Saturday, 29 November 2008

Lost Christmases

As I baked the gingerbread listening to Swedish Christmas songs I could not help crying. I always cry when I hear "Silent Night", but I felt especially lonely, because normally I bake gingerbread together with my children (or grandchildren as might be). This is quality time together. My daughter Julia is extremely artistic, so she would decorate the ginderbread with icing, and she always made a gingerbread house swearing in a most un-Christmasy manner when the walls wouldn't stick.

When I started the gingerbread this morning I realized that I had given Julia the gingerbread forms. Stars and hearts and piglets and moons and moose. I thought I would ever need them again. How silly! I hope Julia makes use of them.

But there was another thought that made me still more melancholy. I had already lost my Christmases once. Despite my name, I come from a Lutheran family, and in the Communist Russia we had a family secret: we celebrated Christmas. It was not an religious occasion, but an extended family gathering, with carols and the smell of candles and the taste of honey cakes and nuts. It was such a wonderful night - that no one of my classmates had - and I had always thought that I must keep the tradition for my children's sake. I did, with my oldest son.

Then we moved to Sweden and a different tradition, different songs (though "Silent Night" was still there, therefore I can never near it without tears, it brings back the memory of relatives long gone), different food, different wrapping paper (there wasn't any in Russia, it was just plain paper), different candles, different decorations, different meal times. Christmas was also official and commercial, and "Silent Night" was played in supermarkets. I was upset because we never had a large family gathering. No cousins, no hords of aunts. Occasionally, Staffan's mother would come to spend Christmas with us, but never his beloved uncle. He did not celebrate Christmas.

I kept some of my childhood customs, incorporating them into my new life. I wanted my children to feel the way I did when I was a child. Saffron buns and gingerbread and hyacinths (there were no hyacinths in Russia, not in winter). It was hard to make the kids sing, not until they were old enough to pamper me. They had enough of singing in school.

For many years, we used to flee from Christmas stress to a warmer climate. We moved Chrismas Eve two weeks ahead to gather all the children. It it so difficult to manage Christmas with several sets of stepparents and grandparents and eventually in-laws.

The two Christmases in California were funny. We sat on our sundeck in shorts and T-shirts.

By the time we came back, the first batch of kids had kids of their own, and their own Christmas traditions. Every now and then one of them would decide to grant us either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I tried to preserve my childhood traditions and give them to my grandchildren, so that many years from now they would say: "Do you remember Christmas at Granny's?" The two younger kids moved away from home, but faithfully came on Christmas Eve. At least for a while, on their way to another party.

"Old folks' Christmas" is a short story, I think there is an old silent movie too.

Now I have lost my Swedish Christmas as well. New traditions. They don't even celebrate Christmas Eve here! I have brought my candlesticks, my tree decorations and some other trifles. It feels weird to decorate the house just for ourselves.

I am happy to think that Julia is coming over soon.

1 comment:

Ulla said...

Hi Masja, I found your blog by a coincidence and have been reading about your Christmas traditions. And your gorgeous doll house! We also baked gingerbread yesterday and I and my daughter Julia (!) have a long tradition of baking gingerbread houses, too. You can have a look at our house this year in my blog.