It's a wonder I survived my childhood, on so many levels. There was the time I ice skated across the ancient wood floors and carved them up and we had to buy huge oriental rugs to cover up where I had made marks all over wooden floors that were stained with the blood of Civil War soldiers. There was the time I picked up the snapping turtle at the creek and brought him home to show him off. There was the time I ate back pain pills thinking they were blue M&Ms. Oh wait, there was also the time I wandered off in a junkyard and took a nap inside a car while the police looked for me for 12 hours... Well, you get the picture, there's too many to mention. The one, however, that amazes me the most is that I survived our Norwegian Christmases.
Why would a Norwegian Christmas be particularly deadly? Well, it is when you have the five kids go out into the woods with an axe, cut down a tree, drag it home on December first and decorate it with straw and paper ornaments and little candle holders with live candles!
My father was from Norway and mother was Scottish. Much bickering ensued when it appeared mother's children were very proud to be Thorvaldsens and of Viking ancestry and rather bored by the Scots. So, mother introduced us to shortbread, tea time and the Highlanders. Wicked! Suddenly, we were born from two ultra-warrior factions and damn proud of it.
A Norwegian Christmas as we practiced it wasn't particularly exotic, other than the paper woven ornaments and straw ornaments and the live candles. We did smorgasbord on Christmas Eve and invited everyone to a huge buffet of Scandinavian foods. It was the one time a year we gave thanks dad's family came to America. Nearly everything is dehydrated and pickled to survive the long winters. We were a competetive family and tried to out-gross each other. Lutefisk (fish treated in lye) was downed with lots of vinegar to mask the taste. Sardines and pickled herring were tossed on flatbreads and washed down with hot cider. There was hasty pudding with an almond in one of the servings and the person won a marzipan pig. Mind you, it's a pasty sugary creation that is devoid of flavor, but somehow winning that damn thing mad a person act like it was the lottery.
Christmas eve we opened the gifts. The problem with that is that then you have to go to bed knowing there's a new bike or something awesome waiting for you. The five of us kids didn't trust each other not to sneak and see what Santa brought unwrapped under the tree for the morning, so we all piled into one bedroom and locked ourselves in for the night and drove each other nuts with zero sleep.
Christmas morning was a yule pile. No, seriously, a yule pile. It was our breakfast stacked up. Dad made waffles, stacked up an egg, a piece of fruit, a piece of cheese...
I look back at that tree and how it looked on Christmas morning with more needles on the floor than on the tree, straw ornaments, paper ornaments and clips with mounds of wax puddled in them and I wonder if perhaps the ghosts in our home kept us safe on this most dangerous holiday.
As an adult, I prefer a fire in the fireplace and a yule log cake for winter solstice. To me, that's the most peaceful thing to do and on my favorite day of the entire year, when there is less daylight than any other day. I am a freak, but I hate sunshine.
I'd like to hear about your traditions.