For the life of me, I can’t believe we are already back around to Jul. I could swear to you that it was just Midsommar. That my life this year has been all sorts of crazy and hectic would be an understatement. It’s going to be on it’s way out the door with even more commotion and stress than ever before. I’m looking forward to the challenges of the next couple of weeks but they are reminding me of what is so important at this time of year and the need to balance family and work. This, of course, is all back drop to get to the point I want to make about Jul and family, so let’s just get on with it.
We all know that Jul is a time for family. Even if we are new to Heathenry, we have spent most of our lives being told that this time of year is for family. Every Christmas special says it. Every ad meant to encourage us to spend lots of money says it. Heck, we practically drive ourselves mad talking about it (and the dreaded trip to see family that actually comes with that). This almost always gets inexperienced Heathens asking what to do about their families as they are likely still in the closet. Truthfully, even those of us who are old hat at this are regularly at a loss with what to do when it comes to family.
I have absolutely no idea what to do if you come from a deeply Christian family that insists on everybody going to church for Midnight services. You’re going to have to gauge your discomfort against the backlash of just not going. I know it doesn’t help, but if you’ve got a shift-work job, and you feel like working the worst commercial shopping day of the year, you wouldn’t be the first person to use that as an out. I have a friend who’s done that for the last 8 years. Not exactly a good solution but it beats having to listen to people singing about the White Christ and wanting to stab your eyes out. It’s a tough situation and I haven’t got a clue what’s right on this one.
That issue aside, I think the rest of the holiday season is a bit more manageable for most of us. Whether you put up a tree or a wreath, we all know where these symbols come from. Hanging lights is a pain but it sure does look good once it’s done. I always consider it an homage to Sunna. I don’t put up a lot of lights but I do look forward to the first time they are turned on. I’m planning to add just a little more this year, mostly window decoration. Depending on your persuasion, there are plenty of online retailers of Scandinavian and German holiday decorations that can really add to the whole look and feel.
Outside of these larger traditions, each family has their own set of traditions. These are the ones I find the most meaning in. I am looking forward to my mother in law’s breakfast casserole. She only makes it one day a year and it is so tasty. In thanks for this, I’ve managed to convince them that glögg is good (it’s the best but they are wine purists and so that took some convincing, to say the least) and now I get tasked with making that every year. I’m not at all heart broken over this, as I’m sure you can imagine.
There are a few other things I do that I’m slowly getting my wife to come along with. On the morning after the solstice I always make a batch of lussekatt and porridge for breakfast. Of course there’s also freshly brewed coffee for me. I make an offering of this to Sunna as a “rise and shine” breakfast. This year I might be lucky enough to include some deer sausage with it. I also make an offering to the tomten of the house for all their help throughout the year. I’m having to cancel my usual Jul Party because of low attendance but I’m still expecting some friends to come over. All this really means is that I’m not spending $200 to cater the thing and the invite list gets very small.
So, why all this talk about family and holiday customs but not a whole lot on religion? Honestly, it’s because Jul is such an important time to be with friends and, most importantly, family that I want to focus on the what I consider the best part of the season. I want to focus on those things that bring us together. I’ve written in the past about Jul from a religious perspective but this year has been a real reminder to me about what is most important in life. Being at home, with your family, is where you should be safest. It is where you should be able to relax and let down your guard for a while. Family should be the people who will see you at your worst and your weakest and build you back up again. I’m not a complete fool and I realize that not all of us are blessed with a good home life, so a lot of this may sound trite and meaningless. I believe quite the contrary. For those who suffer strife at home, or have left home altogether because of it, you know better than most why family is so important. If you are reading this and you don’t have family to be with, I hope you have good friends to spend the time with. Many people today have to make families of choice rather than families of biology. If you’re in this situation, I hope that you find yourself this Jul with family of different bloodlines but no less meaningful. For all of us, whether we are with families of biology or choice, take a moment when you’re all gathered together to just appreciate the situation. This is what is best in life.
I would also like to add one last note that affects a lot of people, military service. If you are part of a military family, please know that there are those of us who do know the difficulty of this time of year. My heart goes out to all the men and women of the armed services, and their families, that are unable to be together because of deployment. I hope that each and every one of you is able to get some time to speak to your loved ones. I know it isn’t easy but the sacrifices you are making are not unnoticed.
If you know people who are deployed, or dealing with the stress of deployed family, please take some time to make sure they are taken care of. I think there’s still some time yet to get a care package in the mail and get it to at least most of them. I believe the USO has some generic care packages that can be sent to service personnel as well. No soldier, sailor, airman, or marine is going to have their feelings hurt from a random person sending them a gift that says they aren’t forgotten. Take a moment to make sure their civilian families are looked out for as well. I try not to get up on a soapbox too often but this is important. If you can, please do something nice for these folks, regardless of creed. They have earned this small kindness.