Over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about Christmas. From the day I was born I've spent Christmas at home with my family. My father didn't ask for much, but he wanted us to be home around that time of the year, no matter where we were living, and my brothers and I happily obliged.
Christmas traditions are an important part of my life. No matter how good or bad the year has been, I know there is this anker in December that holds the two years together and lets one year end on a high note and the other begin with a reminder of how important and wholesome family is.
I feel that it has a lot to do with resetting my brain. I know that - as soon as I get home - I don't have to think about anything else than preparing for Christmas - physically and mentally. During that time family is most important. And food of course... I would even describe Christmas as a process, or a procession. From the day they start playing Christmas songs on the radio to the day I leave (usually after new years) there are certain things that happen in a specific order. These include the crafting of Christmas cards, baking and cooking, church and family visits, long walks in the snow (or mostly rain) and the new years celebrations which mark the end of the Christmas Season for me.
There is a certain level of calm that comes with the season. Maybe it's because it gets darker outside, you don't feel like being so active because of the lower temperatures and your vitamin D levels dropping. Or maybe it's because of the Christmas songs on the radio, the atmosphere in the streets and the 'fact' that everyone seems to be more happy around this time of year. As a side-effect I usually start thinking about what happened in the past year. The interesting thing for me is, that while being with family and realizing that this is what's truly important, you look at the things that lay in the past with a lot more ease of mind. "Were these really problems?" "You can easily go ahead and do it better next year!" "Why do you bother anyways?"...
After my father died, Christmas traditions changed. I have been writing about this before and it has been a tough change at first, especially for my mother. One of the immediate consequences was that we stopped spending Christmas at home. Firstly, we tried to spend Christmas at my smaller brother's apartment. It was nice and sad at the same time.
From the next year on I spent Christmas with my wife's family (yes, we have been spending Christmas separately for the first 7 or 8 years of our relationship). And let me tell you that: man, they do have Christmas traditions in Finland! The fact that there is a communal sense to what Christmas should be like in the country where Santa lives immediately provided me with a comforting feeling because the moment I got adopted by her family and was allowed to spend Christmas Eve at her grandfather's house (yes, it's by invitation only!) I started soaking up all the new features that the Christmas traditions and the "process" had to offer.
Almost 10 years later Christmas has changed a lot from what it used to be during my childhood. I feel that I've grown up in the way I participate and contribute to everything that happens around this event. Last year was the first Time that I picked up a large knife and cut up some of the salmon that we prepared for Christmas Eve - maybe due to the fact that I started cooking a bit more here in Shanghai and got more confident with my skills, maybe just because I wasn't trusted with any of that by the "professionals" (my wife's mother is a chef and my wife's been doing it since she was a kid).
This brings me to a certain conclusion regarding traditions. During the first part of our lives traditions are being imposed on us. We can choose to participate or not - and I can highly recommend to do so. Later in life we become the ones to keep traditions up, alter them to new circumstances or create new ones. We can't live without traditions. They are habits and routines that are etched into our minds and souls. So we should actively think about and embrace them and try to develop them further depending on whatever life demands of us.
I know, it's really early. But I wish you and your family the best of times while preparing for the most beautiful chapter of the year. Realize what's important to you and how you can contribute to family and family traditions, no matter the circumstances. And even if life sucks right now for many of us and we face dire consequences of health and safety measures to the extend where we might not be able to see our loved ones for some time - I keep saying to myself: life is what you make it - and the best is yet to come!