Category Archives: Everything counts

It’s a question of… New Year’s Eve traditions

Up until I was about 17, I always spent New Year’s Eve with my parents. After that, it started getting complicated. I remember the first New Year’s party I went to “on my own” as a big deception, ending with me cleaning up while my drunken friends were either being sick or doing things they’d later regret.

For years on row in fact, the celebrations were, well, not much fun. It would start with weeks of discussing where to spend New Year’s Eve and with whom. Once this question had been solved, there would be the endless “what shall I wear” one… followed by a party that never lived up to expectations.

There are however a few New Year’s Eves I remember fondly. One was with friends I have known since school at what might have been the first real New Year’s dinner we put together. We had finally reached the age where eating real food sitting down was no longer “uncool”.

It must be mentioned that not many of these friends originated from the same country. So as we were approaching midnight, everyone started preparing different things to welcome the New Year.  Where I come from (Denmark) we either jump over string or off a sofa when the clock strikes twelve (to symbolise jumping into the New Year). Pretty simple compared to my Peruvian friend who started running round the block with a suitcase (to assure that she would be travelling) while my Spanish friend was frantically popping grapes into his mouth 12 seconds before midnight (a grape and a wish each time the clock chimed). Another friend (Italian) was strangely throwing things out of the window (to get rid of the old year), I think my Salvadorian friend was the one eating lentils (for luck) and I later found out (I won’t tell you how…) that another of my Latin American friends was wearing yellow underwear (to attract money). (I’ve forgotten what my Swedish friend was doing under the table, but it might not be related to New Year’s Eve traditions…).

In other words, thanks to all these different traditions, we had a wonderful night – and all jumped into the New Year with grapes and lentils in our mouths and a saucepan filled with coins (I can’t recall why and whose tradition that was).

This year, I’m spending New Year’s Eve with my parents. It’s become a “new” tradition since my son was born and it’s a wonderful way to start the year (and not only because of the good food). The program will be the same as every year: we’ll listen to the Queen’s speech, we’ll watch Dinner for one (“same procedure as last year”), my father and my son will shoot off fireworks, and at midnight we’ll all hold hands and jump over a string into the New Year.

Wherever you are and whatever traditions you have,

I wish you and your love ones a very Happy 2010.


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It’s a question of… the blue moon on New Year’s Eve

In my family there are certain things you do before sitting down around the New Year’s Eve dinner table wearing silly hats. I don’t know if it’s something my mother once invented to make me tidy my room, but belief has it that the way you leave the old year sets the global direction of the new one. In other words, you’re supposed to have done things like clean your home, pay your bills and shave your legs before downing the champagne and lighting up the fireworks.

As I’ve never been a particular good cleaner or bill payer (not to mention the hair growth on my legs – I’d probably lose a few kilos if I shaved them), I was glad to find out that moon energy can also help me get a good start this year. It so happens that on New Years Eve 2009 there will be a full moon, a blue moon and a partial lunar eclipse.

Whereas a full moon normally occurs once a month, a blue moon – the name given when a full moon appears for the second time in the same month – is a rare event, especially on New Year’s Eve. There hasn’t been one since 1971 (and the next blue moon on New Year’s Eve won’t occur till 2028).

Why is this so important? Well, it’s believed that the (alleged) powers of the full moon are magnified threefold when it’s a blue moon. The blue moon is also considered to be the “purpose moon” – an ideal time for setting new goals that stand a real chance of being attained. Add this to the lunar eclipse – which symbolise endings and letting go – and you have a perfect occasion for creating a new and special start of 2010.

There are different ways to do this but for me a little “moon magic(k)” seems the appropriate way to go. As I don’t have a particular need or possibility of going skyclad (i.e. doing a ritual in the nude) and will probably have a hard time finding even five minutes of silent alone time for moon meditation on New Year’s Eve, I’m opting for the pen and paper wish method. This is done by writing down what you want to leave behind or let go of – or writing what you want to bring into your life. And then burn it. For extra “wish power”, it apparently helps to write it on a bay leaf (but you should know it’s harder – and smellier – to burn!).

Even if you’re not inclined to blue moon beliefs, penning down your vision of 2010 still isn’t a bad idea. According to psychologists, listing your goals and dreams on paper makes them 10 times more likely to happen. So start scribbling – all whilst remembering that blue moons, bay leaves and lists won’t do everything. To make 2010 to what you want it to be, your own energy and willpower will be needed too.


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It’s a question of… believing in something

This morning I watched a woman on TV help people find their “inner elf” (while giving them a massage…). Despite my love of all things mythical and my fondness of elves, I didn’t quite buy her theory about us all having one by our side. I mean, wouldn’t the elf’s presence interfere with that of the guardian angel also supposed to be hanging around?

