Dagens indlæg

 

Juletrauma 14 – 2012

Af: Mary Liebowitz – web twitter

mary

 

 

 

I moved to Denmark in 2009, with my then 4-year old daughter. My husband has two sons, who
were 4 and 7 at the time.

I come from New York, where everyone I grew up with had different backgrounds. My mother
is Catholic and my father is Jewish, and that was completely normal for our neighborhood. We
celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas when I was growing up, and my parents pedagogically
included me in the existentialist process of discovering and developing our identity as a family,
especially when it came to religion and traditions.

December is a difficult time for me here in Denmark. There is no escaping the all-encompassing
month of Jul. Christmas lights go up around town while I’m still planning Thanksgiving dinner
at our house. Shopkeepers that don’t even make eye contact with me during the eleven other
months start to merrily wish me a “God Jul!” on the way out the door, and Christmas proper is still
three and a half weeks away. It amazes me every year, how willing Danes are to give up a twelfth
of their lives for Christmas.

I find the practice of annual holiday gift-giving to be tainted with social pressure, anxiety, and
debt.

Ideally, I’d prefer that December was just an ordinary month, with time off at the end of the year to
spend with family and friends. I’d like to show appreciation for the people I care about by random
gift giving throughout the year, when I see something I think they’d like, or when I think they could
use an unexpected boost in their day. So many people talk about the importance of Christmas
as being “family” and “spending time together”, but I haven’t seen anyone actually practice that
without also eventually caving into the social demand of buying presents, myself included.

My Danish stepsons, lovely, sweet boys, come to live with us every other week. The newness of
being a stepmother hasn’t worn off yet, and being a third parent in a country where many of their
classmates live at two addresses continues to be an adjustment for me. There is something about
the concept of “instant kernefamilie – just add hygge” that rubs against the grains of my own
upbringing.

But there is also something about Denmark, where one is expected to go with the flow and
embrace things, because “this is what we’ve always done”. It’s never been easy for me to
separate Christmas from its non-secular foundation, but in Denmark, the Christian affiliation to
Christmas tends to be glossed over in favor of tradition, hygge, cookies, and flickering candlelight.
As a foreigner, I’m not supposed to rock the boat too much. As a stepmother, I’m not supposed to
rock the boat at all.

From what I understand, my stepsons’ mother grew up without financial abundance during
her childhood on Sjælland. Like the rest of us, she tries to “correct” the discomforts of her own
childhood by giving her children everything she felt she didn’t have. My stepsons, especially
the older 10-year old, are constantly looking at what their peers have and wishing they had the
same. Their mother, as a gesture of love, furnishes them with every material object she thinks
they should have, so that they never have to feel insecure. They never had thrift store belongings
until I realized the horror of how easily young boys go through pants knees. So in our house,
their clothes are primarily second-hand. However, as a result of their mother’s well-meaning
intentions, my stepsons are materialistic and crushingly insecure, thinking that their self worth is
only equal to the things that are purchased for them.

Their fragile selves could benefit greatly from time spent strengthening their appreciation for the
simple pleasures of just being together over the holidays, endless days lost in library books, and
taking long walks in the woods with their feet crunching in snow, away from electronic diversions,
but because of the tenuous, everyday monster that is fællesforældremyndighed, this will never
happen.

Christmas in our house is therefore delicate, slightly painful, and not as I wish it to be.

By the time it’s the boys’ week to come and spend their holidays with us, they are filled with
sugar, bright lights, and the anticipation of the Big Payoff. They count their presents and each
other’s presents, regardless of individual cost, as they desperately need to be The One with
the Most Gifts. My mind jumps a gap into their adulthood, when they look back at their own
Christmases, and feel like they were always lacking, in some intangible way that they are unable
to identify. As their stepmother, I just want them to be happy, but as a mother, I wish I could
tear the materialistic pressure of Christmas away for them and fill them up with strength and
the knowledge that they are just loved unconditionally. I wish I could celebrate time off and
togetherness as I instinctively feel as a parent, and not as my current environment dictates I
should.

