This month in my happiness project I’m focusing on building traditions and community for our family. Last week I wrote about forgoing Christmas gifts in order to donate money to organizations that help to build the kind of world we want to live in. This whole month, though, I’ve been working on surrounding ourselves with friends and loved ones to help the kids feel part of a community, a network of people larger than just our family. Living abroad without extended family nearby, it can be hard to give kids that sense of community. But seeking out connections—and traditions—with the people nearest us certainly helps.
While we’ve filled nearly every weekend with fun social events, where the kids get to play with other kids and we get to talk with other adults (hooray!), I’ve also made an effort to spend more time with the people closest to us (our neighbors), and to engage in more traditions.
Luckily, our neighbors have brought a couple holiday traditions to us. It’s incredibly popular in Sweden to make gingerbread cookies (pepparkakor) around Christmas—I think everyone does it. Have you ever made them? I know they’re a common Christmas treat, but I don’t think I’ve ever made them before. Last year our neighbor Agneta invited us over to bake with her, and the kids loved it. This year, we’ve already been to her place three times to bake! The kids (really, just the kids 😉 ) ate the first batch so quickly that we decided to do another round, which stretched over several days.
Agneta has also put together a very cool advent calendar for the boys, too, as she did last year. This year she’s made it a scavenger hunt, with one package hidden somewhere outside that we follow a clue to find. (Which has also been a test of my Swedish!) August especially loves the hunt, and on snowy days he’s certain he can see the footprints of the tomtenissarna (Santa’s elves) who hid the package. =)
We’ve also continued our three-year tradition of attending a beautiful winter light and sound festival on Djurgården, a gorgeous island park in the center of Stockholm. A farm/cafe hosts this event on the Sunday before Christmas, and they light thousands of candles and a huge bonfire and hang lanterns from the trees, and do fire dances, and serve glögg and korv and sweets in the cafe. It’s one of the most magical events I’ve ever been to, and James and I are absolutely entranced by it. It makes the whole of nature feel cozy, a lovely (and perhaps necessary) feeling in the Swedish winter. I love waking up the next morning with the smell of campfire smoke in my hair. I wonder what kind of impression it leaves on the kids, and whether they find it as magical as we do.
I’ve also been doing some crafts with the kids, painting ornaments for our first-ever real tree (!!), and reading winter- and holiday-themed books with them. They’re still a bit young to absorb all of these, though August has spent time just standing and looking at the tree. (Leif has spent time taking ornaments off the tree and hiding them in the couch.) Whether or not the traditions are sinking in for the kids, they’ve made a huge difference for me this year. I’ve loved everything about the lights, decorations, flavors, smells, music, and experiences of the season, and I’m so glad we’ve cozied into our home to share these things.
The winter solstice is Wednesday—hurray!—and I’m wondering if anyone has any particular solstice traditions they follow. I was thinking of lighting a log in our grill, or turning off all the lights and sitting in darkness before lighting every candle we have. (But Leif loves to blow candles out, so I think the effect would be lost.)
It’s almost like cheating to do a happiness project on traditions around Christmas, as there are so many that are already a part of the season. My challenge will be to keep up the idea of tradition and ritual throughout the year, and taking special time to mark other seasons and events. Any and all suggestions are welcomed!
All photos by me.