunity to learn about the care we need to take around fire, and also about its beauty — every night she’s tried to immediately blow them out like birthday candles, and I keep reminding her is that what makes these candles in this holder special is that we place them in our window to offer a bit of light to our neighbourhood.
Somewhat of a tradition (hard to make traditions that include a midwife who is often on call!) is going to Kingston to stay with some of our closest friends for Solstice. Honouring the shortest day of the year with these folks includes exchanging handmade gifts, low-tech activities like cutting paper snowflakes and playing board games, and taking a Lantern Walk around the neighbourhood after sundown, with homemade candle holders glowing in our mittened hands.
When you’re considering your options for stocking up on candles, I suggest you refer to this guide for your healthiest options. As a starting point, paraffin candles, especially scented ones, are best avoided.
Your family and your “people” - those who really nourish you - may not be one in the same, but lucky you if they are! I’ve not been the most easy-going when it comes to family dynamics over the years. For example, I can at this point admit I take receiving gifts that are not my cup of tea way too hard (it becomes a whole internal flurry of environmental/ economic/ consumerism distress, even if my wise-mind knows it’s a ‘problem’ I’m lucky to have), or gathering with certain people reminds me that I don’t feel we share the authentic connection that I wish we did….
But here’s the thing about these December celebrations: Chanukah and Solstice are really mine to do what I like with — we mostly do Chanukah because Junip’s other genetic half is full-on Jewish and I want to support her sense of connection to that, and Solstice we do with my chosen family, so digging deep if I have to in order to get through some sandpapery-feeling bits of Christmasing with my fam is the best gift I can give my mum — the greatest support in my life. So I’ll rally for her (and for Juniper, who is super-sensitive to these things) in an effort to communicate the gratitude I feel for her in my life. The really are my favourite people, and I’d love to contribute to their loving Christmas, in spite of my own imperfections. In preparation that means meditating more, working at getting clear about what’s within my control and what I can surrender to (possibly referring to my copy of Judgement Detox), and maybe taking a few more time-outs than everyone else, and exchanging some comically cranky texts with friends who I know ‘get’ me.
Traditions help us to create meaning, and differentiate special occasions from the everyday. I find them really affirming and grounding. Along with the aforementioned traditions, my mother has an annual Cookie Exchange party that’s been taking place on the second Sunday in December for the past 25 years (the crowd is mostly middle-aged and older feminists with a smattering of kids and a few others around my age), where there are always minced tarts, date-filled rose water shortbread (see right), chocolate-dipped hazelnut cookies, and mulled port on offer.
My mother and stepfather have mostly-chosen family we do much of our Chirstmasing with. It entails three big meals together; singing carols after by the fire after Christmas Eve dinner while my mum stumbles along on the rarely-played piano and my aunt plays recorder, followed by me narrating The Night Before Christmas before we hang stockings; and a lot of cheese (not really my jam). This year we’re talking about implementing this 4 Gifts for Christmas idea, which I love the sound of.
Traditionally, Christmas Eve dinner is comfort food — macaroni and cheese and/or quiche with a bunch of vegetable sides; Christmas Day brunch of gluten-free buckwheat waffles, scrambled eggs and bacon (the latter of which I do not partake) and mimosas; Christmas Dinner of at least two kinds of potatoes, green peas, and turkey with gravy (that I also avoid), and a mum-made gluten-free plum pudding with hard sauce (aka brandy butter) to finish.
As a vegetarian these past 20 years, eating traditions have been mine to create. Some of my homey and festive favourites are Millet-Stuffed Bell Peppers, Maple Roasted Roots, Rosemary Mushroom Gravy, and Squash au Gratin from my cookbook, Get It Ripe, and more recently Walnut and Squash-Stuffed Portobellos, Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Sugar Plum Fairy Cookies. I’ll do my best to share a bunch of them in the next couple weeks, but it might be easier if you just got the book ;)
There’s nothing like an overpacked schedule or and overstimulating party to inspire a toddler meltdown. In that way, I’m trying to use Junip as my inspiration to carve out some low-key time during the mid- to late December celebrations. As an introverted extrovert, recharging is vital to me on the regular, too. Truthfully, I’m still figuring this one out.
Music & Movies
Sounds and stories are certainly pieces of the tradition-making experience. From my upbringing, Handel’s Messiah, carols sung by Maddy Prior, and the recording of Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales (starts here at 4:44) will always be hugely hygge for me. As an adult, I’ve gravitated to more swingin’ Christmas tunes from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Eartha Kitt, and I confess, Michael Buble.
Admittedly, my favourite Christmas movie is The Family Stone — not something wholesome with Judy Garland or Fred Astaire from the early days of colour films, but this 2005 feature starring Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson and Sarah Jessica Parker. I’ve always had a fantasy of being part of a big New England Family (go figure), so for 100 minutes each year I get to live vicariously through this one.
It was important to me to make Juniper her own stocking, just the way my British great-aunt Elise (or was it her sister, Edith?) made mine when I was a wee girl. Here they are side by side — highlighting the personal style and talents of the maker who sewed them (I wonder if Junip will ask me to trade? I can’t say I’d mind).
I’ve been a bit challenged this year in deciding how to fill Juniper’s while still balancing my resistance to buy plastic crap and yet not break the bank, but so far I’ve landed on a few small books, a unicorn cardigan, an LED Christmas lights necklace, and some stickers and snacks.
So, now you know more about me and my December feel-goods than you could have ever dreamed of. I would authentically love to hear about how December celebrations roll out for you and yours — your traditions, the foods, the favourite gifts you’ve ever given or received… there’s lots to reflect on and share, if your willing.
A very hygge holiday to you and yours! xo