Tuesday, January 29, 2019

What next after Christmas?

Part of our Nativity scene at home on Christmas Eve...

  When the song of the angels is stilled, 
  When the star in the sky is gone, 
  When the kings and princes are home, 
  When the shepherds are back with their flock, 
  The work of Christmas begins:

  To Find the Lost, 
  To Heal the Broken, 
  To feed the Hungry,
  To Release the Prisoner, 
  To Rebuild the Nations, 
  To Bring Peace among others, 
  To Make Music in the heart.

    ---Howard Thurman

I always find myself a little reflective after Christmas. The tree and its ornaments, the stars in the windows, nativity sets, and old cherished stockings bring rivers of memories. I just don't want all the festivities to end. I want to continue to feel my loved ones close, hear the familiar music, and see the stillness of a winter night with all the sprinkled lights under the stars. But then I think, what do I do with all the extra light, music, and love from this season? I agree with Ebeneezer Scrooge who says in The Christmas Carol, "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach."

I believe every Christmas we can discover who we want to be for the rest of the year. We can bring some laughter and a smile to a child because we remember what it was like to be a child. We can invite someone who looks lonely to come in. We can talk to someone who looks scared or sad. All those Christmas lights, laughter, and love were meant to teach us something: to remember to be a little more like Him for the rest of the year.

All Elias wanted this year was a Santa suit. He wore it on the streets of Stockholm and Doha. Maybe we should bring it out in July to have me remember Scrooge's promise to live with all the past, present and future Christmases together.

     I like this poem that my friend, Erik Jacobsen wrote.

     Christmas Afternoon

        He is there. 

        Amid the cast-off wrappings 
        and trappings of Christmas-spent, 
        in the fatigue of gifting and getting, 
        for both the perennially disappointed
        and those who got all they wanted.
        He is there. 

         In the stories and the stockings, 
         but also in the cold, dark, lonely streets, 
         in the homes of the unbelievers
         and underachievers, 
         He is there. 

         This newborn babe
         with eyes to see and ears to hear
         soon will have words to speak:
         "My peace I give unto you...
         Let not your heart be troubled."

          In the fallen pine needles
          on the floor around the dried-out tree, 
          among the broken ornaments
          and too much chocolate, 
          in this loud or quiet place, 
          He takes my face
          in his tender newborn hands
          and softly shows me, 
          "Here I am."

              --Erik Jacobsen  2018

One thing I do to keep Christmas alive for me is to leave my stars up. Hopefully, it will remind me of the new stars that have arisen in me this season. (Heleman 14:5)  I don't want them to fade away...

Monday, January 14, 2019

Sweden (Part 2): Three Swedish words for a more beautiful life (especially in the winter)...

Happiness, knowledge, not in another place, but this place, not for another hour, but this hour.              --Walt Whitman

It is impossible to win the great prizes of life without running risks, and the greatest of all prizes are those connected with the home.                                        --Teddy Roosevelt

Having fun on a winter walk with the tomte (Swedish elves). We found a few in a burrowed tree on a long winter walk--embracing mysig
There are distinct reasons for the same Scandinavian countries to keep popping up as having the happiest people. Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, and Norway consistently make the top ten list, sometimes all five in the top slots. A lifestyle of maximizing life is consciously observed: embracing the winter light outside, but being content with the coziness of the four walls we live in, our home. It also laps over into other seasons: summer is a time to start a hike at 8 pm, and get home at 3am--enjoying the summer midnight sun. (One of my favorite summer memories in Iceland). People try to enjoy interludes of time to the fullest--even a few moments reading by a candle add contentment to the day. Whatever season, a pleasant resolve to connect with others, yourself, and nature reigns.

My cousin and I meeting with some Icelandic friends. As we talked, I learned that these two men are from my great-grandfather's little town of Flatey. That's what happens when people just sit around and talk with strangers. You find out those things when you take the time to sit and talk to people--having mysig time.

It seems a bold statement, but I believe in our lives, especially with a new year upon us, we can be happier by just a few adjustments and tweaks.  Most of us don't really need an entire overhaul or major shift--just a new habit or two can transform our joy levels. In a place where the weather can be harsh and dark, Scandinavians understand some core principles to make life more fulfilling, more joyful, especially in the winter.

Lakes and water abound in and around Stockholm. In every moment, whether light or dark in December, I was spellbound by the assessability to so much beauty. I kept asking myself, "How can the world be so beautiful? So good for the soul to embark on finding beauty--even when it was cold.
Since I was just in Sweden, I was taught these words by my Icelandic cousin who lives there. Every day we strived to embrace these words or lifestyle--no matter the weather or lack of sun. Each day was filled with a deep sense of new wonder of nature, bonding with conversations and strengthening relationships. During the day, there seems to be more permission to detach yourself from the world (and the phone)--to enjoy the people and the beautiful world around you.

A painting by the Swedish artist Carl Larsson showing the Swedish tradition of showing children how to learn and love the  winter time....
  Three Swedish Words to make your life even more beautiful...

