09/30: Spend a different kind of Christmas

This one was quite a personal and private thing that had been coming for a while but which, in the end, took even me by surprise.

Sometime in late autumn I suddenly realized that I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas at all, and that was quite a surprise. Let me give you a little background here: normally I like Christmas, and typically I start expecting the holidays and everything they entail (decorating the tree, the traditional Finnish Christmas fare, chocolate, relaxed times, meeting up with relatives and enjoying the Christmas dinner with them on 24th and 25th) sometime in late November.

Just to be clear here, I’m not a Christmas fanatic in any way. I don’t go around humming xmas carols and thinking of decorations in September, and I simply loathe the fact that almost every store starts playing their constant jingle-bells-last-christmas-white-christmas-potpourri in October already! (And darn George Michael and his Last Christmas, a song that’s guaranteed to get stuck in your brain in an eternal loop for at least two days after you happen to hear even two notes of the chorus.)

This time, however, something was awry. I didn’t know (and still don’t) what, I don’t know why, but what I did realize was that I had no interest whatsoever in any of the traditions I usually like. I even – and this was the horror of horrors to realize – disliked the idea of Christmas food, which I normally eat with great pleasure! So when my mum asked me, sometime in latish November, if I’d be interested in spending the holidays abroad, I was all gung-ho immediately.

Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work out, so I was left to wondering about my mysterious mood and what to do to it. The traditional Christmas, in the funny way that traditions do have, was of course an option, but for some inexplicable reason, the thought of sticking with it seemed almost unbearable.

I had, at some earlier point in my life, toyed with the thought of spending a different kind of Christmas, but never before had the thought been or become anything more than “oh wouldn’t it be nice some year to…”. In early December, 2012, I realized that maybe that ‘some year’ would be this one – indeed, to be brutally honest here, I realized that I had no other option than to do things differently this time, otherwise I would end up having quite a miserable time.

After this realization I still had one question to answer: how to spend a different kind of Christmas, and where? The first solution that came to my mind was to fly for a quick getaway somewhere in central Europe, but I abandoned that plan quite soon, after having had a quick look at flight prices, which, as you might guess, were already quite high, thank you very much, since I was so late on looking. 

The second option I could think of was a retreat, either in the meaning of “retiring from the society” – I was thinking along the lines of a yoga retreat or a silent retreat – or then simply going to some nice holiday resort or a spa hotel, spend a couple of days in a nice  yet in no way special hotel room somewhere in Finland and then come back home. Well, as you might guess, since I was so late on looking… I abandoned this plan quite soon as well, for the same reasons: high demand, high prices.

I felt I had hit a dead end. I couldn’t come up with any other ideas that, considering the short notice I had, wouldn’t cost a fortune. I was already considering that I would just buy some nice and definitely non-Christmas food and be holed up in my apartment for the holidays, when my dad mentioned in passing that he wouldn’t be home for Christmas, having chosen the second option of the above and having made a booking at a spa hotel.

As soon as I heard this I knew it was meant to be. I would buy a bagful of nice nosh and relocate to my childhood home for spending my first ever Christmas alone. The key word here being: alone. I understood that for whatever reason, I simply wanted – no, needed – to spend some time on my own. In my heart of hearts I felt light and delighted; I knew it would be great.

Candles in ice lanterns

09/30: Spend a different kind of Christmas. And remember to light candles in ice lanterns.

Well, not everyone felt light and delighted; some of my nearest and dearest weren’t exactly happy when I told them that this year I wouldn’t be joining in our family gathering. I tried to explain my thoughts and feelings, how it was important for me to do it this way this year and how I hoped they understood my decision.

I felt bad when I heard the disappointment in their voice when I told this, but simultaneously I knew I couldn’t do it any other way; had I disregarded the strong feeling I had about how this was just so right for me right now, I would’ve acted against my core, against my heart. So I stood my ground and stuck to my plan.

It was interesting to see and hear the various reactions that arose when I told different people of what I was going to do on Christmas. Many were surprised, some seemed excited, some probably couldn’t have cared less, and some were concerned about how I would manage there alone.

Let it be said here that my childhood home is located in the countryside, not in the middle of nowhere (and we do have neighbours close) but far enough from the closest, more built-up area that you might almost call “town”, and with just a few buses daily driving by – and even less (read: basically none) around Christmas, obviously. I don’t own a car and my dad would take his when he’d leave, so once I’d get home, I would really be there.

And that was exactly what I was most looking forward to: being there, alone, doing nothing. Except of course making food and eating every now and then, reading, and – the best and probably very Finnish thing that is the bit of Christmas tradition I didn’t want to do without – going to sauna. Well, considering that I spent almost three hours lying in and enjoying the soft heat of our home sauna on Christmas eve, I guess the last bit in the previous sentence should’ve read being in sauna. (And let me tell you, being there was heavenly, and very, very relaxing, and made me sleep like a baby.)

And that was exactly what I did, too. I brought along two bagfuls of food, three books (all of which, coincidentally, had the word heart in their name; and when one of my Christmas presents turned out to be yet another book with the word heart in its title, I felt that someone was giving me a sign, and indeed, I felt that I had done the right thing when I had followed the voice of my heart in arranging this different Christmas), too many unnecessary clothes, too little suitable clothes for outdoor activities (I had to shovel snow) and my laptop, to be able to listen to my favourite music.

In the end this turned out the most relaxing and relaxed Christmas ever. I had no places to go or people to meet, so I could go back to bed after breakfast to read a book if I felt like it, I didn’t have to get dressed properly if I thought that slacks and a tank top were a proper attire for my Christmas dinner (…); I could just sit on the floor staring into the flames of the fireplace, or lie in our living room on a woollen blanket and do some stretching while watching the candlelight flicker in the otherwise dark room.

The three and half days I spent there on my own went by in a flash.

After the holidays were over and when it was time for me to return back to grand residence in town, I had a strange realization: I felt as if I had been on a proper holiday, I felt so utterly and extensively relaxed, both physically and spiritually, and so much at ease! So it seems that sometimes you don’t need to travel far abroad or to fancy places to have room to breathe and a break from your everyday life – sometimes it is enough just to go back home, alone.

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