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Candle Wax, Sparrows, and Cake, Oh my

Zuzu Tadeushuk

December is a month of celebration for many cultures, but in my anthroposophical Scandinavian christian household it’s a veritable smorgasbord of quaint traditions and mystical feast-days. To break it down, my calendar for December looks something like this:

1) Dec 1-24, Advent: Each day my brother Nicolai and I take turns opening paper windows on an advent calendar that this year features birds, fairies, birds, trees, and did I mention birds? I swear there are about four different types of sparrow alone in what we’ve uncovered so far. 

2) Every Sunday of the month is a special occasion cause it marks the passing of another of the 3-4 weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, and is celebrated by the lighting of a new candle on the advent wreath we have on our kitchen table. This reflects the gradual arrival in our house of the light and warmth that is Christmas, and heralds comfort during what are USUALLY the bleakest days of the year (somehow the East Coast climate missed that memo this time around)…  

3) Dec 6, Saint Nicholas’ Day: A morning when little children wake to find treats left by this patron saint of youngsters in the shoe they set by their door overnight— little children, and, yes…me and Nicolai.

4) Dec 13, Santa Lucia’s Day: A morning when the eldest daughter of the household makes breakfast for her family and brings it to them in bed while wearing a crown of lit candles on her head. This year I experimented baking gluten free scones for everyone, which made a pretty picture but tasted astoundingly like saw dust until slathered with jam. The melting candle wax dripped into my hair, as it does every year, but at least it meant I’d have a souvenir from the occasion. As the old adage goes, beauty is pain…especially when it’s 8:00 am and involves fire. 

5) Dec 15, Tree Trimming: Midway through the month we set up our christmas tree in the living room and decorate it. We begin with an impassioned family debate over whether the tree is standing straight or slanted, whether the bulkier boughs should face forward or backward, etc, exasperating my poor father as we make him screw, unscrew, and re-screw the tree trunk into it’s base several times over. The rest of the morning consists of me jollily hanging tinsel and ornaments everywhere while my brother follows after me sustaining a muttered banter of mock (maybe?) indignation and rearranging everything I’ve touched.

6) Dec 16, National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day: Yes, it’s actually a thing, falling conveniently in the most chocolate-rich season of the year! Not that I’ve ever needed an official festival to justify glutting myself on the cocoa-encrusted creations of every chocoholic’s fantasies…. But it’s a nice tradition nonetheless.

Then of course comes Christmas Eve (big party with family and lots of over-eating), and Christmas Day (little party with more family and more over-eating), and at last New Year’s, when we all vow not to over-eat so often and not to spend so much money on material stuff— after the holiday gift rounds we find ourselves sickened by consumerism… a feeling that lasts about a month or two and is soon forgotten. 

As December whirls by we perform this rotation of rituals not out of religious fervor, obligation, or even the wonderment we felt in our infancy; but rather out of nostalgia and reminiscence for that infancy. Because for me and Nicolai the Christmas season evokes, more than holiness or tradition or Santa Claus or Jesus; childhood. Christmas means volumes and volumes of memories: caroling, playing, baking, lighting candles on our tree and reading stories-- the tenderest tidbits of those formative years that incubated our present personalities. Christmas is our time to recreate those tidbits, reenter that tenderness, celebrate those incubations and unabashedly, joyfully, be children once again. 

Standing right now in my kitchen and preparing for tomorrow’s big party, I am steeped to my ears in this innocent excitement, the anticipation of what is still a magical family event. I’m shoveling frosting onto a hazelnut cake I have baked and humming one of the trillions of indistinguishable old Christmas songs, and it’s just good to be home and good to be in close proximity to frosting and good to be on the cusp of the most chaotic and cherished of all the December celebrations yet! Wishing you a gleeful, frosting-bedecked holiday season, Zuzu XO.

Playing Santa Lucia (and playing with fire) before I was even fully awake...