Tag Archives: Traditions

Holidays, Journeys, Traditions and Trees

This time of the year I often look back to the many vastly different environments in which we have celebrated the festive season over the years.

xmas landscape (2)

I have many warm and wonderful memories of the Christmases of my childhood in Scandinavia. We always went to the forest to cut the tree ourselves, often in knee-deep snow. This  was usually done in the morning of Christmas Eve or earliest the day before. The tree was then decorated during the afternoon and the live candles were lit in the evening – under strict supervision. The flickering lights were beautiful as we sat down for the festive meal, which in the Scandinavian countries is enjoyed on Christmas Eve with extended family, whenever possible.

After the dinner we would receive Santa’s modest presents. Often there was something self-made, such as a small play table and two chairs for me and my sister, a knitted doll or a pair of warm socks or gloves. The gifts were not fancy but lovingly made. Coloring books and drawing materials were also among my favorites, I remember.

College time Xmas PineI celebrated the holidays at home until I went away to college. During the college years I used to look for work abroad during the Christmas break together with some of my friends. Maybe an early sign of my quest to learn about other countries and cultures, and definitely good for my wallet and language skills. This of course meant that I no longer spent the holidays at home as we were working throughout the period. Those Christmases were somewhat lonely and very simple, illustrated by one of my “trees” from that time, a pine branch in a champagne bottle.

Then I got married and we started a family. Our son’s birth brought a new dimension to the holiday celebrations. After a few years celebrating at home my career took us to many different countries – that was a beginning of a long stretch of years celebrating the holidays in many different environments and circumstances.

I always remember our first Christmas in Africa. We celebrated it in Zambia. It was very strange not to have snow or at least cold weather when the holidays approached. It didn’t really feel like Christmas!

Xmas on the terrace in Zambia

We could not get hold of a Christmas tree, but had a tiny artificial tree with a few decorations that we had brought with us.  We found a German farm and managed to get an excellent smoked ham for Christmas dinner. We enjoyed that dinner with some traditional Scandinavian dishes on our beautiful covered terrace, decorated by nature for the holidays with huge red lilies. Finally the holiday mood arrived!

Santa in ZambiaIn Zambia, our son could also enjoy Santa, who came to say hi all the way from Scandinavia wearing a T-shirt, long johns and sunglasses. That year we also had family visiting us from home for the holidays and we celebrated a memorable New Year at Victoria Falls in the very south of the country.

My next special memory is from a Christmas we celebrated in Ethiopia. That was the first time in our years in Africa we tried to get a live Christmas tree. We found a small cypress that I thought looked very nice. Xmas in Ethiopia

It was tall, but as it happened, the branches were so weak that we had to be very creative to hang our heavy lights and the few ornaments we had brought from home. After hours of strengthening the branches we had our tree all lit up! This was my most memorable tree decorating ever. Still smiling.

In Ethiopia we also organized a traditional Scandinavian Lucia ceremony with our kids singing carols and carrying live candles. Lucia is a prelude to Christmas, always celebrated on December 13th.

Santa Lucia in Ethiopia

My most memorable hotel Christmas, and there are a few,  was in the tiny nation of Djibouti. The only Christmas decoration we had in our hotel room was a small light chain around a picture frame. But it didn’t really matter as we spent the days on a small uninhabited island in the red sea. Swimming in the turquoise waters and eating picnic foods prepared for us every morning by the hotel chef. That was a different, but also a very beautiful holiday. No stress, no cooking, no gifts, just peaceful surroundings and lots of relaxation with family and a few friends.

Elephants crossing the river in Africa

The most memorable holiday season safari was in Uganda in the early 1990s. My sister and her husband were visiting us from Sweden. We embarked on a long safari on Boxing Day and visited three different national parks over a period of about a week, from Bwindi forests in the north to Queen Elizabeth National Park where we celebrated the New Year and finally to Mburo National Park before returning to our home in Kampala.

Xmas tree with cans in BotswanaAnother memorable holiday was just before we came to the US. I had been offered a job in Botswana and our family was invited to spend the holidays in Gaborone. That Christmas we stayed in a nice guest house in a completely new city. We hung up some colorful lights and I found most of the ingredients for our traditional Christmas dishes (another post to follow). In walking around in the city we spotted a Christmas tree decorated with empty soda and beer cans! We also stumbled on a Christmas display with a snowman and all in the 90/35 degree heat! He looked a bit tired…

Xmas display in GaboroneThen, in 1994, we settled in the US and have usually celebrated the holidays at home.  The most memorable celebration was a few years ago when our son got married just before Christmas and we had a lot of family from Scandinavia and new in-laws joining us for the holidays. I prepared all our traditional Christmas dishes and we ate in shifts of 12! That was a memorable holiday with so much of the family gathered in our house. That year we decorated a huge Christmas tree in Scandinavian style in our dining room.

