I wrote this three years ago. Though the temporal details have changed, the sentiment has not…
As is the custom with my wife’s Norwegian heritage, Christmas dinner and present opening is tonight, Christmas Eve. We host family and friends. This year that number is 12, including my wife’s cousins from Oslo.
This season is one of mixed emotions for my dear wife Bethany. Her mother passed away twelve years ago on Christmas Day. Her father, who joined us at our table every year, passed away this past August.
Yet, we have a 10 year old little girl who still believes in Santa for what feels like the last time. The questions have begun and she reports many of her friends don’t. She even declined the opportunity for a selfie with Santa. The rouse may be up. We’ve told her “If you don’t believe you don’t receive”. That seems to have put off the truth for now. It is her excitement that holds up the joy. For her, Christmas is this full and happy time filled with presents and parties and family and traditions. So many traditions.
Two days ago, I spent the morning peeling, boiling, and ricing potatoes, covered them with cloth, and put them in the refrigerator to dry a bit. This morning, we will make lefse — a nordic flatbread as we have done every year for Christmas dinner since her mother passed, and thus passed the duty to us. I make and roll the dough, Bethany helms the griddle, Beatrix helps shuttle the rounds — delicately wrapped on long flat wooden spatulas, between the rolling and grilling stations. This is when it starts to feel like Christmas to me.
Not when we get the tree — the tallest in the lot. “Not that one, taller still!” I’ll yell to the lot attendant. Because our high ceilings make even a nine foot tree seem small. We need at least a ten footer but eleven is ideal. Twelve, and there’s not enough clearance for the topper…
Not with the shopping or the present wrapping. My inability to wrap well is near legendary. No matter how hard I try my wrapping looks like it was done by someone who’s cross-eyed and lacking opposable thumbs. It’s part of the charm now. You can always tell mine under the tree. My wife is much better at it. But, this year we discovered that Beatrix is a naturally expert present wrapper. Better than my wife even. A natural pro! I’m not sure where she inherited this skill from but it should make for a good seasonal employment opportunity when she reaches working age. I had her wrap some of mine this year…
Not the many many holiday parties all of my wife’s and my clients, and friends, and boards, we’re obliged to attend. So. Many. Parties. Some weekend evenings this season we were triple booked.
It’s when, just a few moments from now as I write this, I grab a handful of flour and begin to work the potato dough. That’s when the feeling of the season begins to wash over me. This is a process that’s very tactile. The only way you can know the dough is ready is by how it feels. The only way is to get both hands in and work it, one handful or pinch or sprinkle of flour at a time until it’s just right. What is “right”? Well, it takes a few years of screwing it up a lot before you get it right. But after enough trail and error, you just know. You can feel it. Once I feel the dough is right, I know the rest of Christmas will be just fine too.
My wish for you is that, no matter where you are, that you find that thing that fills you with the hope, love, community, and joy this season is meant to imbue. I can’t tell you what that thing is for you. But, you’ll know it when you feel it. It’s when it feels “right” to you.