*This post on Christmas Eve traditions originally appeared at Dances with Chaos in 2011.
Our Not-So-Silent Night
I hear–first—the angel chimes. Do you know about them? (They’re sold now at IKEA.) The ding-ding-ding of bells as golden trumpeters circle the candle flames, urged onward by heat and little-girl excitement. In the air an endless loop of carols crooned by Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby; Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand. My sister and I gallop around our house singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” because it was. It is.
I taste authentic Swedish potato sausage (which you can’t get at IKEA); crunchy Wasa bread (not for the faint of heart); frozen vegetables mixed with cream of mushroom soup and topped by eight ounces of shredded cheddar cheese (because we Swedes don’t overdo it). We slip JELL-O salad from its mold, the sweet-pretzel crust crumbling below chunks of suspended fruit. Flour dusts the countertops our mother has lined with wax paper for cookies. We burn our mouths on freshly minted pepparkakor then cool them with wedges of uncooked dough chilled in the refrigerator. The buzz of the oven timer joins the ding-ding-ding of angel chimes and Doris Day suggesting we “slice up the fruitcake” which makes us giggle because we wouldn’t. We won’t.
I see colored bulbs my father has strung along our rooftop, the tiny lights he’s wound around the tree we picked. I take in clingy tinsel, threaded strands of popcorn and glue-caked noodle ornaments; balls of mistletoe above our entryway. Grandma and Grandpa are coming! And Aunt Karen! (Then eventually Uncle Kurt. But we didn’t find him at IKEA, either.) We huddle in our parents’ bedroom waiting for the “Okay” then run to find canopied doll beds or banana-seated bicycles; a porcelain lamp, a wicker headboard. Behold our treasures wrapped in crinkly paper and curled ribbon! We gush “Thank you,” so gratefully because we were. We are.
I smell smoke from the fireplace and sap on sticky pine needles; my nose wrinkles at the Glögg (homemade, sorry IKEA) steaming in cups because I can’t sip until I’m 21. Grandpa says, “That’ll clear your sinuses!” while the adults laugh loudly. My grandmother wears Shalimar (a scent I know as well as the tune to “Lara’s Theme” she hums year-round) but I don’t know whether my ears or mouth or eyes or nose is happiest because of all the joy that I had. That I have.
Too soon it’s time for bed so we clamber to the window and peek between curtains in search of the red light that means “Rudolf!” But I’ll never fall asleep because I’m too excited, except these blankets are very warm and my pillow is extra-soft, and I feel luckier and more loved than anyone in the whole world (except maybe Santa), and I’m sleepy and my sister’s in the room with me because tonight is special since it comes only once a year, every year of my childhood.
My Christmas Eve traditions.
And they are.