I almost hate to kiss 2014 goodbye. It's been a fun year! But there's also a lot to look forward to, so I'll be happy to kiss the new year in.

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And this year it was Disney's turn to "write" the card...

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    Where previously there was none, a flower blooms, a fruit suspends itself from the branch of a tree, and this is what we see: round, starburst thing. Velvet petals and smooth, rosy skin. Shape and matter, weight when we lift it between our own curious palms. Where did it come from? 

    That might well have been Joseph's question as Mary swelled in front of him, soft and glowing with a future for which she'd never asked, and in which, Joseph held no physical stake. 

    We now know all about fertilization: pollen grips stigma, sperm penetrates egg. Though it happens in the red-shadowed darkness, conception is not magic, either in flora or fauna. Unlikely to the point of miraculousness in its overwhelming repetition the world over, certainly, but not magic.

    Yet, in those early days of prophets and shepherds, the spontaneous fire of life in the womb of his betrothed must have stymied Joseph. 

    And what of Mary? A child herself in both age and stature, limited by social constructs and by her religion to a small geography and an abbreviated list of choices, most of life's mysteries likely seemed magical to Mary. 

    Were the conception of her child not, in fact, immaculate, it is equally doubtful either that she consented to a lying down in the dark with a man not her betrothed, or that she understood the consequences of such actions.

    Whatever the case, a blastocyst implanted itself in the ripened lining of Mary's uterus early in the spring of a year that would be zero. Was it the product of egg-meeting-sperm? Or egg-alone plus a tadpole-sized dose of the Holy Spirit? And does this matter?

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    Easter is weird*. 

    We Christians celebrate Easter as the day Jesus Christ raised himself from the dead, tossed off his shroud, rolled back his own tombstone and walked out into the world after three days of, well, death.

    He spent the next forty days catching up with his followers, inviting them to touch his still-apparent wounds, and promising eternal life. Promises which came with a little more oomph now because he'd bounced back impressively from that brutal crucifixion.

    To atheists, this celebration is ignorant and wrong. To Jews and Muslims, it's not wrong, just misplaced. And to agnostics... well, any excuse for a big lunch and bargain bags of Jelly Beans, am I right?

    Which brings us to the other Easter. The one we do for the kids in America. Comedian Jim Gaffigan sums this up in 30 seconds. Obvious choices for a holiday rooted in resurrection: hardboiled eggs dyed bright colors and then hidden around a garden. Easter baskets filled with plastic grass. Chocolate kisses wrapped in pastel-colored foil, Jelly Beans, and Cadbury eggs. And all of it delivered overnight by Santa's bizarre, big-eared counterpart, the Easter Bunny.

    But if you'd believe it, Easter in Norway is even weirder!

    In the first place, Norway, a famously secular (or, at least, religiously skeptical) nation celebrates the heck out of Påske (Easter). Families fill their homes with the color yellow: yellow candles, yellow table cloths, wooden eggs painted yellow and suspended from doorframes with yellow ribbons. Then begins a season of holidays, the first being a five day weekend, from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday. This Påskeferie (Easter holiday) finds every true Norwegian out of town, usually up in the mountains at a family cabin for some last-of-the-season skiing. Oslo and the other big cities empty and shut down. It's possible that some of these people begin their Easter Sunday reading the resurrection story from their KJV Bibles. Some probably gather in country churches to participate in Lutheran liturgies. He is Risen indeed. But mostly they're skiing, eating Kvikk Lunsj bars and oranges, and reading crime novels.

    That's right. Crime novels. Påskekrim (Easter Crime) is possibly the weirdest part of Easter season in Norway. Every bookstore puts up huge displays of thrillers and crime stories. Special crime series are produced for TV and radio. And, the weird-beyond-weird part, is the peculiar change made to the dairy section of your local grocer in the interests of Påskekrim.

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    I delegated the writing of our Christmas card to Crypto this year, and she was full of her customary snark, but hopefully it will give you a giggle, dear friends. That's what this season is all about. Warmth and fun and friendship and making sure we don't forget to cherish auld acquaintance. 

