Merry Christmas! …or ‘God Jul’, given we’re in a very cold Sweden. My wish for a white Christmas certainly came true, and we find ourselves staying in what looks like a Disney Christmas postcard with a lovely layer of glittering white snow covering the ground. Not lots of it, probably just four or five inches deep, but enough to completely cover the ground and create this beautiful winter scene.
I say Merry Christmas (or God Jul) today, because Christmas Eve is when us Swedes celebrate and today has indeed been Christmas the Swedish way. Of course there are general themes and traditions that people follow, but these are often aligned with each family’s own little traditions and in my family it goes as follows and this year has been no exception:
9am – Christmas breakfast at Dad’s.
There’s a type of rice porridge that’s popular in Sweden, cooked with milk and very creamy, enjoyed with some milk poured on it and a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon. So we all gather at Dad’s and have this, along with some bread and Christmas ham (we don’t do turkey in Sweden). My youngest brother’s kids have had a stomach bug, so they only turned up very briefly at the end to say hello without coming near anyone for fear of passing the bug on, but the rest of us were there – Dad, Stepmum, me, B, Monkey, and my brother and M and their three sons.
We sat around and had the porridge, then on to presents. We got the usual envelopes from Dad – cash for us kids and bank statements for each grandkid showing how their investments are growing. I suppose they don’t get too excited, but they’ll be very happy when they turn 18 and can put it towards university or get a car.
1pm – Christmas lunch at Mum’s.
My mother is a wiz in the kitchen and when we rocked up at 12:30, the Christmas spread was almost all laid out on the huge ‘kitchen island’ in the middle of the kitchen. The house used to be a school, and what is now a modern and (incredibly large) kitchen used to be the classrom. We ate until we were ready to burst, then relocated at 3pm to the TV where we watched Jiminy Cricket and a host of friends wish us a Merry Christmas Disney style. Yes, weird, but this is what we do. After that, another round of presents and just hanging out with this lovely bunch of people I am fortunate enough to get to call my family.
5pm – Christmas drinks and Santa at my brother D’s.
This is a new addition, and a glorious one. D’s fiance M isn’t just the love of my brother’s life and the mother of three of my beloved nephews, but also someone I consider one of my closest friends, so it was lovely to hang out with them for a while in the evening. M’s older sister was also there with her new baby, two sons and her fiance, plus M’s parents and a few others. Because all the kids were there, they’d arranged for Santa to stop by for the last round of handing out presents – another Swedish Christmas thing: Santa turns up on Christmas Eve, as opposed to just throwing your gifts down the chimney (guess there are fewer Swedes so he has enough time to provide a more personal service). Normally you arrange something with a neighbour, and whoever is Santa wears a face mask with a beard etc. Scary as hell, I know.
They had, in all their infinite wisdom, decided to have Dad do it. I asked M if this was really a good idea, but she just laughed and said he’s done it before and was under instructions to behave. Problem is, my Dad has no filter and his idea of good behaviour may not be the same as the next person’s. What might be “honesty” to him, can sometimes (or even often) be an “insult” to other people. Everyone loves him because he is such a character, but political correctness is something he just does not do and not everyone can handle him.
In he comes, and although D and M’s youngest (three years old) is a little scared, Dad is being pretty good at playing Santa – even low key, in fact, which is not like him at all (but I find out later he’s a little under the weather). Some of the kids are fetching presents from under the tree for him to hand out.
“Merry Christmas Milo,” Dad/Santa reads out from a label, “is that one of the dogs?”
My cheeks already burn with shame when someone points out that this is the name of M’s sister’s new baby boy. Thankfully everyone knows how to handle Dad, so at this point he’s not caused tears or a fresh family feud.
He lifts his mask and goes “oh yes, that’s right, congratulations!” he booms cheerfully in M’s sister’s direction, which really only just makes it more embarrassing.
“Merry Christmas Sebastian,” he then reads off the next parcel’s label, then looks around the room to find the person to hand this present to and rants “who the hell is Sebastian?”
I put my face in my hands and someone else points to M’s sister’s oldest son.
Well. There may be too many people to keep track off (and dogs too, to be fair – and we do often have gifts addressed to our pets and indeed this evening there are three of them around belonging to various people in attendance, in my Dad’s defence), but we all love each other and as nuts as he is, and as much as he sometimes needs a filter, my father is my hero and there’s no one I admire more, except for maybe B.
….B, who good naturedly took part in all of this madness, throwing himself into anything from this rice porridge to downing snaps, making me love him all the more in the process, which shouldn’t be fucking possible.