I love this time of year with the snowfall, holidays and my fireplace. In true Scandinavian style of “hygge,” I become as cozy and dormant as my trees and gardens outside. I no longer commute Upvalley, so in the dark of winter, I am more of a homebody than in the summer. I reflect on holidays of my youth in the Midwest and the joys of making holidays special for my now-grown daughters and grandkids.
As a kid back in Chicagoland, we braved gray, bitter cold winters without the modern outerwear of today. Wool mittens and scarves got wet and froze solid. Black rubber boots with ornery buckles fit over your street shoes; no such things as down coats and Sorels. The sun didn’t shine much, and roads stayed shitty for weeks. But we looked forward to the annual showing of “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” and that kind of creepy version of “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” sung by Burl Ives.
If you missed these shows on TV, you just had to wait another year. We sure had it rough back then!
Much to my dismay, my dad didn’t go for lots of lights on the outside of the house. He was a minimalist even by the days’ standards. He lugged out a huge flocked wreath from the crawlspace and put it on the brick chimney facing the street. It had no red bow, just a few large gold balls. One floodlight on a stake was jammed into the snow and voila, he was done. Ugh. I thought we were the neighborhood losers. But I sure enjoyed the times we drove around after dinner and looked at the well-festooned homes in the area.
Our indoor tree was standard for the time, but my aunt and uncle’s tree was amazing. It was sparkly aluminum and had a super-cool rotating colored light fixture on the floor shining up into the brilliant silver foliage. Gawd, I was in heaven! Looking back though, I now understand why my mom said, “never in my house!”
As a grown up, I’ve created (hopefully) some cool traditions and memories for my kids. As a young family with modest means we splurged on the Christmas morning breakfast of bagels, cream cheese, lox and fruit, specifically those magic winter treats of kiwi, strawberries and tangerines. I still make sure to have these on hand. We’ve added a reasonable quantity of mimosas now that the kids are grown-ups. My friend Tonie’s Christmas breakfast always includes cinnamon rolls, which sounds plenty good to me.
For 24 years we have thrown an annual potluck picnic lunch on Basalt Mountain Road on Christmas Eve. Originally, I devised this event to get the kids outside and burn off the nervous anticipation of candlelight services and Santa’s visit later that night. Hiking up the road hauling sleds with folding tables and packs of food and drinks (including adult beverages) took the edge off their holiday spastic-ness.
The party has grown over time and everyone is invited. Out of town guests think we are just crazy mountain folk – which we certainly are! Hikers and cross-country skiers happen upon the scene and are invited to join, hopefully to return the following year. The vistas are enormous (Snowmass to Sunlight) and the weather is always beautiful! Well the last part isn’t totally true, but hey, even when the sun isn’t shining a picnic in a gentle snowfall is a real treat too!
Last year our housemate made me a gorgeous evergreen kissing ball the size of a watermelon. She has been making these since she was a kid in upstate New York, and even has a special stand to prop up the ball during construction. I did not know these large balls are a “thing,” but I look forward to getting another one soon. The only kissy thing I grew up with was the sad, cello-wrapped piece of mistletoe from the grocery store. I only cared to kiss my dog under it. I now know that mistletoe is a harmful parasite on many tree species in other parts of the country.
Other practices we’ve adopted include setting out some farolitos (luminaries) along the driveway, a New Mexico tradition, to symbolically light the way for the holy family. Cooking up a batch of posole usually happens sometime during the holiday week. More recently on New Year’s Eve, I’ve moved my fire pit onto my driveway and light a fire to light the way into the new year. My pagan roots are obviously showing.
Speaking of pagan-ish rituals, there will be a Winter Solstice ceremony and bonfire at Carbondale’s Third Street Center on Dec. 20. A spiral walk around the fire in the snow can be a transformational moment. Join me and other community members to welcome the light of the soon-to-be lengthening days. This gathering is sponsored by the Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist congregation and all are welcome.
I am blessed, and may your holidays be warm, bright and full of joy.
Kim Bock is a transplanted Midwesterner/East Coaster/Texas escapee and a 30-year resident of El Jebel. Get more information about joining the potluck picnic on Basalt Mountain Road or tell her about your holiday traditions at email@example.com