Winter

The long dark winter has begun. I categorize November through March as winter in Denmark, with spring being simply April, summer May through August and autumn September and October. It’s a mild winter so far, with temperatures as high as the 50’s for about two weeks now, but nothing can erase the perpetual gray of Denmark’s dark season or the dramatic drop in daylight day after day. Right now, the sun isn’t rising till almost 8 AM and by 3:30 the sky is dimming for a 4PM sunset. Last year we didn’t know what we were in for and now that we do, I find myself looking forward to the month of Yule. We’ve gotten ourselves an exciting Yule Beers Around the World advent calendar and I’m waiting till the last day of November to get the kids their toy based calendars. Chanukah is the first week of December and I’ve already got all the presents set, I’m having two small parties, one for some friends from Slagelse and then a baby party for all of my daughter’s buddies. I thought about doing a pre-schooler party, but they have much more complicated present needs and I didn’t want to either break the bank or have angst over guests getting chocolate gelt while my son got more substantial gifts. Toddlers don’t care what they get as long as there is paper ripping involved. I’m going to get a tree this year, because labor is expensive in Denmark and thus a tree is far cheaper than a hand rounded wreath. I will miss the circle of life symbolism of decorating wreathes for solstice, but at least I’m in one of the countries that started this whole ever-green in the house tradition.

In general, I’m warming up to Yule. When I first got married, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole Christmas thing, I mean part of what makes you a Jew is not worshipping Christ. I remember looking into the symbolism of the Christmas tree and it just being layer upon layer of religious symbolism. The better part of a decade of marriage and moving to a Scandinavian country later, I’m rethinking my stance. I mean, instead of viewing the winter solstice celebration as being all about the birth of Christ and what has become in many places the biggest Christian holiday, I feel I should instead be viewing it as the biggest and most ancient European holiday that Christians are piggybacking onto. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to say there is anything wrong with people piggybacking the birth of Christ onto Yule and making themselves an uberholiday, I just think that for all of us who aren’t Christians, we should be able to celebrate the ancient sanctity of the winter solstice without having to tack on other religions’ baggage. Christians didn’t invent Christmas, they just renamed it and that doesn’t mean it can no longer be for the rest of us.

The more northern a region you live in, the colder and darker it is, the more having Yuletide cheer and a month of celebrating as you watch the sun become more and more reluctant to rise seems important. Bringing something green and cheerful into your home and glitzing it up while the outside turns brown and gray and bleak feels essential. Indulging in presents and rich food and reasons to celebrate and party gives the heart of winter such meaning. It turns a time of year when one could be depressed, indeed a lot of people are anyway, into one to be excited about. So while no Santa Claus or even his Scandinavian brethren the Yulemen are going to be allowed to climb down my chimney and the nativity scenes can wait for the years when we visit the kids’ paternal grandparents, I will proudly stick my bedazzled Star of David on our Yule Tree, we’re going to do our month of baubles on top of Chanukah and I may even leave out some treats for the nisse (Danish house brownies) just in case…