Celebrating with Light During the Darkest Months – Lifestyle and Traditions
As a child my favorite holiday was Christmas. It wasn’t the Christmas gifts and Santa, but truly, it was the fuzzy feeling I got in preparation for the holidays. My sister and I would watch our aunt start with few traditional decorations, long before December and the decorations were really simple. Even during my elementary and middle school years, there was one tradition which I grew to love, and since then, I have tried to keep this custom part of my life. Light was and is one of the biggest part of the darker months and during the Holiday season in the Scandinavian countries. It’s a way of life and the tradition is deep rooted in everyone. There are specific traditions that people use to cope during the darker months, such as variety of candles.
Growing up in Sweden, the Summers were awesome with the long days. Down in the southern parts of Sweden where I grew up, the sun would only go down for few hours at nights, for about four to five hours. But in contrast by November, the sun seemed to never be around. I would go to school while dark, and barely make it home before the sun was setting. The cool part was, I knew that as the dark months approached, all the lights and candles would appear not only in our home, but in every friends, relatives and people’s homes. This was a tradition that my own family had grown to enjoy after they immigrated to Sweden in the early 60’s, and of this day still carry on with it.
Coping with Darkness
Coping with darkness can be a real challenge for me and for a lot of people. I recall the first Winter in Sweden, after my husband and I were married (We felt it would be an adventure for him to experience a different culture). To tell the truth, my husband who is by far the happiest and most positive person I know, really struggled. He could not believe how cold and dark it was. He would come home from work, wondering if the sun would ever appear again. But little by little, he realized, how one tradition during the darkest months, made the dreariness appear more bright and cheerful.
Candles in Every Window
No one really knows how or exactly when the tradition started, that nearly every home in Sweden lights up their windows and burns multiple candles on their tables during the dark months. But as I have reflected on this, I assume, that the reason that this tradition started was a way for people to cope with darkness without electricity. While although electricity has become a common luxury, lighting up the windows and burning candles everywhere during the dark months, still remains a very strong part of the Swedish culture. It is an extreme serene feeling, to walk thru neighborhoods and streets, to be able to see candles and lights in nearly every window.
Specific Traditions with Light
During the month of December there are specific traditions in Sweden that are a reminder of the importance of the light in our lives. I love these traditions and have been able to incorporate them in our own family traditions.
In the late 1930’s, people of Sweden were introduced to a seven arm, Christmas tree shaped, electrical candle. This electrical candle known as Adventsljusstake was born and since that day, has become one of the most loved lighting during the holidays. This was the first light my aunt would put up in her windows approaching December. She lived in a small two bedroom apartment with my grandma, and yet she would place six of these electrical candles in her windows. It was cozy, bright and exciting. Today you can find slightly different varieties of shapes of the Adventsljusstake, but the original model of seven arms, still remains. After moving back to Utah, I was really sad to leave my Adventsljusstake behind in Sweden. The power outlet being different, I couldn’t bring ours with. Totally excited, after IKEA opened up a store in Utah, I have since then, had the pleasure to have a Swedish traditional light in every window of our home, during the holidays.
Star of Bethlehem
During the same time as people in Sweden started putting up the Adventsljusstake, they also started hanging up a star that has a light in it, in their windows. This is an old Moravian tradition, that worked its way to Sweden, also during the late 1930’s. The tradition of hanging a paper star in the window, originated as a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem, that guided the three wise men to Christ child. I remember how important hanging the Star Light in the windows of our home was. It was the symbol of the coming of Christmas.
Four Sundays prior to Christmas, our family lights a candle. We have a candle holder that holds four candles and we start on the first week by burning the first candle. On the second week, we burn two, then three, and then Sunday prior to Christmas, we burn all four candles. This tradition of burning an Advent Candle dates back from the early Christians. The word Advent derived from Latin, means “coming”. The four candles symbolizes the coming of the Christ child and his gifts to us of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. My husband and I have kept this tradition through our entire marriage. For us the true meaning of Christmas is our Savior, Jesus Christ. This tradition is a great reminder of why we celebrate the season, but it is also exciting for our kids and now grand-kids, to be able to count down the weeks before Christmas.
Then there is Lucia. The young girl who brings light to everyone, during the darkest time of the year. On December 13, there is a celebration of the Saint Lucia’s day with a procession of a girl who is dressed in white, with candles in her hair and she is usually followed by other girls and boys, similarly dressed, with candles in their hands. This was always exciting as a child and even as a youth. The big question among all the girls was, who was to be chosen to be the Lucia of their school? Today, offices, schools, every form of business and even the government takes a break for a short time during that day to celebrate Lucia.
Today in Every Home
Recently I took a trip back to visit my family in Sweden. There was one specific thing I noticed that I had forgotten, while visiting. As I went walking thru the streets and neighborhoods, although it was only end of October and beginning of November, people had already started decorating with candles and lights in their homes. I went to variety of stores while there, and every single store had candles on display. And stores sold variety of candle holders. I spoke with my sister about this and expressed to her, how I truly missed seeing all the lights in every home.
She told me, “how can you not light a candle or two in the dark, it is so MYSIG”. Mysig translated to English means cozy. While light alone is not the only answer in fighting the gloom during the dark months, light can be one of the most important and effective tools against feeling blue. I have found that lighting few candles around me in the evening, can have a very soothing feeling, or if I may, it is very “mysig”. A little treat perhaps, an herbal tea or a book with a blanket can be a great time-out during the cold and dark months. Even while we were still raising young children, I remember how important it was for me to create an environment of “mysig”. Today our children speak of them having cozy evenings at home and relaxing with their families, especially during the dark months.
Holding on to the Light
I know sometimes the time around the holidays can be stressful and hectic. I have experienced multiple emotions and difficulties, specifically, during this time of year. One thing that I have learned is, that I am the only one that is in control of choosing to hold on to the light. And I choose to celebrate and look to the light. It can be hard when darkness is around us. At times,it seems as if the sun will never shine again, but there are many things around us which assures us, that the light will always shine. So as I get ready to celebrate the holidays, I will hold on to the traditions that I grew up with, my faith and belief that there can be light around me, if I choose to light up.