Little Christmas Eve

I spent some time on the internets today, trying to discover the history behind the fact that most Scandinavians — and thus many Minnesotans — celebrate Christmas Eve over Christmas Day (a situation that greatly vexes our friend Xanthia). I didn't discover the history behind it, but I did find out that many of the Christmas customs I have grown up with are indeed Norwegian. Leave a bowl of cream out for the cats on Christmas Eve, because it's the one night of the year they can speak — check. At least seven kinds of Christmas cookies baked — check. Yule log — check. Family member sneaking out and showing up as "Santa" with gifts — check (though we haven't done that since I was young and we celebrated at my grandparents'). I also learned that December 23 is called "Little Christmas Eve," and is the night you truly prepare for Christmas. Tonight I listened to an old mix cd that Patrick made me when we first started dating, while doing laundry, making lefse dough, and cleaning the house — check.

In another nod to my Nordic heritage, I spent the afternoon with my new friend Christy and her daughters, baking sanbakkel cookies. I haven't made too many varieties of Christmas cookies this year, though I suppose it's more than the requisite seven if you count the ones from the cookies exchange I participated in, so this was a nice addition. My mother, who was not known for her culinary patience, gave up on sanbakkels many years ago; I distinctly remember one unfortunate cookie, stuck in the mold, flying across the room. Today's batch, however, formed well, baked perfectly, and released easily from their molds, and looked beautiful. It had been a crazy day of Christmas prep, grantwriting, and other rushed activities, and I was feeling nervous about giving up the afternoon to cookies. But molding pliable dough, drinking wine, and enjoying long, rambling conversations turned out to be just the kind of Christmas activity I needed.

I keep on going back to that when I ponder the question of why we celebrate Christmas Eve. I guess it comes back to focusing on the idea of Christmas being about the people in your life; that gifts don't come from a man with a white beard making lists of naughty or nice but rather from your friends and family; that on these dark, cold midwinter nights, it's important to gather with those you love, with a big meal and warm, sparkling lights, and give thanks for just being together.

Merry Christmas.

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