1) mysig--a noun meaning a conscious commitment to celebrate and enjoy the wintertime, to slow down, get away from the stressful, make time for friends and family, turn off the social media, relax and/or meet a friend for fika (explained below), eating and making delicious food together, adding an extra layer of clothing and going out to enjoy the white forests or glassy lakes, etc. The Swedes even use an app called App Forest that allows people to get off their phones and get credit to buy a tree with their earned coins from not using their phone all the time.

So many much light in the winter darkness....

Mysig can mean cozying up with a blanket or duvet, lighting a candle, drinking a hot drink in a mug and reading a book by yourself, watching the snow fall outside. But it can also mean gathering loved ones together to enjoy a movie or conversation while the fire crackles beside you. It means making your home full of mysig--like candles, delicious smells, playing games, donning your knitted socks, enjoying the warmth and coziness of home. The Swedes also have a word for Friday night times called Fredagymys that is a combination of Friday and mysig or coziness--like being with your friends and family on a couch watching a good movie and eating together--destressing from the work week.

Taking time to mesig--playing chess with a lit-up board

The Danish have a word called hygge, in Icelandic it means gluggaveour (window weather), and in Norway it is koselig. Yet, from my understanding, the Swedish word mysig goes a little further: to enhance the coziness of your home. As Anne Hart describes, "Mysig means a lack of fussiness, contentment and quiet confidence, functional architecture, pared-back design, modesty, and wholesomeness." 

Maximizing fun in the winter

This playground is right next to a lake and beachfront, with the elementary school across the street. Kids learn early how to have a mysig life.

Every day maximizing the light--no matter how cold...

For the new year, mysig could be to create good memories with others, get in touch with yourself, and enjoy nature. Here are a few ways I thought of: taking up a new seasonal activity, visiting friends and family, cooking seasonal food (like making more soups), making your abode more cozy with fluffy pillows, candles (Swedes never seem to worry about the fire hazard of candles), wearing comfortable and cozy clothes, hosting a game party or musical soiree (a musical concert at home with friends who are willing to play their instruments and/or sing), listening to music, making things from nature and bringing it in the house to enjoy. Here are some great ideas for creative fun projects like ice lanterns. They are enchanting and so easy/fun to make!

Having some mysig time with the siblings.... An ice lantern I made for an even more enchanting evening...
2) Lagam is the approach to life that is balanced and appropriate--meaning not too much and not too little (Just what Goldilocks used to say)--just right. The word lagam originated in Viking times when they would all sit around a table drinking out of a horn or pitcher of mead. The first person would sip some mead, and then the second until the container had been passed around. No one took too much so that the last person would not have any. It is living in moderation, not in excess--being mindful of taking care of the environment, your finances, not living a life with lots of clutter, being temperate in your habits. It is about finding happiness in the middle, not overindulging or not getting enough. Striving for the peaceful, appropriate, moderate place/space is what lagam is all about.

It extends to relationships, in the workplace, and in families. Decisions are made in a group, with a team-like approach, nothing too authoritarian. Being mindful of others' feelings and saying, "What do you think?" or "Just a suggestion or thought, but I was thinking..." That's lagam too.

My cousin told me about her triplet's experience in seventh grade--around age 13. We all remember the occasional bullying or teasing, maybe even a lot at that age. But she said in Swedish classrooms and homes, there is a lot of talk about lagam.  There is very little conflict or bullying at school; that's not the way people behave, even 13-year-olds. They know when the imbalance erupts and they stop it or they go tell someone who can bring the tide back to lagam (or balance) again. No one is supposed to disrupt the lagam.

3) And last, but certainly very important: remember to have your fika--at least a few times a week, if you cannot fit it in every day! Fika time is to carve out a few moments to have a hot drink with a friend or loved one. It is a sacrosanct time--doesn't have to be long--but just to again remove oneself from stress or cares to enjoy a mug of hot drink (I like my herbed tea and occasional hot chocolate), perhaps a little sweet dessert (Swedes love their pastries). In every office, there is a "fika room"--known as a safe way to socialize. There is no alcohol, just a hot drink and almost always a little sweet (but just lagom--not too much and not too little).

Choose your fika to make--savory or sweet

Welcome to a fika!

Walking about 10 km before a "little fika"
Having a fika together with family
Time to get come inside for a fika
Sweden--known for taking time for their fika

The unspoken rule is not to have conflict or talk about politics, but to be respectful, polite, friendly. It is a time to chit-chat, enjoy another's company. Fikas usually happen around 10 am, sometimes at 3 pm, and then occasionally at night. It is a time to recharge when the weather is cold and a non-threating way to ask someone for a little chat. It doesn't have to be deep, just fun and enlivening.

This is a hilarious youtube that went viral about the necessity of having a fika every day.

So now you know how to have mysig, lagom, and fika! Here is to a blessed, happy, and healthy year ahead!