Xmas tree at the wedding time

After moving to the beach two years ago, we are now fully accustomed to the warm weather, the “green Christmas” and the holiday decorated palm trees swaying in the wind. We have given up the live tree in favor of a nice artificial one…but I still prepare the traditional foods from my childhood to bring in the holiday mood.

xmas lion

Nowadays, I try to leave the stress of shopping and gifting behind and spend more time relaxing and reflecting on the spirit of the holidays. I hope you will be able to celebrate the season with family and friends in the way your heart calls for. And get some quiet time for reflection. Peace.

Hey, Where’s My Turkey?

Gratitude is one of the most powerful means of attracting positive energy and good things to our lives. So I try to remember to be thankful all year long for all I’ve received and all I’ve been able to give others. But in the little northern corner of the earth where I was born and raised, we did not celebrate Thanksgiving holiday in the same way it’s done in the US and Canada. That makes me an implant into this strong tradition.

As you may guess, there’s been many trials and tribulations over the years in adapting to this tradition, particularly in regard to the center piece at the dinner table, Mr. Turkey. He’s not always been very cooperative, to say the least.

During the first Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, just a few months after moving here, Mr. Turkey was missing in action in our home. I didn’t realize that he is an invited guest, no matter what. So I made a nice steak dinner. What a mistake! Our son who was in the fifth grade at the time couldn’t believe his eyes – no turkey on the table! He had already picked up this tradition from all his friends, whose mothers had been preparing their turkey the previous night. He was visibly disappointed and I felt really bad. The next day he went to his best friend’s house and had turkey…and I promised we’d have a turkey the following year.

The following year came and to make good on my promise, I bought a huge frozen turkey well in advance. I was extremely busy at work and travelled a lot, so I didn’t take the time to read the instructions. Early on Thanksgiving morning, I took it out to allow a couple of hours for thawing. But the bird didn’t want to be thawed! By the time I had planned to put it into the oven, its skin was just about free from frost. It was solid frozen!

I made all the mistakes described in the turkey cooking books! To cut the long story short, we had a Thanksgiving dinner that night with the turkey on the table. It was about 9 p.m. and the poor turkey was…very dry. Our son was hungry and very kind, he just poured a lot of gravy and ketchup on the turkey. My hubby quietly asked me if it was supposed to be that dry. What did I know? I remember we managed to eat about half of the bird by the time the weekend was over. Luckily I had not invited any friends over to taste my first ever baked whole turkey.

Then, of course, little by little I became a master of the turkey cooking art, and we enjoyed a well prepared turkey for many years. Until one year much later…Our son was away in college and flew home for Thanksgiving. As all mothers know, it’s so wonderful to have them home again! That particular year, I had found a nice whole smoked turkey that would only need to be heated up just before dinner time. It was small, like 6-7 pounds, but it would only be the three of us that year, so that should be fine.

On the night before Thanksgiving, our son went out with a group of his closest friends, all of whom we knew well, and told me that they would be coming back later in the evening to play pool in our basement, like they had done so often in the past. I had prepared the turkey and left it in the kitchen fridge on a plate, so when the guys came back home, our son asked me if they could make some cold sandwiches of the turkey later on. I said why not as it would be only the three of us eating it the next day, and I had plenty of other stuff prepared as well.

In the morning, I came down to the kitchen to make coffee. Everything was nice and tidy, no sign of the guys making sandwiches, no dishes in the sink. Nice, I thought, they are all in college and have finally learned to take care of things. Then I looked into the fridge. No turkey! We had another large fridge as a reserve in the storage area so I ran there. And there it was! The plate with the turkey bones, nicely covered in aluminium foil. It still had the wings. I had to laugh!

Later that morning, our son said he was sorry they ate so much, the turkey had been too delicious! I couldn’t be angry, just went back to my grocery store. I could no longer find a whole smoked turkey so I settled on two large smoked breasts, put them creatively on both sides of the breast bone and heated it all up for dinner.  With some imagination it looked like a turkey. And it was just fine!

A few years ago I met the exactly same group of our son’s friends. They were all grown up now, out of college, and stood there in the church as handsome groomsmen at his wedding. I smiled again, reminded of the disappearing act of the smoked turkey!

I’m all adapted now. And giving thanks for everything in my life, including the turkeys, past, present and future. Gratefully signing off for about a week in the northern wilderness – with no internet connectivity. Take care and Happy Thanksgiving to those of you celebrating this wonderful holiday later in the week!