Written by: Kathie Houchens
Date: December 8, 2015
Getting back to our “roots” seems to be a common urge as we move into our “wisdom years.” There are websites that encourage tracing your lineage, keeping records of your kin to pass along to the next generations.
Ancestry.com has made it easy to get started. Gravefinder.org and Findagrave.com are invaluable tools for your search of forebears’ final resting places. Whether a hobby or a family passion, connecting with your past can open many doors to new interests and awareness.
Using the internet to connect with distant relations can garner wider family information and documentation, photographs and stories. I found a cousin I had never met, even though he lived just a few miles from me growing up. Meeting him for the first time, we both noticed resemblances to other family members. We shared stories about our common great grandfather.
Memories were rich and full. It was easy to expand the family circle to include a new friend. As we exchanged history of our decades of lived experiences we turned up more than one friend-in-common, even though our paths kept us at a distance, never crossing, until our intentional meeting in Massachusetts. It is a small world, as we say.
As holidays approach, thoughts of past family gatherings bubble up to join the present moment. Both joys and sorrows flavor our celebrations as we remember those no longer at the table, but whose spirit-presence may be alive in the sensual experiences of flavors and fragrances.
Who used to prepare a special dish? What ingredients were included? Did you help in the process? Is there a story about a unique occasion, or a special guest? Did and do your holiday traditions maintain cultural ties to a distant homeland of your forebears?
Even if you don’t trace your heritage to a distinctive culture, you might want to research a new holiday custom or recipe. In the past when facilitating activities for groups that included children and youth, we explored the tastes and traditions of many countries and regions.
Books still on my shelf hold instructions for woven Swedish Christmas hearts, folded Moravian many-pointed star ornaments, and carefully molded marzipan fruits. There are songs, recipes and legends from around the world.
A recent article on Danish holiday practices caught my eye. One branch of my family harks back to Denmark, so Scandinavian holiday customs interest me. Our grown children still remind me of our years as members of the Scandinavian Club of Columbus.
They participated in Luciafest, the girls wearing white dresses, red sashes and a crown of candles, while our son reluctantly donned the tall pointed hat of a “star boy.” This and other Nordic traditions remind us that the winter months are dark in the far north, so light is an important part of any celebration.
On record, more candles are burned per person in Denmark than in any other country in the world. In their spirit of warmth and light, the Danes embrace the custom called “hygge.” (It has a broad meaning of being open-hearted, relaxed and welcoming.) Pronounced HUE-rgah, it can be a noun, an adjective or a verb. “Hygge is important.” “I am going to make sure my house is hyggely.” “I’m hyggeling this corner of my house.”
In an effort to spread some hygge this season, I have been crafting Scandinavian gnomes. Their quirky looks and legendary behavior lend a spirit of humor and delight as the days shorten. Perhaps a precursor to the “Elf on a Shelf,” a tomte (Sweden) or nisse (Norway and Denmark) at times plays tricks, but also will help out with chores around the house or farmstead, and even delivers gifts Santa Claus style.
In spite of the availability of reindeer in Scandinavia, these elves are more often found with a goat, a pig, or most often a cat. It is customary to leave a bowl of porridge with butter for the tomte/nisse, in gratitude for the services rendered.
Whatever your lineage, how might you incorporate a little light and hygge in your holidays? In fact, the entire winter season could use a generous dose of hygge as the days shorten and the cold settles. Hygge can happen at home, at work, while shopping, at the gym, wherever you create a sense of warmth and open-hearted connection.
It may be an antidote to fear and loneliness. It offers small gestures that give life value and meaning, that bring comfort and a sense of being rooted in wider community. It is generous and caring. When we commit to the pleasure of the present moment we can bring the simplicity of heart and spirit into any activity. Hygge can bring the sacred into the secular, can stir the senses, and enliven the imagination.
Hygge is about being, not having. Hygge is appreciating each other, making every day extraordinary as we deepen connection to our family and community. What might your version of hygge look like? A shared meal? An evening by the fire wrapped in a blanket?
Join a friend or family member in a shared task, perhaps: something simple like making coffee, or more complex like baking bread or cookies. Offer help on a yard chore or a painting project. And don’t forget to include children and youth. Try read aloud time for something unique. From an earlier blog post comment, I was reminded of the “Phantom Toll Booth,” a children’s book that begs to be re-read by adults. Share it with a child for an extra heap of hygge.