Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Merry Thorvaldsen Christmas!

I grew up in a 250-year-old haunted home with floorboards still stained from the blood of the Civil War soldiers treated in the field hospital. Halloween was a fantastically spooky time, but no one braved our long driveway to trick-or-treat, so the house didn’t see much action, other than the lingering ghosts. Fourth of July was fun because of fireworks. We’d buy the largest kit and play for hours with them. Easter was…with formal boxwood maze gardens, you can imagine what they were like for egg hunts. Thanksgiving was so cozy with the fires in all the fireplaces and loads and loads of family and friends until the place was bursting. The three of us daughters did much of the cooking while the two brothers got to watch the football game with the men. (yeah, it was that kind of southern household). I didn’t mind, though. The kitchen was cozy and warm and the conversation was stimulating, and getting the relish dish perfectly aligned with olives and stuffed celery was an art form.

Still, Christmas was the most magical of holidays.

The eldest child was 13 years older than me, the next eldest 7 years older than me, the next 6 years older than me, and the next 5 years older than me (mom was a busy little lady for three years there, in fact, my sisters were 11 months apart). We’d all hike out into the woods surrounding our property and find the perfect tree. This was never an easy task, as opinions vastly differed.

The middle child who liked to be the rebel and contrary to every convention (a girl whose favorite color was “clear”) insisted we get a “Charlie Brown” tree, the uglier the better. The younger of the two brothers was all boy and wanted the biggest bad-ass one. The eldest brother, given the task of bringing back said conquest, didn’t want to chop down and drag the biggest bad-ass one. The oldest sister wanted the prettiest, most symmetric and flawless tree, something worthy of a Norwegian princess’s holiday monument. Me? I wanted to ride on the eldest’s shoulders for the best view and to stay off the cold ground. I’d take any tree. I just wanted to smell pine and put my handmade ornaments on it.

My father was from Norway. He liked a Norwegian Christmas. It was pretty funny because mother was Scottish, so there would be a huge debate about which was better, the nasty Vikings that attacked her ancestors or the peaceful Highlanders, (at which time my father would point out how not-so-peaceful the Highlanders were and what equally good raiders they could be). The argument never resolved, but the Christmas always revolved around Norway and Sweden, as his father was Norwegian and his mother was from Swedish Lapland.

Basically, it meant that on Christmas Eve we would have a Smorgasbord with the foods of his homeland, pickled herring, sardines, flatbreads, smoked salmon with dill, rich man cookies, fish soup, and lord help us, Lutefisk. Mind you, Lutefisk is basically dried cod soaked in lye. No wonder the Vikings raided other countries (probably in search of decent food)!

My father was all things whimsy. He liked to dance around the room and sing Hawaiian songs (He did 20 years in the Asiatic Fleet of the Navy during WWII and Korean Wars with lots of time in Hawaii). He dreamed of buying a yacht and sailing us five kids around the world for a year, taking us out of school. At which time mother would remind him that she didn’t swim. (If you hadn’t noticed yet, mother was the anchor that kept us from floating away).

But, with five siblings and a father with a real lust for living, we all were gastronomic daredevils, highly competitive in eating the nastiest and spiciest foods and outdoing each other. We’d have sardine-eating contests and shelling and eating raw oysters, but when it came to Lutefisk, we’d stare in horror. I did break through the line at the smorgasbord one year and got myself a heaping of Lutefisk. Everyone stared aghast. I promptly dumped a quarter of a bottle of malt vinegar all over it. I choked it down and then, well spent the evening learning how all that lye can…clean your pipes.

I always said that father made us have Smorgasbord to give thanks to living in America and eating foods that weren’t preserved for a long winter’s shelf life.

Once the crazy meal was done, gifts were opened that evening. Only Santa’s gifts were under the tree in the morning, unwrapped. The five of us kids would pile into one bedroom on Christmas Eve night because no one trusted the others wouldn’t go and peak.

I’ve kept some of the traditions, like opening my gifts on Christmas Eve and making mother’s smoked salmon spread with flatbread and rich man’s cookies. I’ve added some others. I make a yule log on the solstice and a fire in the fireplace. When my son was little, he could barely wait to open the gifts that taunted him under the tree, so I put the stockings up on Thanksgiving weekend with wrapped gifts inside. Each Sunday from Thanksgiving to Christmas, he got to open one gift from the stocking. He’s 21 and I still make it him do it. He hems and haws, but then greedily tears it open.

Life changes and families grow up, but there’s something about the holiday time that makes everything standstill. We all watch the Grinch on TV, hear the same caroling songs piped overhead in the stores, write out old-fashioned snail-mail cards to update family and friends on our year’s events. For all the advances in fake trees with built in Christmas lights and inflatable king-sized Santas for the front lawn, some things just remain eternal thanks to stubborn traditions binding generations. It is the great equalizer when young and old are pining for the same things.

