Last Christmas

Until the early 2000s, we celebrated Christmas as one big squabbling family. I personally made sure that the TV would stay off. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet. There were always fifteen or more of us, kids and adults from various parts of the country. My uncle would tell fascinating stories about his ulcers – I didn’t mind, it was just good to see him that one time in the year. Some got married, some were heading for a divorce that was not discussed at the table. At the centre of everything was my Grandma. I’d sit on the ground with my chin on her knee and just feel that… that thing that I thought of as Christmas. I did that when I was six and I still did it when I was twenty-something. We were not like a TV family – too much drinking, too much politics, too many ulcers – but even before I turned 20 I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that adverts and movies presented the real world.

Fifteen or sixteen years ago I came out as gay. I was assured that nothing would change, that I was loved as I was, and since I had a boyfriend I thought that meant he’d be treated the same way my cousins’ girlfriends were. My aunt, whose house was the only big enough to accommodate the whole shebang, told me that we were not welcome – it was fine for me to be gay, but only as long as I wasn’t being gay in her presence. That was it. I never even found out whether the rest of the family asked and/or were told why I suddenly stopped appearing.

 

What next?

Our family, with one or two exceptions, considered themselves atheists, but very few people in Poland didn’t celebrate the holiday.  For us, Christmas had nothing to do with the church or Jesus. It was about being together, consuming a lot of calories, laughing at the kids that were nearly unconscious with excitement because there were presents. It took one short phone call – I was only going to ask whether three p.m. was good, or should we arrive earlier or later – to lose all that. I have never seen some of the family members again, those who lived so far away we only ever met on that one occasion. The end of December, however, didn’t get cancelled worldwide to make things easier for me.

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Part one here.

The Norse deities rarely have just one task to be busy with. Freya, for instance, is a Goddess of love, sex, death, war, fertility, gold, and seiðr magic. This strikes me as an awful lot of work, but there are more Gods taking care of those things, possibly with the exception of gold, because Freya is a bit…possessive when it comes to gold. There are many types of fire, and many Gods who are “assigned” to take care of it.

Let me start with berating Wagner, who put it into people’s mind: Loki is not the “god of fire”. That’s Logi. (Which means “fire” in Old Norse, in case you forgot the name, but had a dictionary at hand.) In one of the Sagas, Loki is put to competition with Logi to see which one can eat faster. They meet in the middle, but while Loki ate all the meat, Logi also took care of the bones, plates, and the table itself. Later the deities involved find out that Loki was competing with the fire itself. Logi is the God associated with wildfire, and if you’ve seen any news from California in the recent months I don’t need to explain why Loki had to lose this contest. Loki plays with fire, Logi is fire.

There are good sides to forest fires, although I wouldn’t say Californians (and others) think the same way. A fire cleanses the nature, preparing it for new growth. You have to destroy in order to build. It’s when the destruction gets completely out of hand that the real trouble starts…but I will talk about Surtr in a moment.

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(Note: there is a chance “Awaiting the Solstice” is an Enya song title. I didn’t check.)

I have a very complicated relationship with Christmas (called “Xmas” further on).

I grew up in a country that is considered 105% Catholic despite the fact that only about 35% people actually believe in God. My entire family consisted of atheists or agnostics. Nevertheless, we always gathered around the table twice a year: for Easter and for Xmas, which we actually called either “Holidays” (with the capital H) or “Gwiazdka” (“Little Star”). There was a tree, generally a plastic one, full-on decorations, tons of food and drink, but mostly – when I was still a kid – the important bit: PRESENTS!!!

Our family habit was that you had to try all sorts of food on the table. Even if you didn’t like something, you had to eat a tiniest bit because it was a tradition. I actually don’t know whether it’s a Catholic tradition at all, but it was what our family did. As kids we generally ate everything at record speed, but still, the presents had to remain wrapped under the tree until the last person tried everything. To call us slightly impatient was an understatement. We knew very well there was no Santa, but there were PRESENTS OMG HURRY UP WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU OLD PEOPLE!!!

As the years have passed I didn’t even notice that I, too, began to turn into an Old Person (i.e. over 15 years old) and started to pay more attention to the food than the presents. This might or might not have been related to the fact that my grandma 1) always gave me longjohns, and 2) they were always too small. The food, however, was always delicious and a lot of the dishes were prepared exclusively for Xmas. The extra plus side was that it was prepared by people who weren’t me.

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