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    Front Photos (Clockwise): Old Town Tallinn, Estonia; The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia; Lofoten Islands, Norway 

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    It was a day of Romance with a capital R:

    • Roses (Not a dozen. Apparently Norwegian blomster shops sell them in bunches of ten or fifteen!)
    • Root beer floats (with real A&W root beer, which made this expat very happy!)
    • Reservations at Pizza da Mimmo
    • Roman Holiday

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    This about sums it up. And if you need some help deciphering my gift to Jonathan (paper airplane? really?), don't forget to check out my Paperman Valentine.

    Remember... this faux holiday is Ridiculous. Participate in Romance year-Round. It's more fun that way!

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    Most years, Jonathan and I have put up our Christmas tree on or around December 1st. This Christmas season has been different. I've been in California for four of the last six weeks. The first trip was for pleasure; the second was to celebrate the life of Jonathan's Grandpa Wilson, a wonderful man, who passed away a few days after Thanksgiving. Jonathan and I were fortunate to make it home for the memorial service. While we were in California, we helped decorate two Christmas trees, but it wasn't the same. I couldn't wait to get back to our flat here in Oslo and make it all piney and glowy.

    Yesterday we walked a couple of blocks to the nearest tree seller. This one only opened on 14 December; last year, because we wanted our tree earlier, we took Trikk 13 out toward CC Vest (a mall) to get a tree. Riding on a tram with a tree was a new experience! We were happy to skip that ritual this year, though, as the season has been much colder and there's a LOT more ice on the ground.

    We spotted this year's tree right away! A little sparse, but beautifully proportioned. A nice, straight trunk. A rich shade of green. How much does a Christmas tree cost in Norway? Ours, just under 2 meters tall, cost 450 NOK ($80), including netting. We think they might be cheaper outside the city.

    My manly husband carried it home and hauled it up the four flights of stairs to our place. He set it up in the tree stand while I made cocoa. Then, with When Harry Met Sally on in the background (I don't know why I think of it as a Christmas movie, but I totally do!), we began to decorate.

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    Yesterday was Norway's birthday, May 17th. 

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    Throughout the country schoolchildren participate in colorful parades, celebrating 17 May 1814, when the Norwegian constitution was signed and Norway was finally declared to be a separate nation. In Oslo, the barnetoget (children's parade) begins down by the water and winds uphill to the Royal Palace. It is the largest parade in the country; about 100 schools participate, and the number of spectators can reach 100,000! At the palace, the royal family stand on the balcony to inspect each school and band as it goes by.

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    King Karl Johan, King of Sweden and Norway at the time the constitution was signed, also inspects the schools as they pass. Norwegians are very patriotic, though not necessarily in the way I was brought up to think of patriotism in the U.S. Love of country simply laces every celebration. It's not strange to have a Norwegian flag displayed at a birthday or anniversary party, and Christmas decorations often include flag ornaments and ribbons. But on Constitution Day, flags run a red, white, and blue river all the way up Karl Johans gate.

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    This means we get our own flags, too!
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    Christmas cards and Christmas letters, chronicles of our year at a time of supreme reflection, appear to be a very American phenomenon. It's one I like. I have a box of cards collected over the years from my friends, and in the pictures I can see them fall in love. I am reminded up their weddings. I can marvel at the growth of their children and follow their adventures throughout the world. 

    We may live in a digital age that allows us uniquely (and sometimes disturbingly) intimate access to the lives of friends and acquaintances alike, but these paper cards are important to me. In fact, the more digitized the world becomes, the more special it is that someone would take the time to sit and put pen to paper or lick a stamp and press it to the top corner of an envelope. (I'm exaggerating. No one licks stamps anymore.)

    This year, due to the cost of printing and shipping and paying for international postage, I wasn't able to send as many of the paper cards as I have in years past. To make up for that, I thought I'd post the card here, too. After all, if you read my blog, you're important to me. You remind me that my writing is worthwhile. You help hold me accountable. You make me go on.