My gift to you this holiday season: I plan to give everyone whose blog I follow a comment about what I love about the blog and why I’m glad they write it. For those who follow me but don’t have a blog, I wish you a magical and cozy, safe holiday and thank you for coming here and reading my whimsy and being my anchor!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful Christmas memories! We let the boys open one gift on the Solstice. Very intersting about all the fish dishes, love fish and dill yum! We have the tradition of eating pickled herring too but on New Years Eve for luck. Growing up Santa came on Christmas Eve that's when we opened gifts. Now we do both. I love your gift too. I'm so happy to have gotten to know you. A most wonderful gift! :)

  2. Oh, my gosh, thank you so much for that last comment on my blog. You literally made tears come to my eyes!

    Hearing things like that is exactly why I keep plugging away and hoping that I'm doing a decent job at what I'm doing.

    Thank you so much! That is one of the best holiday presents that I will get this year!

  3. Becca;
    I want to have Yule with you--sounds great! I open my gifts on Yule each year. I end up working Xmas day so it would be too rushed. My husband cannot wait, so I usually give him something on Xmas eve to open. I can't tell you how exciting it is for me to find the perfect gift and see someone open it. When my husband's family does a big Xmas together, gifts pile up next to me and I never even know they're there, I'm excitedly watching everyone open theirs. I get the biggest thrill out of noticing some small thing about someone during the year and theme-ing a gift around it. To me, the gift says "I totally get you."

  4. MrsB;
    People sometimes forget to stop and notice those things, but that's what I love about life. Stopping and taking note of every effort everyone makes because it's like squirrels in the winter--each nut is worthy of praise. What an analogy! Hee hee

  5. Autumn,

    Thank you so much for the unexpected gift. What a lovely comment. All the best to you and yours this season.

    My husband was an exchange student in Norway one summer while he was in high school. The Norweigians keep in touch with us to this day and continue to visit every so often. I'll have to ask Mike if he's had Lutefisk. I'm sure he has ... once while he traveled overseas for work, he stopped there during the holidays. Lye, huh? I don't doubt it cleans your pipes ... that's what we used to have to sprinkle in my FIL's outhouse at his cabin up north to keep it ... under control. !!

    Love smoked salmon though. And fish eggs. Mmmm.

    Not sure if I ever properly introduced myself. I lost my paranormal mentor (he was a rescue medium who specialized in ... the kinds of entities that a lot of esoteric pros won't touch) about a year and a half ago when he died unexpectedly. Sometime after that, since I had begun blogging myself, it occured to me to look for paranomal bloggers. Even today, with the sudden rise in popularity of the topic, the good ones are hard to find? So I was very glad to add you to my reader.

    My childhood home was built on the grounds of the largest civil war hospital (on the outskirts of Philly).


    Made for some interesting experiences ... and it explained a lot when I found out (years later, as an adult) and I made the (obvious?) connection.

    I also lived in Virginia for five years and LOVED it. What a place. Nothing like the vibe there. I know why Lee fought for the south. Miss it to this day.

    Happy holidays.


  6. D;
    The blog is so serendipitous! I can always tell when I'll have a lot in common with folks. There's a subtle click. Then, I get to know them better and find out we have more in common than ever imagined! It's so great to hear from another fellow Civil War Hospital resident (that sounds funny). Digging up the relics and touching them is what made me so proficient in psychometry. I agree about the popularity of the paranormal. I love having shows and movies with the theme "in" again, but having the world swamped with wannabe ghost hunters is frustrating. I've been asking the big questions since 1972 when I first tape recorded the footsteps in our house. It made me determined to try and capture and share the experience and come up with theories...hence eventually the ghost hunting theories blog. My ghost hunting partner was from a haunted place in Humeville outside of Philly. Small world. I can imagine anywhere you lived in VA was nice. There aren't really any places I wouldn't live, although I'm not a big fan of Richmond, but that's just cause to me it was a place to drive through on the way to other places. We lived in Fairfax, but we had a Victorian house on the Chesapeake down in Mobjack Bay--that was actually my favorite house and that area of Mathews county was really haunted! Keep up the great work on your blog. It's a great escape!

  7. what wonderful traditions!
    we would have stuffed turkey with all the fixins and open one gift on christmas eve. the rest were saved for christmas morning. my parents being catholic, we were taught that the gifts were from baby jesus.
    when i first started blogging, i wanted to follow some interesting blogs about ghosts and hauntings. i went to blog catalog and that's where i found you. so glad i did, because i just love reading your posts. thanks for sharing all of your thoughts and theories. i hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday!
    my very first xmas tree, once i had my own place, was a charlie brown xmas tree. it was the smallest, thinnest little tree ever. i loved it!

