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Christmas Through the Times: A Personal Christmas Narrative

Christmas Through the Times: A Personal Christmas Narrative

As a child on Christmas, I’d wake up early and eager to embrace the day, which at the time was an anomaly, a routine dedicated to Christmas and (my) birthdays only. I’d ascend the stairs in the pre-dawn darkness with my siblings in tow, guided by faint lights from upstairs. My siblings and I didn’t always get along, but on Christmas we were the best of friends, giggling and shrieking “Merry Christmas!” repeatedly with mutual excitement. Our mum was reliably waiting in the living room, offering a jolly smile before embracing each of us in turn. Frank Sinatra’s ‘White Christmas’ gently permeated the atmosphere and typically underscored that our dream had come true yet again: it was indeed a White Christmas (this was Norway, after all). There was no need for any snow spray on our windows. The real thing decorated the windows as if by magic. Perhaps we lived in the land of Santa himself? This fantasy was often inflated by the sight of little deer jumping around in our garden, leaving adorable traces in the snow. Those had to be Santa’s helpers, right?

The most scenic sight, however, was always that of the bounteous tall spruce trees framing our garden, covered in thick layers of fresh snow. They were almost as beautiful as the spruce inside our living room. Almost, though it wasn’t really fair to compare them. The one inside had after all been designated as the Christmas tree and it had all the jingle and glitter to show for it, including a large lit star on the top. Beneath it lay the Christmas gifts, which my siblings and I always glared hungrily at, although we knew we had to wait until the evening to indulge in our greedy feast. That’s how Christmas in Norway goes. We didn’t mind it too much; we had another treat in store for us anyway. On the fireplace next to the Christmas tree were three large Christmas stockings filled with candy – one for each of me and my siblings – and we had permission to tear into those goodies right away. Never mind that it was 7am and that we hadn’t had breakfast yet. It was Christmas!

Snow covered spruce trees, with the sun shinging through them.

My siblings and I would sit cuddled up in blankets and cushions, watching television and eating candy until our mum announced that breakfast had been served. We’d then scoot over to the dining room table to find an abundance of freshly baked bread rolls, scrambled eggs, sauteed mushrooms, shrimps, roast beef, Christmas cheese, a Christmas cake, and vegetables and fruits in all colours of the rainbow, which were all arranged on our finest chinaware. Lit candles decorated the table further, along with cones and miniature angels painted in gold. As soon as we finished eating, our mum would rush into the kitchen and return with a hot chocolate and piece of marzipan for each of us, just because…Christmas (du-uh). My siblings and I would then happily scoot back over to the sofas to partake in one of the most important Norwegian Christmas traditions: watching the Czech adaptation of ‘Three Wishes for Cinderella’ from the 70s, with Norway’s beloved Knut Risan serving as the sole voiceover. Christmas in Norway without this movie is no Christmas at all.

The rest of the day followed a similar rhythm: eat, relax, play, repeat. My siblings’ and I most strenuous Christmas task was to eventually get dressed and attend a brief church service. As soon as we arrived back home, dinner was served by our dad, always with a merry smile. Then it was time for dessert, followed closely by an additional arrangement of baked Christmas goods, maybe ice cream too. Santa would then eventually make his sought-after appearance (though not for many years, as I pulled down his beard at the age of five and ruined it for everyone. Santa was really our mum! Talk about dissonance). After opening all of our presents, we would eat more candy while watching another movie and playing board games. The hardest thing about Christmas was going to bed at night and surrendering to the fact that Christmas was over…

It’s only in recent years that I’m able to look back and notice the hidden cracks in my parents’ jolly Christmas smiles. That is, after becoming a parent myself. My son, Michael, is now at the Christmas centre while I’ve scooted backstage with Santa’s helpers (who are not deer, but parents, a truth uncovered much later than Santa’s real identity). Waking up early is no longer an anomaly but my way of life. As a parent, it’s the sole chance I have to get any time to myself during the day, and this window is all the more precious ahead of the strenuous race that is Christmas-behind-the-scenes. There are still Christmas stockings on our fireplace, but these are now reserved for my son and niece, not me and my siblings. I don’t have time to sit around and nibble on candy anymore, anyway, being the new main arranger of the bounteous Christmas breakfast. After having thirty – maybe sixty – minutes to myself, I rush down to the supermarket to buy fresh bread rolls that professional bakers have prepared because I can’t compromise the sparse me-time. I need it, and I learned that the hard way…

On my way to the supermarket, I do enjoy taking in the beautiful surrounding winter landscape, though only for a sporadic second or two, as I have to keep my eyes firmly on the ground to avoid slipping on the icy Norwegian hills, even though I’m wearing spikes under my shoes (I learned this the hard way, too). After preparing all the food and setting the table, it’s time to enjoy the breakfast. As a responsible adult, that no longer translates into merely enjoying it myself, but ensuring that everyone else does as well. “How is that bread roll for you, Martin?”, “Do you want me to pass on the butter, Kristina?”, “Michael, you should try these pickled beets – look what a fun colour they have!”, “Ah, Emilia, you’re such a big girl – look at you using that butter knife all by yourself!”, “So, how are you doing, Jay?”, “, No, mum, please sit – I’ll get the Christmas cake”, “Anyone want more coffee?”, and so it goes on. After using the last stretch of the breakfast to ensure that my son consumes a decent amount of food in between his many giggles with his cousin, it’s time to clean.


