So, whatever your feelings about, you know, let’s say it, it’s Advent now so I think we can, CHRISTMAS, which for all its attendant commercial falderol is still an important, some might say vital, break that makes the long cold winter (or long scorching summer, if you’re in the southern hemisphere) bearable, and also provides plenty of fodder for folklore-themed blogs like this one to riff on old and new traditions, and muse on popular culture more generally – if you live in the Western world at least, Christmas, whatever you think of it, cannot be ignored, and as well as highlighting or underscoring our good / bad relations with friends and family, is also a handy barometer of how a society more broadly sees itself, and what it chooses to prioritise.
So – does Christmas make you feel nostalgic?
I ask because it does for me – up to a point – but I wanted to interrogate why this was. I’d be lying if I said Christmas was as important or special to me as it was when I was younger, and losing my father earlier this year has brought into stark relief just how much I have lost, including a sense of Christmas being a reassuring, comfortable time. As I have for the last few years, since my father first became ill, I will spend it with friends who are as close to me as family, and it will no doubt be a pleasant and even joyful occasion, and I am lucky to have such friends, as many people don’t; but there is no escaping the empty feeling sometimes of going through the motions, as if Christmas now is only an echo of what it was then, when I was younger, like mulled wine that has lost its warmth.
Of course, nostalgia plays its old tricks, smoothing out the wrinkles of the past, and I’m sure that, especially when I was a young child, there were plenty of Christmases where I overdosed on chocolate and excitement, and there were tears before bedtime. But we all want, I suppose, especially at Christmastime, to feel safe, and loved, and reassured – and these things cannot be manufactured, or bought.
Back in early November, I spent a few days in Norway, and it was nice to be out of Britain, with its Brexit-related neuroses, if only for a short while, and to be a stranger, travelling from place to place, in a friendly country, like my own but also subtly different, letting some things go, and bringing others into focus.
I wandered the streets of Oslo and Bergen, big cities by Norwegian standards, but having more of the feel of large towns, and I took a trip down the fjords, which were every bit as beautiful as I’d hoped, and everywhere I went was fairly quiet, as it was out of season, but I kind of prefer it that way as I’m not a fan of crowds. From the top of Fløyen, one of the hills surrounding Bergen (with its own funicular railway – definitely a highlight if you ever visit), I looked out over the city, and wandered some of the hiking trails, and ate some Kvikk Lunsj (the Norwegian version of Kit Kat, only nicer, and with thicker chocolate – apparently in Norway they usually have one, along with an orange, as part of a packed lunch when they’re in the great outdoors), and felt cheerful despite the drizzly weather. Back in London, I visited the various Scandinavian Christmas markets, drank glögg (mulled wine), and bought some Christmas presents. I’m told that in Norway the shops are closed for much longer over Christmastide than they are here in Britain (where the sales start first thing on Boxing Day), as it’s seen as a time for friends and family more than shopping, and I think they’ve definitely got their priorities right there. But wherever you are, it’s important, I believe, to find something at this time of year that has meaning and resonance for you, whatever that may be, and to be thankful for what you have. I hope to post at some stage about my love of the North – as a native of northern Europe – and about Norse mythology especially. But for now, a very Happy Christmas – or God Jul, as they say in Norway – and normal service will be resumed in the New Year. In the meantime, here are some photos from my recent Norway trip –