We have many Christmas traditions in our household. We always go to see my daughter’s friend perform in the Nutcracker ballet, and then see another of her friends sing in a Saint Lucia Fest. We have another friend over to decorate gingerbread houses, and we spend part of the 25th with friends who do a British Christmas complete with a Christmas pudding and Christmas crackers. One of our favorite traditions is visiting the arboretum and walking through the dark, seeing all the beautiful lit-up Christmas trees on display. We also attend the arboretum’s Christmas carol sing along. All these traditions help me create the feelings I want for this season. Spending time with friends, cooking, eating and singing help me create light in the darkness.
Christmas is a time that is totally made for seeing the magic and creating the sacred. Christmas is meant to be so filled with the spirit of sacredness that it bursts out and sets the world aglow. The sacred is here, but stress about money, shopping, body image issues, and family drama can also be present. The expectation that the season should only be filled with sacred wonder may make us feel like we aren’t doing enough, or aren’t doing it right.
I have one tradition that is very low-key, and it helps create a small quiet place where the sacred can approach. It is called the Christmas Book Flood, or Jólabókaflóðið (yo-la-bok-a-flot)– also known as Icelandic Christmas. Icelandic Christmas takes place on Christmas Eve, when everyone is given a book and some chocolate as gifts and then all retire to their bedrooms with that book and chocolate and spend the rest of the evening reading.
Iceland loves books. They sell more books per capita than any other nation. Christmas is when the majority of books are sold in Iceland. An annual catalogue of newly published books delivered to every home in Iceland heralds the start of the Christmas season. Everyone is gifted at least one book on Christmas Eve, but they usually receive more. (50% of adults in Iceland have read at least eight books in the last year).
My family started celebrating Icelandic Christmas a few years ago. We each get two books and some fancy chocolate and then go to bed and read. No TV, no phones or computers, just real paper books, the soft yellow glow of bedside lamps, pajamas, sea salt chocolate squares, and homemade eggnog.
It is a quiet night. Everything slows down. Our heartbeat and our breathing slows down. Our shoulders relax into our pillows and our faces relax too, unless our book makes us cry or laugh. It is a silent night, and the silence opens space in our hearts to welcome the sacred.