Last year, my husband and I invented “Store Bunke Chokolade-dag”. The boys were used
to celebrating Advent, and my daughter was not. When I asked them what Advent was, they
questioningly answered, “We get presents?” So we all went to the library, took out some books,
and tried to figure out the meaning of Advent and Christmas, together. We now collect all of
the Advent chocolate that they’re handed throughout the month, I add some more M&M’s and
Summerbird candies, and then we divide the pile into three (with a small amount reserved for the
grownups), and they go crazy. This is usually followed by several hours of sledding, and general
running in circles.

Christmas would be perfect, I think, if there were no gifts and no expectations. We would be just
as happy if we could celebrate time off with our families and bake cookies with our kids, and
come in, red-faced and smiling, after playing in the snow, without any pressure.

Christmas is for me, instead, a time of wishes unfulfilled, a time of insecurity, and a time of
wishing things were different, and simpler.

8 comments

  1. Frances Jørgensen
    14/12/2012

    It’s sad that something that is so hyped up as a wonderful time of the year needs a site for sharing trauma stories, but I can certainly understand the points you make, Mary. Even though I don’t have the added frustrations of trying to accommodate step-kids, and my family does celebrate Christmas, I feel myself isolating more and more as the month progresses because I simply can’t deal with the frenzy that December has become. Julefrokost menus were already being advertised in August, and I can’t seem to click on even a Danish news sight without seeing headlines about how to flirt at one, or how to know if your partner has been unfaithful at his/hers. People on the streets seem in a panic to spend money, like the opportunity will soon be lost.

    I hope somehow you are able to find a way to include some of the things you are missing so much. I can tell you from my first hand experience that the best (and maybe the only, really) memories my now grown children have of Christmas were doing very simple, together things like washing the turkey and stringing cranberries.

  2. Susanne
    14/12/2012

    That is spot on and so, so sad! I’m danish, I’m a regular mom in a nuclear family, but I’ve been strugling with the same issues. In Denmark things are = with love. Or rather it has become that way. It has’nt always been so. I’m born in the sixties so my memory is getting longer and longer. There was a time, when the danes were’nt so matherialistic. That changed during til 90′ , the 00′ and the 10′. I also think, that the danes during that time have lost so many traditions, so we kling to the few we still have left. And we tend to overdo them – like eating both duck and pork on christmas eve. That’s new.

    On behalf of my countrymen: A big fat apology and thank you to all the foreigners that are living here and can give us a sincere and carring reality check (pardon my english 🙂 )

    • Mary
      14/12/2012

      Tak, Susanne, for din kommentar. Det er meget nemmere for mig at skrive om mine følelser på engelsk, især når det gælder mine børn.

      Så vidt angår materialisme er julen i USA blevet til noget jeg næsten ikke kan genkende mere – så det er ikke eksklusivt for Danmark overhovedet.

      Min problem er at leve her som stedmor eller stedfar, og fornemmelsen af, at mine hænder er bundet, når det kommer til traditioner og forventninger. Det ville være meget nemmere for mig hjemme i USA, at skalere fokus på materialisme ned så meget som jeg ville, men fordi jeg eksisterer i dette spindelvæv af en blandet familie, i et miljø, der dedikerer en hel måned til en højtid jeg ingen tilknytning har til, er det en meget overvældende tid for mig.

      Tak fordi du læste mit indlæg – jeg virkelig sætter pris på dine venlige ord.

  3. Anne steiner Jensen
    14/12/2012

    Tak for et fint indlæg

  4. Mary
    14/12/2012

    Tak, Susanne, for din kommentar. Det er meget nemmere for mig at skrive om mine følelser på engelsk, især når det gælder mine børn.

    Så vidt angår materialisme er julen i USA blevet til noget jeg næsten ikke kan genkende mere – så det er ikke eksklusivt for Danmark overhovedet.