Knowing what to believe in is something that’s getting harder as I grow older. Take Christmas for example. When I was a little girl, it was pretty simple: there was the story about baby Jesus and the one about Father Christmas. Then you get a little older and understand the real meaning of virgin (as in Mary) and things get a little confused. From that moment on, everything goes downhill. You read that Jesus was in fact not even born in December and that the real “Father Christmas” was a Turkish saint and didn’t wear the red suit trimmed with fur and a belt till he appeared in some Coca-Cola advertisement.

I willingly admit that Christmas for me today is not a question of the Christ’s birth. (If you think about it, a Christmas tree, Christmas food and heaps of presents have nothing to do with it either). I do however celebrate this time of the year with gusto, sing carols about the “little lord  Jesus” and sometimes, even go to church on Christmas Eve.  Why? Because it’s tradition, because it’s cosy and because it  brings together the family. And I believe in that. I love the rituals surrounding Christmas; I like the smell and the taste of it. And I don’t mind telling my son about Jesus or Father Christmas, because they’re great stories and well, without them, we wouldn’t be able to celebrate Christmas the way we do. It also makes the “season of giving” spirit easier to explain.

Of course, I also try to give him a little “outside” knowledge and point out that – as he’s already learning in school – many Christian celebrations are closely bound to old beliefs. He knows how Christmas is related to the winter solstice and Viking Yule, and of course, having friends with other beliefs, he’s aware that our Christmas is just one of the possibilities.

Many erudite men and women have established that it’s important for humans to believe in something. And while the best thing is probably to believe in oneself, there’s no harm in getting a little help from somewhere or someone else. Be it a God or a Santa, an angel or an elf – or a whole bunch of them. As long as the helpers stay helpers and don’t become judges or controllers…

I for one will be setting out a bowl of porridge tomorrow for the Christmas elf. Just in case. So he’ll be nice to me the rest of the year…


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It’s a question of… Sankta Lucia and candles

Last years not-so-fantastic Lucia buns

Today, the 13th December, I’ll be making yellow buns, twisting them into strange forms and sticking raisins in them. It’s part of a Scandinavian tradition that also involves young girls dressed in white, walking around with candles and singing.

These joyous celebrations are made in honour of Lucia, patron saint of the city of Syracuse in Italy – which in itself can seem a little strange as the nominal religion in Scandinavia is protestant, and protestants don’t “believe” in catholic saints.

It’s said that Lucia was condemned to be burnt for not wanting to marry a pagan. But she resisted the fire. Another story says she secretly took food to the poor at night and carried a crown of candles on her head so she could see where she was going. A third story has her taking out her eyes to convert a Prince to Christianity. All stories somehow make it possible to connect her with light – and that’s important. Because the 13th December is not only the day Lucia died (a sword finally got her), it was also known as the shortest day of the year (before the Gregorian calendar was adopted), the winter solstice, which of course has pagan roots. In other words, saint or no saint, Lucia is the bearer of light and Lucia Day a celebration of the days getting longer again.

Sofia Hogmark, Lucia of Sweden 2009

Lucia Day is celebrated in all of the Nordic countries, but is probably taken most seriously in Sweden. Every year there’s a national competition to chose the Lucia of the year (think Miss Sweden without the bathing suits) and most towns have their own local Lucia competition.

When I was a small girl in Denmark, our school (like most others) organized a Lucia procession each year. We all wanted to be the Lucia bride – that’s the girl who leads and who gets to carry a crown of candles on her head (the others just follow holding a single candle). But, at the time, the “politically correct” had not yet been installed and only blond longhaired girls had a chance of getting elected – which excluded me.

A danish version, as I remember it…

The shorthaired and/or dark haired girls got their vengeance later, when the Lucia bride cried as teachers combed candle wax out of her hair or, in some cases, because her hair was burnt… (I’m told that nowadays, battery driven candles are used instead of real ones).

However odd the Sankta Lucia celebration may seem, I love it. So, as my neighbours light their third Hanukkah candle today, we’ll be lighting our third advent candle (another protestant ritual – also done on a crown…) and a whole lot other candles for Lucia, whatever her real story might be. Maybe it all comes down to what the Chinese say: “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”…

A more “professional” swedish version of the Lucia song…


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It’s a question of… friends on Facebook and Twitter who aren’t

From fairy friends on Facebook…

After several years of “being on Facebook”, I’m still drawn to it the same way I am to chocolate. I know too much of it is bad for me, but without my daily dose I get twitchy. I’ve never really been able to explain “why” convincingly to those who aren’t or “never will be” on Facebook. (Probably because it sounds strangely deranged to say: Facebook brings me moments of happiness every day). The thing is, it’s nice to share thoughts and moments of life with close friends, long lost friends, friends I barely remember and even… friends who technically aren’t.

