If you had told me a year ago that I’d find myself sitting in a cozy cafe in Göteborg, reflecting on the wonderful Christmas experience I’ve just had, I would have definitely called you crazy. Me, celebrate Christmas? Never!
My religion forbade it, after all. And even though at the time I had some doubts about my religion, I strongly believed the fault was all mine. Exactly a year ago I looked around the streets of Bangkok, beautifully lit and decorated with the most dazzling Christmas decorations I had ever seen at the time. I stared at everything and thought how odd it was that a country that was predominantly Buddhist was embracing Christmas with open arms. I even felt a twinge of guilt for feasting my eyes on the beauty of the decorations and for unintentionally singing along to those annoying Christmas tunes.
Fast forward to today. The proverbial scales have fallen from my eyes. Instead of seeing a tower of refuge in my former religion, I now see a prison tower that enslaves the minds of its followers, restricts their enjoyment of life and imposes yokes that crush the soul. Moreover, that dangerous tower also keeps as hostages the loved ones of those who manage to escape from it.
I am thankful to have escaped, even though the process of recovery has been far from easy. During this period of recovery it has been a blessing to have experiences that lift the soul and warm the heart. It makes the struggle bearable, like a bright star on a dark night or a warm fire on a cold night.
This Christmas season has been just that for me. As it gets so cold and dark here in Sweden during the winter, it’s such a delight to see the streets all lit up with beautiful Christmas decorations. It’s also lovely to see candles flickering on the window sill of every house, creating a beautiful ambiance that always reminds me of how the light is always triumphant over darkness.
I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting people’s homes during this season and I love Swedish Christmas traditions. The homes I have visited have been warm, cozy and inviting. For the first time in my life, I have enjoyed looking at each and every Christmas tree without feeling guilty at all, but instead, with a renewed appreciation for how the tree brings the family together as they decorate it together and continue their family traditions. Without fail at every house I have visited, there’s been some hot glögg with raisins and almonds or some refreshing julmust to sip on, as well as some peppakakor and some juleskum candy to snack on .
I had the privilege celebrating Christmas with my kind landlord together with his wonderful family. We celebrated on the 24th of December as it is customary for Swedes to do. We had a delicious three course meal which included some Swedish specialties such as sill , juleskinka and rödbetssallad. Of course, other Swedish staples such as potatoes and salmon also made an appearance. True to his American nature, my landlord brought a delicious roast turkey as well as a scrumptious apple cheese cake. To add some South African flavour to the mix , I contributed some vetkoeks with mince. We enjoyed the meal and I was treated to some sporadic singing in between. I ate so much that I needed to sit down on a reclining chair with my legs up for an entire hour afterwards, because my stomach was too heavy for me.
As the presents were opened and I put on a Christmas hat, I was reminded of how two years ago, all teachers at my previous school were asked to put on Santa hats and hand out candy to the students. With my heart beating heavy in my chest, I asked to be excused from that and explained to my boss that I did not believe in Christmas. How different things have been this year. One day at school, I spent all day making Christmas trees and decorations out of paper, while shamelessly listening to Christmas songs repeatedly. The students joined me and we had loads of fun.
It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I knocked on peoples doors and encouraged them to research the pagan roots of Christmas. That was one of the arguments that my former religion brought forward against Christmas celebrations. Now that the veil has been removed from my eyes and I can think critically, I think that reasoning is quite rich coming from an organisation that hides some of it’s unflattering roots from it’s followers and forbids them from doing objective research on their own beliefs.
I am very well aware of the pagan roots of Christmas, as many other people are. However, I choose to see it as a special time for families and friends to get together and celebrate life. I have seen how this joyous occasion brings people closer together. And especially in a country like Sweden, its wonderful to have something to look forward to during the cold and dark winter months.