    So... drum roll please...
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    DSC03209.jpgOn September 22, Jonathan and I joined the rest of Oslo in celebrating the Autumnal Equinox. We followed the crowds down to the Akerselva River walk in Grünerløkka, and snapped photos all along the way. Night lowered itself over the city, flooding the winding river canal with shadows. Colorful light installations glowed at every other turn. We saw fairies, giant mushrooms, an enormous dragon kite leering from behind a building in vicious shades of pink and orange. We stuffed our hands deeper into our pockets and walked slowly with everyone else. There was muffled laughter and catcalling in Norwegian, all of it made somehow more sinister by the darkness and the otherworldly images around us.

    Several different small choirs had gathered to sing traditional songs. Their breath puffed white as they sang. We stopped for waffles and jam at a stand near a bridge. The pastry was hot through the napkin and warmed our hands, though just for a moment. 

    All of the color and fluid light, candle flames dancing in the windows, reminded me of why I love this season so much. It's the spirit of the people, children beginning anew at school in spite of the way the natural world is drawing itself to an end, young people dancing in pairs and trios, stretching their mouths carelessly around every lyric, and old people standing back, wrapped in the wisdom of their experience, considering the minor beauties of this time from a place most mindful and most appreciative. 

    Recently in Norwegian class, Jonathan and I learned a new verb: å glede seg. It means to look forward to, or to anticipate. So what am I anticipating this season?

    Baking pumpkin bread.

    Mom passed along her scrumptious pumpkin bread recipe to me the moment I asked for it. It was the fall of 2005. I'd been married a full year and hadn't baked a thing in my new kitchen. She came over and walked me through the recipe, swiping the flour flat in the measuring cup, scooping the pumpkin goop from the can into the bowl, and showing me how I should err on the side of extra with the cinnamon. 

    Since then I have baked it several times each autumn. Here in Oslo, though, a single can of pumpkin costs something around $12. Pumpkin bread will be a luxury for us here, but as the days retract into darkness and the cold wind forces us to close our windows tight, I look forward to pulling golden-brown loaves from the oven and letting the scent of cinnamon, cloves, and pumpkin fill the flat.

    Piles of leaves.

    Walking in the fall is more fun than it is any other time of the year. The sidewalks are covered in a deep, crunchy blanket of leaves, brightly colored and dry and light as air. Every step kicks up a few so that they tumble into new piles around me. If I move fast enough, they whirl a bit in my wake. I like to stand on our street when the wind begins to blow just to watch the yellow and red leaves in the trees release their hold on the branches and take their fluttering, circuitous journey downward and into my path.

    Sweaters & scarves.

    Here the wardrobe change has happened quicker than I'm used to. In California I would wear sweaters from November through the beginning of March. In Oslo, sweaters are necessary from the beginning of October all the way into April. The thick woolens feel soft against my skin. I layer a scarf around my neck, swirling and tying it so that it protects me from the cold fingers of the wind. I am wearing overcoats and rain coats. Soon I'll be pulling on a parka! But for now, I'm excited to be reunited with all my colorful sweaters.
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    Yesterday we arrived in Norway. All together. Two humans, two cats, six bags. Somehow we managed to lug everything from customs to the airport train station, from the Nationaltheatret station to the taxi stand, from the taxi up five flights of stairs. Twenty-four hours of constant motion culminated in the moment Jonathan turned the key in the lock of our new flat in Oslo, pulling the front door open with a theatrical sweep. 

    It's beautiful. Cozy. Light. Charming. Perfect. I giggled and spun as I entered each room, trying to memorize every inch of every wall. Our belongings arrived in early March, and Jonathan has spent the last six weeks setting things up for me. The nest, as it were, has been built, and he did it all exactly right.

    We reached our flat before 10:00 on Wednesday, so the whole day was ours for the spending. However, this coming weekend is Easter, and Norwegians take their Easter holiday very seriously. Maundy Thursday, the Christian commemoration of the Last Supper, and Good Friday, the Christian commemoration of Christ's crucifixion, are public holidays. The Monday following Easter Sunday is also a public holiday, making the weekend officially five days long! The day we arrived in Oslo was the last working day of the week and many shops were set to close early, and remain closed until next Tuesday. We needed to get out and grab some groceries.

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    About this Archive

    This page is a archive of recent entries in the Holidays category.

    Winter Stuff is the previous category.

    The Oslo Weekender is the next category.

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