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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

As good as it gets

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Image by Rachel Stenback

Santa Claus walked down the road holding his young daughter’s hand. They both wore the same red Christmas robes with hoods that had a white fur trimming; and thick boots that kept their feet warm when, in just one day, they would soar overhead in their sled around the world in the cool skies. For now, they trudged down the road in the snow away from me, each one holding a lantern in their free hand that illuminated this special winter’s afternoon two days before Christmas.

I wondered where they were going: perhaps to check on the reindeer, which were bunkering up before the long journey by nibbling on the wintergreen lichen growing on the trees? Santa and his daughter are always so busy preparing at this time of year. Fancy them making their preparations right here in my neighborhood in Drottningholm, Sweden?

I walked home and felt the Christmas spirit coming on. Seeing all of the stuff in the stores hadn’t done it for me. In fact, I was beginning to find the whole concept of Christmas shopping one of alienation and terror. How could we, when we know what all of this superfluous stuff is doing to our planet? Future generations would consider us criminals. The peace of this deep winter’s afternoon, with the snow covering the palace rooftops despite valiant efforts to clear them this week, calmed me and I felt the urge to share the feeling. Perhaps I could light a couple of lanterns and put them out there in the snow in front of my house for passersby to enjoy. I hoped they’d understand that my lanterns were for them – particularly people I didn’t know – so that they might contribute in some small way to that one thing that makes Christmas indispensable: the rise of our common feeling of humanity.

An hour later there was a light knock on the door. It sounded like the small fist of a child. I opened the door and found it was Santa’s daughter with the lantern in her hand. She blinked twice and smiled gently without saying a word. Behind her, gathered in a small crowd of light, were many Santas, women and men, girls and boys. Someone had understood my lanterns, I thought. They launched into one of the most beautiful Swedish Christmas songs I know which starts with, “Light, light, wonderful light…” and two others followed. Santa’s daughter sang with all her might, hitting some curious and, as yet, undiscovered notes.

These days this sort of thing doesn’t tend to happen unless someone is out collecting for a good cause. I asked the question and then felt ashamed when the gathered crowd laughed and said, “Wish we’d thought of it.” It was then that I was reminded that one lantern attracts another, and that the purpose of their being there together is quite simply to make their common light grow, because that is as good as it gets. “Thank you,” I said to them in the most heartfelt manner I could muster. “Merry Christmas,! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” they shouted, as they passed by my lanterns and walked out the gate back onto the street carrying their own light onwards.

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Wishing all of my readers and friends a wonderful and heartfelt holiday season.

As always, for more about my books visit www.julielindahl.com.

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Wolf Winter

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Wolf Winter

-14 but the weather woman says it feels more like -17. Dawn lifts the heavy darkness of winter enough to see the silver landscape. My glove sticks to the gate as I open the latch, and I gently peel it off again. The snow is so dry it sounds like styrofoam under my boots. My face feels the grip of winter on it; the skin feels stretched and ageing temporarily halts. The rest of me continues ageing under many layers. At least it is a warm sort of process.

The candelabras of Swedish Christmas have been dutifully placed in every window. They glimmer with familiarity: “Here we are again; the year has gone round.” Our windows are no exception. The children have grown and there is more time to do things on time. A pine wreath with a casually-tied red ribbon hangs on the front door. It is a gift made by a friend and symbolizes the essence of the season. The roof is covered with snow, disguising the need for a paint job. The house looks perfect in this wolf winter.

On Dog Island in the park, I spot what I think looks like a glimmering light on the park bench. Perhaps it is just the morning light hitting a metal hinge? No, it is a small candle, protected in a glass jar, that has been lit and left there by someone in the small hours. Was it the little bit of joy experienced by a homeless person who had found an unused candle at the dump, and used one of his last matches to light it? There are no marks in the snow on the bench. No one had sat there next to the candle. Was it the park attendant out early to surprise his beloved dog walkers? On a morning this cold? There was a spot of magic around this lit candle on the bench. Somewhere in the cold air was the thought that someone who needed it would find it in this wolf winter.

Home in the back yard, a cat’s tail swirls over the snow scanning for mice. Under the white insulation in small caves under the wilted garden brush, mice struggle to survive.  The cat crouches in the colors of a tiger waiting for the right moment. The wolf winter is cold and unforgiving, and warm and generous. Where there is contradiction, there is fascination, and so we go on with our celebration of light towards the darkest day.

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Order Rose in the Sand, Julie Lindahl’s prize-winning book about a decade lived on a Swedish island. Learn more about her non-profit for story-telling and the new initiative, Beyond Tolerance, at www.storiesforsociety.com.

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In the peace of the snow

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Winter whispers in November

Sunday began with a walk in the snow-covered park. Lucy the dog gulped mouthfuls of fresh snow as she galloped through the sea of unexpected white. Her small soft ears fluttered behind her like two cashmere handkerchiefs. Wish I had something like those covering my ears today. It feels as though we are in February but it is only November. Is the coldest winter in a thousand years already here? The rumor had been circulating and I ignored it until the last three nights of ten degrees below zero (Celsius) in November.

On Friday afternoon, after a long week’s work, we trudged out to our summer island certain that the winter had beat us to the water pipes. Mounds of virgin white covered the paths, making it difficult to reach the house. To the left, a large indentation in the snow indicated that a moose had lain there less than an hour ago. I closed my eyes and  let my senses rest in the quiet. I remembered the many years of living here year-round. There was nothing like the peace of the snow and today I missed it in my busy, people-centered life.

My husband flicked up the lever of one of the taps and miraculously the water still ran. Had a little angel blown warm air over our pipes while we ran our frenetic lives in the city? We had been lucky and now drained the pipes so that the coldest winter in a thousand years would not ruin our plumbing.

I removed the many containers full of red currants that we had picked and frozen during the summer from the freezer. Inside these containers were an almost unbelievable memory of heat, dryness and the unrelenting buzzing of insects. Now the insects had fallen onto the window sills with the cold. My hands froze as I packed the containers into an IKEA bag to drag back to the city with me. Ridiculous to have a freezer going in this freezing house, I thought, and flicked the switch to ‘off’.

As I pulled the sled full of red currants through the forest toward the car, I remembered what it was like to stare into pitch darkness. If you look hard enough at it, you will always find a glimmer of light on the horizon. It’s one of those things that few people know since we live in cities of eternal light.

The lake was already closing up with islands of ice beginning to connect to one another and form large continents. Winter whispers everywhere and it is only November. Back in town I unpacked the candelabras that are customary in every window in Sweden starting on the first of Advent. The children long for the time to Christmas to rush and ask eagerly when we will be making the saffron buns, the gingerbread house and so forth. All of these things signify that we are moving one step closer to the moment of opening gifts. For myself, after another tiring week full of many impressions, I long to rest in the peace of the snow.

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Learn more about my writing and other projects at www.julielindahl.com. Join me at Facebook and/or Twitter.

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