I really love tradition. The idea of doing something that people have been doing for years, for generations, for decades is incredibly inspiring to me. I feel that way about the ritual and tradition of the church I grew up in. As a child I didn’t get it really, thought it was dull, repetitious in the worst way, empty of meaning.
But as I grew up a bit I started to understand and appreciate the incredible significance of praying the same prayers that thousands around the world, and tens of thousands before you have spoken that same Sunday. There’s a sense of truth and value being passed on from generation to generation. Not that tradition is static, each generation takes what has been passed down to them and shapes it, makes it work for them. Only that way can ritual and practices maintain their meaning, their importance.
One of the wonderful things about marrying someone from a different culture than your own, is that you get introduced to a whole set of new traditions, new practices that have been handed down from mother to daughter, father to son. I loved last year, at my first Christmas spent in Denmark, learning all the things that Rasmus’ family do together to celebrate that time: the food they eat, the way they decorate, the excursions they make, and the why behind it all.
I’ve found that when I’m exposed to someone else’s traditions and practices, it often opens my eyes to see my own in a new way. I remember and appreciate the reason why I do them. Sometimes I may even realise that something I’ve been doing for years has lost it’s significance, and needs some tweaking, or maybe even discarding. Sometimes it can be hard to really articulate why exactly it is so important that we decorate the tree just like this, or light the candles at that specific moment, but so much of it is just the important way that these shared rituals create family, create community. We do it this way because it’s we; we do it together.
All of this was just to share that I have started a new tradition for myself. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about how we mark the changing seasons and why it is important. Here in Luxembourg it is cold and dark and wet. I pretty much find any excuse not to go outside, although the wind creates some impressive cloud formations from the window. On days like this, I need reminding, and no doubt you do too, that this is just a season. It is normal, it is right, for the world around us to go through this assigned season so that new growth can come in the spring. It’s hard to be grateful for that when you’re waiting for the bus in the cold, your umbrella has just been blown inside out for the third time and the water is starting to seep into your shoes…
Which is why some of the winter traditions of northern cultures can be such an important reminder that the darkness is just for a season. The light will return, the sun will again warm the earth and rid your bones of that aching cold. Sometimes we also need these physical traditions to remind us too that this difficult time, this period of trials or pain – it too will pass and the light will come into your life again.
And now, when we’re in advent, waiting for the moment when we celebrate the Son being born, it’s even more significant to me to take a moment to remember in the dark months, that the true light that gives light to everyone is coming into the world.
Yesterday I made Luciabrød, the recipe from a Danish magazine my mother-in-law sent me as an advent gift. St Lucia’s (St Lucy) day was on 13th, so I was a day late, but I really wanted to mark this moment. It’s a saint day that tends to be celebrated mostly in Scandinavia. Girls and young women wear white and carry candles, behind St Lucia, who wears a wreath of candles on her head. As with many saints days, the meaning and myth have mixed up over the years, but at it’s core it’s a reminder, in the depths of winter, that the light will come again.
The Luciabrød have this lovely yellow colour from the egg and the saffron you put in them (no saffron in mine, I didn’t have any sadly) which reminds me of the sun, the warmth of spring and summer days. And they also taste lovely too, which is always important. The making of them itself was a wonderfully comforting moment, because it wasn’t just another evening making the same cupcakes or cookies. As I made these in the kitchen, lights low and the rain pouring outside, Rasmus working in the next room, I had time to think about what I was doing, why I was making them.
In this quiet half an hour, I slowed down, shaped the dough, and remembered that the darkness is only for a season.