Since my dad died 4 years ago I've accidentally become a fan of Nordic Christmas. In Iceland in 2017 we drank Tuborg Julebryg for New Year and watched the fireworks outside the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík. I love their liquorice infused chocolate. I treat myself to a bar of it for Christmas from the Icelandic company Omnom. They not only have beautiful chocolate but also beautiful artwork. It's expensive in the UK but you won't find better. I've tried. You won't.
We've accidentally done in for 2 out of 4 years since my dad died. We spent New Years in Iceland in 2017, post Christmas in Amsterdam in 2019 and New Years in The Hague in 2020. Our Christmas family meal in 2019 was the first weekend of December as is tradition in the Netherlands.
There's a lot I enjoy about Nordic Christmas and it makes me wonder whether Christmas is simply an excuse to enjoy things you enjoy? Chocolate chip shortbread. Glühwein. Sausages wrapped in bacon (not pigs wrapped in their own skin as is the trendy name now). Olliebollen which is the Danish precursor to the doughnut. Is it that simple? I mean I just want to be 8 years old again for peak Christmas because at 42 I'm having real trouble finding the joy again. Is it really that easy? Take the little things you like around now, put them in a pile and save them for Christmas Day/week and enjoy. It can't be that easy can it?
If it is that easy then this year should be the year to break free from any bad tradition you feel is pushed on you and have your own Christmas. If the folks are being pushy just cough a bit down the phone line and say you're off to get that checked out. We legitimately can't go anywhere because we have cats that we can't take with us and can't leave anywhere. One is, for lack of a better term, displaying autistic tendencies and I understand her issues deeply. She is my priority. Give it some thought. Why are we tied to industry standard Christmas traditions? Big dry turkey that needs to be covered in goop to give it flavour because we're not able to properly cater for a large family meal in a simple family kitchen? Yeah? No. Do ham in cola. It's wonderful. Take a ham. Put it in a pot with cola and carrots. Cook for 1.5 hours or so on a medium heat in the oven. Done. Melt in the mouth sweet ham. It doesn't need to be stressful or complex or weeks of anxiety. Free... Your... Christmas. You've got to let it all go Santa.
To get you thinking outside the box here's some ideas.
10 Christmas traditions from around the world to help you reduce Christmas anxiety because what is Christmas really? Also you won't believe what happens next. (Legally obliged to include that on a listicle type post.)
KFC Christmas meal (Japan). Kentucky Fried Christmas. This is a thing. It isn't Christmas unless the Colonel has cooked it. Why the chuff not eh? Go-on. Get a KFC and save a turkey.
Mumming. No! Not whatever you are thinking. This was a New Year tradition where people would swap clothes, put on masks and visit their neighbours singing, dancing and putting on silly plays. I mean we're basically there this year so why not bring it back? The custom dates back to Roman times and in the UK it was done around the Winter Solstice which is Monday. Better get a move on and remember to do social distancing. Skip the clothes swapping unless you can wash them before hand.
The Christmas Pickle. Depending on who you ask this may or may not be an actual thing. Not a sexual thing but if you want to make it that then go nuts. This might be a German tradition to do with Woolies importing Christmas ornaments in the 1880s or it might be to do with a Bavarian fighter in the American Civil War or it might be related to that time when Santa brought two boys back to live who had been killed and stuffed in a pickle barrel. O_o I guess we pay respects to Santa by hanging a pickle on the tree?
Did you know the Yule log was originally a Nordic tradition and contained far more chocolate than its traditionally supposed to. Yule was the original name of the Winter Solstice and the "log" used to be an entire tree. The largest end of the tree would be placed into the fire hearth with the tree part sitting smack dab in the middle of the room. The log, or tree, would be lit from the remains of the previous years log that had been fed into the fire through the 12 days of Christmas. Huh. All this time I thought it was from Iceland (sound of crickets chirping to bad joke about UK supermarket names). Put a gun to my head and I think I'd chose a chocolate log over the logistical issue of burning a tree in my front room.
Christmas Pudding started in the 14th century and was more akin to Rachael's trifle from Friends than the pudding we eat now. By that I mean it had meat in it. Going by the fun name 'frumenty' it was a porridge type deal made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. Next time someone tries to force feed me Tesco's own brand Christmas Pudding is traditional I'm whipping out this little nugget.
Christmas Eve, in many European countries, is traditionally when the tree is brought into the house and decorated. Just like I said in last weeks newsletter. This is the way. You can't just do it when you feel like. That's not traditional is it now?
Mince Pies are something that never appealed to me. A minced pie? Ew. Cold mince meat? No ta. Turns out they're actually dried fruit and spices. Ew. No ta. However, traditionally they were filled with meat. So you are eating something named after one tradition that is now a totally different thing but still traditional.
Holly. Looks nice in a wreath around your door right? A nice reminder of the crown Jesus apparently wore while being crucified. The berries represent the blood. Smashing tradition to have around his birthday. He'll be up there in heaven look down on us properly emo crying while you're instagramming your artisanal door fixing. You monster.
Christmas Crackers were created by Mr Tom Smith in the 1800s and originally called "Bangs of expectation". I will never refer to them as crackers again. Fancy a tug on my bang of expectation dear? Fun for all the family.
Here's the big one. No-one knows when Jesus's birthday was. *throws notes up in the air* It's generally thought to be after the BC era of history but you can never be to sure with that old wizard. All the stress, anxiety and pressure of Christmas is all because someone said "25th Dec? Sure why not?"
So there you go. Christmas isn't traditional Christmas anymore. It's more machine than man these days. A convoluted set of unchallenged ideas that put far too much stress and anxiety on everyone. Don't let it get to you. If you need a break for any reason then take a break. This is the season for warmth, compassion, patience, and caring. Not just for others but for yourself. This is the season not just the day.
Also if you’re around tomorrow (Saturday) night then John Robertson is raising money for the Samaritans by roasting everything wrong with 2020 on Twitch. Yes even poor old covid.
For one week only you can get prints of the photos in this weeks newsletter on my print store. So be quick if you see something you like.
This week's photographs are from my wife and I's first evening in Amsterdam on 27th Dec 2019. We arrived quite late. Most things were closed but we managed to find a cosy little bar that sold nice Belgium beer. Perfect.
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- 2020: The Year in Volcanic Activity - The Atlantic
- 2020 In Photos: A Year Like No Other - The New York Times
- Sea Of Solitude Coming To Nintendo Switch In Director's Cut Overhaul
- Coronavirus: Disabled 'pushed out' of post-lockdown world - BBC News
- The Shame: A Personal Essay About Autism | Zeldman on Web and Interaction Design. I've followed Zeldman's work for nearly 20 years ever since I got his book "Designing with Web Standards" back when I was a web designer. This is a beautiful essay from his daughter.
- The Northern Lights Photographer of the Year for 2020
- Latest coronavirus advice from the National Autistic Society (UK)