Candles

I did not go to church today. Instead, I keep slowly—frustratingly slowly—finishing the editing part of the translation project. And I have been taking breaks to start putting up some of the Christmas decorations. It has struck me today that an enormous part of the decorations for Christmas in Sweden is about putting out candles. When I was growing up, my mom had a small, antique trunk where she stored candles—especially red ones, and small Swedish ones called Prima Julgränsljus. My brothers and I risked death if we dared to open her candle trunk and even as an adult, I stayed out of it.

Last year, I went to Panama to help my dad prepare to move into a much smaller house than the one he had lived in with my mom. During a long week of sorting and finding new homes for stuff, my dad and I shook our heads at my mom’s habit of stocking up–seriously stocking up–on things like candles. But when I went through her candle trunk, all I found were a few half-used Julgränsljus—another small and pointed reminder that my mom is dead; she would never have let herself run out of such an important part of Christmas.

This morning, I went to my candle drawer almost as soon as I got started with the decorating. It was only this morning that I realized how I had followed right behind my mama in having my own stash. In the front of the drawer were two boxes of the Julgränsljus. When I was in Sweden a couple of years ago, I bought several boxes and just opening and smelling them evokes a thousand thousand memories.

Today is Lucia Afton—the traditional Swedish celebration of Sweden’s patron saint and the promise that after long, long nights of bitter cold and darkness, light will come again. It is lovely that decorating for Christmas means I will put out all kinds of candles all around the house. I was also reminded of my absolute favorite piece of Christmas music. With a healthy dose of nostalgia, of genuine grief and sorrow, of thankfulness and anticipation as I prepare for my father and my daughter to come for Christmas, I listened to Nu tändas tusen juleljus. A simpler version of church…

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