  8. Sandra;
    Me too! I remember my first tree when I lived in Redondo--the tiniest stringiest one on the lot. It was gorgeous--we decorated it with things from the apartment. It was a last minute decision since we had to leave back to Phoenix for the holiday. We just wanted to have our own. We came home to a pile of needles and rotting dried fruit, but it was definitely memorable!

  9. Autumnforest thanks so much for this beautiful -and as always beautifully written real story of your family's traditions!!
    and very much like mrsb you brought tears to my eyes with your comments on my blogs-i was very touched and almost overwhelmed!!
    this past couple of years have been rough and there have been times I have questioned my "worth" as a human being -and then to see comments like yours just made me feel so wonderful i really got choked up!!
    I enjoy your blog and YOU so very much -you have so much to offer the world and are doing it with your blog -and other things you do
    dont ask me how-i am usually as psychic as a rock -but I just know the "Thicket" will be published
    for some reason i can feel it in my heart -I love the scientific but also fun and willing to entertain any thoughts you take to your research on this blog!!

    there are so few people in the world who can do that-they are in one camp or the other-no in betweens and it is very special to see how fast your blog has grown -I so wish I could make time stop briefly this time of year to remember the "old days" which for us are some people's young days-but also we are "ancient" for people in high school -i can remember 30 sounded ancient to me back then!!

    beautiful article and writing as always Autumnforest and I will never forget the kindness of your comments-i had the same reaction as mrsb but was too shy to admit it until i saw her comment!!
    I also enjoy the commenters so much over here and get a lot from them as they respond to you-I wish you and your family and all of your commenters a super-super beautiful holiday and Christmas
    all the best with much love to all of you!!

  10. Thanks for sharing your Christmas memories. How cool it must have been to have Christmas in that old home. I love traditions as you know after reading some of mine on my random mind blog, so I'm glad to see you sticking to some of yours. It is kind of warm and fuzzy with those who have left us still there sharing the day. Merry Christmas!

  11. Dev;
    I've adopted you as my baby bro--so you keep doing what you're doing and I won't have to tell mom and dad that you're not living up to your potential. Keep writing--I see something in you that is exceptional and unbelievably rare. Keep encouraging it by seeking wisdom and expressing yourself creatively. We all benefit from it.

    I have to admit the holidays were really gorgeous in our home. My parents did a lot of entertaining which is probably why I consider myself the consummate southern hostess and I always have that pitcher of sweet tea in the fridge. When folks come over, they sit down and are conditioned to expect a glass at their side. Traditions are awesome.

  12. Thanks for sharing so much about your traditions growing up. It's always nice to get to know people a bit better.

    Thanks for the kind comment on my blog earlier, too. You made my day.

  13. What a great debate subject a Christmas tree can be! Especially with opinionated, rebel and free thinking children. I enjoyed that part enourmosly.
    Your comment about what you like about our blogs is truly a gift.
    Merry and Joyous Christmas to you and your family!

  14. What a wonderful story of your family traditions and memories. Very interesting! It is amazing how traditions can bring people together even generations later. Some of the traditions we had when I was young, I am now doing with my children. I try to make the holidays special for them, I remember so well the magic and warmth of my childhood holidays and want to pass that on to them.
    I also wanted to say that I love the paranormal aspect of your blog. I have always been very interested in hauntings. When I was very young we lived in a haunted apartment in Germany. Since then my husband and I have rented a house that was filled with a nasty, negative spirit. We got out of there quick. We now live in a 108 year old farmhouse, I sometimes do think I hear/see things here, but there is a lovely vibe to this house and they don't bother us.
    Thanks you so much for your kind comments on my blog. I am glad we are getting to know each other! Happy Holidays!!

  15. Thank you for putting together such a Inspiring post for me on my blog...

    You have a Wonderful gift for putting words together and forming an intriguing and fascinating story...
    I am honored to receive your words...i will cherish them always

    SpOOky Dreams my Dear Friend


  16. Great post Autumnforest. I like the Scandinavian touch you put on Christmas...gives it that old world feel.

    I loved the comments you left on my blog...and I don't mean just the most recent ones! It's always nice to see you've left some comments on something I posted! Keep up the good work here!

  17. Thank you for sharing your Christmas memories with us. What a neat history and I feel priviledged to have gotten to follow your blog and become "blog buddies" with you! We have a tradition on Christmas Eve at my husband's house. When he was little and his Mom was trying to get him to go to bed...she would tell him that it was time for "Midnight Snack!" (little did Daniel know, it was about 8:30!) But, that got that little bugger in bed and so every year we have "Midnight Snack!" ;) Thanks again for sharing your family traditions with us!