I don’t have a lot of these “fake”  friends. I normally don’t send friend  requests or accept them from people  to whom I’ve never spoken or that  I’ve never seen in real life. That is,  until I got a garden in Fairyland.

Fairyland is one of the many games on Facebook and the only one I participate in. Put succinctly: you plant (fake) seeds, others come and (fake) water them, and some leave (real) messages (if only the same could apply to my real plants at home, they would last much longer).

I’ve made quiet a few fairy friends over the last one and a half year  (that would be the ones who come to water my garden regularly – and vice versa). Two of them, Megan and Maureen, have gone from being fairy friends to “just” friends on Facebook. I felt a “connection” with them early on (maybe because of their frequent allusions to alcohol) and really enjoy “knowing them” more closely because they’re interesting and fun-loving people.

My garden in Fairyland, where I've met many magical people

And then there’s Gill. She’s not on my Facebook friend list (yet), but she reads my blog. I know this, because she often leaves me messages in my garden with allusions to it. It really makes my day – and goes to show that fairy friends can be just as good friends as “real” ones.

… to follower friends on Twitter

Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t offer you friends, but followers – while making you a followee at the same time. It’s not a give and take situation: the people you follow and whose lives you read about don’t necessary follow you. For example, I follow Stephen Fry (like over one million other people), I sometimes even comment on his tweets – but he doesn’t follow me, doesn’t read anything I write and never will. Stephen Fry is not my friend, nor is a certain John Chow (even though he sends me e-mails) or Guy Kawasaki. But I don’t bear a grudge. They’re still nice people.

There are however a few people on Twitter  that I now consider as friends  (well at  least in Twitterworld). We’ve  had a few  DM’s (DM = direct message – like a “private” tweet), I try not to miss too many of their tweets and I truly care about what’s going on in their lives.

My first twitter friend was Barry. I came upon him one night because I was watching Golden Girls and so was he. I have since followed him from his job at a UK call centre back to his natal Scotland where he’s started studying (though I’m not sure what…) and also works in a pub. The way he’s turned his life around and his tenacity are a real inspiration to me, and even though we don’t share the same love of Starbucks and men’s underwear, he’s the follower I’d be the most sad to lose.

I will probably never get to meet my Facebook or Twitter friends-who-aren’t-really-friends in real life. But I cherish their presence online (and let’s be honest: I spend a LOT of time online). Not because I don’t have enough “real” friends, but because these new friends know me in another way and we have things in common I don’t share with others.

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to understand that.


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It’s a question of… school reunions

Every now and then, I listen to the “Wear Sunscreen” CD my mother gave me a decade ago. It helps me put things in perspective. One of the phrases that always sticks with me is: “the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young”.

This makes perfect sense. I get a real kick out of talking with people who knew me “back then” when I was bolder and more adventurous, when I wore black nail varnish and dog collars and spent much energy on falling in love and writing poems about it.

And I’ve been very lucky in that sense. A lot of my close friends today are the same I went to school with. We’ve accomplished to stay in each other’s lives despite the fact that we’ve followed different paths, often in different countries. I’m deeply grateful for that.

But through the years, I had also lost contact with quiet a few others who had contributed in making me the person I am today. Enter Facebook. Thanks to which I’ll soon be going to my forth school reunion (I changed schools a couple of times). By now though, I am well prepared and know what to expect. I won’t even be contemplating going on a diet, buying new wrinkle cream or sweating over “what will they think of me?”. Because I know now that it won’t change a thing (and it’s too late anyway).

My very first school reunion made possible thanks to Facebook was with my old primary class. Most of us had not seen (or heard of) each other in over 25 years.

Actually getting an answer to the “I wonder what’s become of…” and seeing everyone again was an intense and strange experience. Of course people change physically over time and course, not all turn out the way you thought they would. But all in all, “the way we were”, in the group, with each other, doesn’t change that much. Old patterns and old roles stay and that’s unsettling. As is discovering how your former classmates remember you (rarely the way you’d want to be remembered!)

Memories are without a doubt the most surprising thing with these reunions. Friends you spent hours and hours with, in school and outside, remember things you don’t recall – and the other way round. It’s like you sometimes each lived in parallel worlds.

And then of course, there’s seeing the boys you were once so smitten with that you wanted to die, and actually being able to tell them. Except that they are now men, often married and don’t always look like your idea of super hunk anymore (though I must admit I had much better taste then than today!).

And when the evening is over and you’re all high on emotion and visions of your youth, you make the promises of “staying in touch this time”. You might not always follow up the way you think you’re going to, but it doesn’t really matter. You know now where they are, and thus, where some of you is. And that’s nice.


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