But the pandemic taught us to make do. Particularly early on, we baked, knitted, sewed, renovated, painted, gardened, and canned our way through the boredom of lockdowns and the freedom that came from our simplified lives. Many of us languished our way through restrictions. But we also found time learn to knit or bake complicated desserts we'd never attempted before, or grow our first vegetables. It gave us autonomy--something that's crucial to a good life.
Last year, I got the best Christmas present ever: four large frozen containers of carrot lentil soup and a ziploc bag full of homemade biscuits that could be baked just a few at a time. Veronica asked herself "What can I do to give Mom something she really values: time?" The answer was quick lunches or dinners in the freezer. And, frankly, it was the thought that counted--or was at least as delicious as the soup and biscuits.
Last Friday, Veronica and I were spending pre-Christmas time together in a more normal way: shopping at Crocus & Ivy and then going across the way to French Press for tea and the wonderful Greek Christmas cookies they bake. In spite of their beautiful clothing and housewares, we struck out at Crocus & Ivy, partly because neither of us needs anything. But then we sat down next to the fireplace at French Press and had an important conversation: was Veronica going to go to Winnipeg for Christmas? Well, not a conversation, exactly: I mostly listened. She was leaning towards not going. She's concerned about omicron, and the problem she's had with her back for the last three years means most chairs aren't comfortable. Getting sick or being in pain didn't sound very Christmas-y to her. She doesn't talk to her dad a lot, she confessed. So I suggested that if she decided not to go, she could be really deliberate about calling him. She nodded. We left it there.
But what was also important was how we were spending our time just then: talking about what matters. And really listening. This was underlined by the sociable conversations going on all around us. I suggested that Christmas was not going to be the explosion under the tree that it's often been in the past. Partly, that's because none of us needs much: I've been spending the last few Christmases ensuring that Veronica, who is an excellent vegetarian cook, had all the cooking equipment she needed to make that easier. Last Christmas I got her a mandolin and Bill found a tiny food processor for making pesto or chopping nuts. There's not a lot more her kitchen needs.
The shorter and shorter days that lead up to the winter solstice are difficult for many people. For others, the holidays are replete with loneliness or family squabbles. What if we turned those days leading up to the solstice into Christmas: taking time to take care of the people we love, to engineer surprises and delights like a batch of early Christmas cookies or tea at Le Macaron? What if we listened? When I proposed this Veronica, she thought it was a good idea.
In 2016, "hygge" was the Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year. It's a rather minimalist Danish concept, so I read quite a bit about hygge for my minimalism project. In some ways, it's a hard word to define. Meik Wiking, an influential happiness researcher, boils it down to coziness. But in my reading, I found only two absolute requirements for the Danish art. One is something warm to drink. The second is the focused attention you give to yourself or your companion while you drink it. Be reflective. Be here now. (And please leave your cell phone in another room. Just having it in the room, even if it's turned off, compromises your concentration.) Candles are helpful, partly because they mimic the kind of light we're hoping the sun will return to give us and partly because they help create intimacy. So you could make the days leading up to Christmas, leading us past the solstice, hyygeligt. Take joy in the simple things you can make, like a wild pair of mittens or an hour of intimacy.