Saturday, December 28, 2013

overthinking christmas

i read a marvelous little piece in the new york times by gary shteyngart. shteyngart captures somehow the ennui i think many of us feel around christmas, wanting to embrace the traditions and have family around, but feeling underneath it all that acute sense of our inability to really know other people, perhaps especially our families. the facades we put up to get through it all, the way we hide what we really think and feel. the masks we wear.

i think it's part of why it's such a relief when the holiday is over, you can exhale and go back into your real self, putting aside the performance and the smiles and the false gaiety. there's so much pressure for christmas to be perfect - you have to give the right presents, eat the right food. you have to meet so many expectations that are unspoken and unwritten, but powerful just the same. and it's impossible. and exhausting.

sabin is off skiing in austria with her best friends, so husband and i sat out in the brewery room by our new fireplace (it's a wood-burning stove, actually) last evening, relaxing, sipping a cocktail in front of the crackle of the fire. husband philosophized as to whether we as humans are drawn to fire because we're the only animal which has conquered it, or because we recognize something of our basic natures in it...we're all burning out towards an end in a pile of dust. either one is quite profound,  even if the latter is less than optimistic. we sat for long stretches, just relaxing and not saying anything, letting our souls settle back in after the mad rush of christmas. the crackle and warmth of the fire helped with that.

we as humans seem to have some kind of need for ceremony, as susanne moore puts it in the guardian, "it is through ritual that we remake and strengthen our social bonds." our christian christmas traditions must have a basis in earlier pagan midwinter rituals. as the years go by, i grow more and more uneasy with the religious aspect (as well as the commercial one), but, there must be a way to celebrate the return towards the light in a non-religious way that "does not mean one has to forgo poetry, magic, the chaos of ritual, the remaking of shared bonds." i guess here in denmark, we do come rather close to that, as attending church isn't really part of the ritual, and there are plenty of old pagan elements in the stories of nisse (a kind of combination elf/gnome/pixie figure) and the plethora of candles and the use of evergreens and moss and pinecones in decorating. i just wish it didn't all seem so soul-draining. i want to feel renewed, refreshed, re-energized by the midwinter celebration - elated that we've turned back towards the light.

maybe i'd better go stare into that crackling fire for awhile again.

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beautiful photographs of frozen bubbles
make me long for lower temps.

tho' haunting fairy tale photos
would make me settle for a nice fog.

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seriously amazing maps made from ships' logs from the 18th-19th centuries.
also here.
endless hours of fascination in these.

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i've just updated my about me, if you're interested.

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