Dirty dishes waiting to be cleaned after the xmas celebrations.


All the while the children play and relax, I scrub plate after plate, reminiscing the earlier years when Christmas used to be all fun. Oh, how fun it was. A natural smile instils itself on my face as I recall the wonder and magic of Christmas as a child. The evoked feelings are pleasantly amplified as I hear Knut Risan narrating ‘Three Wishes for Cinderella’ from the living room, and I can’t help but momentarily dodge my newly acquired role as a responsible adult and sneak into the living room for a little peak, relishing in a joint memory with my siblings. I don’t get to indulge in these pleasantries for long, though. Soon enough I’m pulled away by blasting cries and screams: Emilia has taken one of Michael’s toys again! (Which once again turns out to actually be Emilia’s…). They’re both only-children and haven’t had the chance to negotiate Christmas harmony through trials and errors on the remaining 364 days of the year – days that my siblings and I practiced fiercely on and grew accordingly from. After reinstating the Christmas peace, I rush back to the kitchen to continue cleaning the plates before moving on to the glasses, cups, and cutlery. I then muster my courage to sit down and breathe but – you guessed it – I’m forced right back up as the children move on to another heated quarrel. In an act of desperation, I announce that it’s time to go outside (with a jolly smile, of course). Some physical activity in the ice-cold Norwegian winter air will surely do its trick on the kids.

After preparing some hot chocolate to-go and struggling to get Michael dressed into a million layers of clothes, it’s finally time to embark on a little winter adventure. For the last couple of years, we’ve ventured to a little picturesque island with icy waters surrounded by rocky hills and tall spruces, all covered beautifully in snow and ice. For some moments, I get to really take it all in. The fairy tale winter landscape, my family, the hot chocolate, Christmas. That is until Michael insists on walking into the icy waters to enjoy a little swim. He grew up at the beach in Cyprus and doesn’t yet appreciate the painful contrast between swimming in Cyprus during summer (which practically lasts all year) and Norway during winter. Well, he didn’t. He sort of does now… Let’s just say that our little trips to the island tend to be cut short for various reasons – and it’s all good in the end, as I have to get back to work in the kitchen anyway. The mighty Christmas dinner won’t prepare itself.


The contrast between the warm sunny beaches of CYprus, and the snowy mountains of Norway.


To be fair, the emerging challenges of Christmas are probably confounded by the fact that I’m now a vegan. And by the fact that I have an extremely picky son. While my parents cook up Norway’s traditional Christmas meat feast, my partner and I join in on a parallel play, preparing a nut roast with roasted potatoes and meat-free gravy, in addition to a Christmas pasta edition with cheese for our son. (And we of course make some extra just in case the others feel like joining in on our iconoclasm). At this point of the day, I feel so tired that I’m nearly delirious but it’s all good fun as my mum feels the same way, and we end up laughing hysterically together over the smallest of things. “You dropped some carrot on the floor”. “HAHAHA, I didn’t even notice that!”. “HAHAHA”. If you saw us, you wouldn’t believe that we haven’t had a drop of alcohol. The men in the kitchen just shake their heads. We laugh through most of the dinner preparations before the diverting energy slowly takes a dip as we move on to the desserts – not to mention the mass of dirty dishes, pots, and utensils that we need to tend to in between. Towards the end, the overall energy is palpably enervated, and I note how we all plaster on our sweaty smiles before marching bravely towards the dining table, where the children are waiting in magical anticipation.

The apex of the Christmas magic, however, is that of Santa’s arrival. Everyone excitedly (and chaotically) runs downstairs as soon as the doorbell rings. The adults’ eyes are all firmly on the children, and although no words are spoken, the dominant thoughts are strangely palpable. What are the children thinking? What are they feeling? Do they still believe? Are they still innocent? Are they still children??? Both Michael and Emilia radiate with a mixture of excitement and nervousness upon Santa’s arrival, not knowing exactly what to do. The agreed strategy seems to be to maintain some distance, which is only to be disrupted when Santa hands out the gifts, and swiftly so. Adorable, enchanted smiles are present on both of the children’s faces, relieving the adults’ tension. At least momentarily… While Santa offers the final gift, Emilia’s enchantment takes an ominous turn. She looks curiously around herself, counting the adults present, before asking: “where is grandpa?”. And the adults can sigh out once again… After all, grandpa just happens to be taking a nap in the room next door. Meanwhile, my mum winks cheekily above her white beard (the children have yet to confront the dissonance that Santa is their grandma).

While the children open their many presents, all the adults in the room video record them and snap photos, me included. Perhaps what we’re all really doing is trying to recapture the Christmas magic and wonder through the children’s eyes? My mum eventually stands up to continue the endless bundle of cleaning. “Please sit, mum”, I tell her with a warm smile. But what I’m really saying is this: I now see all your efforts, the sweat in the corners of your strained smile, your heavy shoulders, tired hands, and all the unbounded love underneath it all. I see it and I see you. It was you all along, holding the wand, conjuring the magical Christmas. Thank you. Now it’s time for you to rest. Then I stand up to do the cleaning. And I do so happily, thankfully. While scrubbing through the plates, I don’t reminisce about the earlier years but instead relish in listening to my own child’s animated appreciation for his new toy aeroplane as he yet again shouts out to his cousin: “Merry Christmas!”.




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