Silent Night

Last Christmas, I had breakfast up in a treehouse with family, all sitting around a little campfire. This was my dad's side of the family, and we carried on our usual traditions of a white elephant gift game, a large dinner with a ham, and hours of present opening starting with the youngest cousin first. We wound the day down by looking out from my grandma's cozy living room to a cold and colorful sunset over the Southern Oregon mountains.

If I had been in California in the San Francisco area this Christmas of 2010, and as it's been for all the other even year Christmases, I would go with some of my family to spend Christmas Eve at my grandma's, where we'd sing some holiday songs to an uncle, cousin, or brother's guitar playing and my aunt would read the family's favorite Christmas story. My brother and sister and I would wake up and go to the living room to check out our overflowing stockings and see if Santa had eaten the cookies we put out the night before. We'd enjoy a delicious cinnamon roll breakfast from my stepdad as we opened some presents. Then we'd make our way back to my grandma's house where about 30 of my aunts and uncles and cousins would gather to have a feast and enjoy a delightfully hectic afternoon of present opening and conversation and teasing and playing with the new toys out in the front yard.

But for this Christmas I was in Sweden. On a snowy island in Stockholm. I stayed with the family of one of my best friends. On Christmas Eve morning we bundled up for the 15 degree F weather and walked into the forest and across a small soccer field buried in 2 feet of snow. We found a steep hill and sledded down it like crazy. At dinner with more family there were Swedish Christmas toasting songs sung. Swedish swirled all around me, and while I grasp a good deal of it, it is still foreign. Us "kids" took a walk around the snowy tree filled neighborhood after dinner and before presents. I remembered all the other different Swedish Christmas customs I'd experienced in the past few days, like dancing around the Christmas tree holding hands, hearing a St. Lucia choir sing, and making traditional "lassebullar", or saffron buns.

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What I thought about in deciding to stay in Sweden for the holiday was all the ways that Christmas is fated to change for us anyway. When we were so young that we can hardly remember, maybe we believed that Santa actually brought our presents. Maybe we used to spend Christmases with both parents, but now we split our time between them. Some years our Christmases are spent with only adults, and then the next year brings a baby, raising the energy and noise level and present budget. For many years we might know only our own family, then one holiday we finally spend with our significant other's family. As the years go on, instead of being the ones who delight in having the holiday presented to us from our parents we become the ones who fill the stockings and put up the tree. And maybe you used to drive along the beach to get home for the holiday, and play outside without a jacket with your cousins, but this year you throw snowballs and walk around a Christmas market in a stunning and historic Scandinavian city.

Christmas change is inevitable. And it can be wonderful. But what is also so great about this holiday is how it's full of things that so oftenstay consistent, no matter where you are or who you're with. On Christmas Eve here on the island someone turned on a musical ornament that played the tune of Silent Night. There was gratefulness for gifts and lots of food, including ham. The shops all played Mariah's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." We made gingerbread cookies. And though I missed my family, I was so happy to have experienced such a different type of Christmas while still feeling like it was the holiday I've always known and always will know.

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  2. So glad you experienced your Swedish Christmas, and that you loved it!

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