    Min problem er at leve her som udenlansk stedmor og have fornemmelsen af, at mine hænder er bundet, når det kommer til traditioner og forventninger. Det ville være meget nemmere for mig hjemme i USA, at skalere fokus på materialisme ned så meget som jeg ville, men fordi jeg eksisterer i dette spindelvæv af en blandet familie, i et miljø, der dedikerer en hel måned til en højtid jeg ingen tilknytning har til, er det en meget overvældende tid for mig.

    Tak fordi du læste mit indlæg – jeg virkelig sætter pris på dine venlige ord.

  5. olli jokinen
    14/12/2012

    I loved it. As a kid I grew up with a poor single mother, so we weren’t able to celebrate christmas as a materialistic feast like most of my classmates. So to this day, I’ve always felt a bit off during the holidays. I mostly long for January where I can focus on not being a christmas-hating grinch, and instead enjoy my friends and family in a less choreographed, forced “hygge” kind of way.

  6. Shana
    14/12/2012

    As always, thoughtful and beautifully written. The Christmas-time eclipse of all else is not just a Danish phenomenon as you know. As a Jew in America it’s hard not to feel like Christmas is being shoved in my face and down my throat as soon as Halloween is over. I do appreciate this is a joyful time and important religious holiday for many, but for others it carries zero import. And let’s not even get into the Hanukkah-is-Christmas-for-Jews discussion. Ugh. The commercialism, materialism, and general holiday excess of December poisons the whole pot for me personally. My kids have grown up with a mom who is not a fan of Christmas and “hates” Hanukkah…and I do say this out loud every year. But my children know what I mean. I hate feeling pressured to buy “stuff” that nobody really needs because Americans buy “stuff” to express their Joyful Holiday Cheer. I hate Christmas and Hanukkah decorations in the public schools. I hate Santa hats. And I really hate the huge public menorah advertising the local Chabad.

    But here’s what I love… I love that my kids get me. They have tolerated and listened to my winter holiday rants year after year. They may not agree with me, but they get me. I love that my kids excitedly anticipate “Family Night” each year… the night of Hanukkah set aside for a family dinner of brisket and homemake latkes, and the girls exchange gifts with each other. I love that my girls, who want for nothing materially, open up something trivial like a new wall calendar for Hanukkah, and are genuinely delighted to see which one I chose for them. I really love baking Hanukkah cookies with my kids. This year we tried frosting them instead of sprinkling sugar. I also love our family tradition of ‘charity night’ — the kids give up one night of Hanukkah receiving and instead donate their “gelt” to a charity of their chosing. My youngest daughter who is 10-years old hugged me this year and said she loves that I started this tradition when she was little.

    As parents and step-parents we try to do what’s best for our kids. Every family is entitled to do as they see fit. My hope is that when my kids grow up they recall Hanukkah time fondly and have happy memories of lighting the candles, eating delicious treats, and just being together. Simple.

  7. Johanne
    15/12/2012

    It is difficult to get the jul one REALLY wants. Sometimes I wish that my husband and I where the only ones who had influence on our childrens jul – and our participation In the whole thing. the childrens friende, big expectations, heavy traditions and media all have huge impact on life and jul In our little familiy. everybody, (even myself) make a contribution to turn the Big wheel hjul/jul faster and faster. Since my granmother had Christmas with one present for each child, the wheel has been spinning faster and faster, and yes I often want to get off.I have a feeling that you can even be thrown off if you dont have enough ressources , money, mental overskud osv.

    I Like hygge.. i Like candlelight and baking. but I dont like the pressure telling me when and how much.
    We are not religious and not members of folkekirken, but Since 0. grade the kids has to participate In gudstjenester & salmesang every december In school. we have to “swallow some camels.”

    Surrounded by Bilka, Church and æbleskiver it sometimes gets hard to avoid what I want to avoid and focus on what I find valuable.

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