Fucking with Tradition

My mother makes magic. I don’t know how she does it, but there is one guaranteed perfect evening a year in my life and that’s the 24th of December. I can be stressed out or tired or sick, unable to quite locate the spirit of Christmas and the minute I step into my mother’s home, there it is. Christmas. There are candles everywhere, some in candlesticks that are only used this one evening a year, decorations in red and white, the tree glowing in the livingroom, the floor beneath it carpeted with presents and there is the smell of the flaeskesteg (roast porkloin with crispy crackling). Immediately after that hits your nostrils, everyone greets you with a smile, a kiss and a ‘glaedelig jul!” (merry Christmas) and you know all is good with the world.

When it comes to Christmas, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. Ok, so maybe more of a crazed… er, I mean, firm traditionalist. In my family, once we’ve done something twice, it’s tradition and at no time is fucking with tradition more blasphemous than on this day. The ritual of doing the same thing at the same time every Christmas Eve links us to the past, to our family, to each other. We eat what Ken calls “The Best Meal of the Year”, then have coffee, cookies and sing carols, both Danish and English (often with more enthusiasm than skill - particularly in my case). We tease each other, mercilessly harass each other, hug and kiss each other and laugh until we cry. The love in the room is palpable.

This year, I’ve been a little worried. For the first time in 32 years, Janne won’t be part of Christmas Eve – she and John are too busy with the kidlings. For a while, I was almost sure it was a dealbreaker. Christmas without my sister? How can that be Christmas? Who will make fun of my singing? Who will be Nisse – for decades, she’s found one present at a time, I read the tag and then we all watch/ooh/aah as the recipient opens it (it adds time to the unwrapping, but ramps up the fun). Who will laugh like this?



Things have changed since my Christmases in Denmark – we moved to Canada where things are different, and although we’ve kept many things the same, some have changed, including some of the participants. Each new person has added something new, something wonderful. Each new person joins us in keeping the traditions of our past alive in a new country. When we sing this carol, we all mess up the chorus just like my father always did, we use my grandmother’s recipe for ris a la mande, someone (usually me) wears all the bows in honour of my father, who got to play admiral (bows instead of medals) once a year, we get small presents from Nissen. In Denmark, Christmas is called the feast of the hearts, which isn’t nearly as Aztec blood-ritual as it sounds, but rather about the spirit of Christmas. It is about hygge, intimacy, love and laughter and that never changes. It’s my mother’s magic.

This year, we will all help bring Janne and John into the evening. Someone else will laugh with Ken about a particular Danish word much used in carols, before dinner, someone else will sneak into the kitchen and steal advance crackling for everyone, someone else will say “you fucked up again, mom” (trust me, it's funny), someone else will be Nisse with me.

The first year my father wasn’t there on Christmas Eve, we raised our glasses of sherry for a toast “to absent friends” and at that moment, he was there. We’ve done it every year since, sometimes out loud, sometimes we each offer it silently when it feels right. This year, we will make the toast out loud.

To absent friends, new and old, in other countries, other cities. To absent friends no longer with us. To Janne, John and their children, who will be there next year, creating new traditions to blend with the old.

Glaedelig Jul new friends. May your holiday (or weekend, if you don’t celebrate Christmas) be filled with love, laughter and magic.

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