Thanksgiving is long over, Christmas Day is behind us, and even New Year’s Day has passed. We are still celebrating the beautiful season of Christmas in our parish churches, but for many the decorations in the home are being put away for the year. This takes us into January.
Now this is not a huge problem for me. My birthday is in January, so I have something to look forward to, but for most others, January is simply an entrance into three months of a long winter. Granted, the days are getting longer now, but not so much as to make a difference.
It is simply winter, and we have to deal with it. It is that simple.
Yet, the difference is, how to deal with it?
A few weeks ago I read an article about winter in Norway. Now, these are a people who have an intense winter, just a few hours of daylight and long cold nights. Yet, I learned seasonal depression in Norway is almost nonexistent, while it is quite prevalent in the United States.
For most of us, winter is something to endure, but in the dark months in Norway, it is a time of peacefulness and gentle joy. What is the difference?
The Norwegians have a word for it, koselig (koos-uh-lee), which is not possible to adequately translate into English, but I have read that a close equivalent would be a sense of coziness. Not simply a cozy environment, but also a cozy attitude.
People in the north of Norway spend the months of winter filling their homes with candles, fires, and they use soft lighting to establish a warm setting. This is essential, not only in the home, but in public as well. Stores, bars and restaurants all have candles lit and warm lighting; they even have outdoor seating during the winter, with a warm fire and thick blankets for patrons to enjoy the evening.
The people set aside time to visit friends and family, wrapping in warm blankets and enjoying warm drinks around warm fires. The foods are hearty and the conversation lively.
One of the essential elements of koselig is spending some time outdoors each day. Driving is difficult and often impossible during the winter, so people bundle up and walk from place to place. They seek out the beauty around them, which is a bit easier when you have the Northern Lights most evenings. In an article I read, one resident of a small northern Norwegian town was asked why the time outdoors mattered, and he said, “You remember how good it’s going to feel to be back inside by the fire again.”
Finally, when they speak about the winter, they speak positively about it, almost universally. They look forward to the clothes they get to wear, the things they will do, the beauty they will see and the gift of koselig. One person interviewed mentioned their time in the United States and noticed how we tend to complain about the weather all the time, and how foreign that seemed to them.
I have tried to live in these concepts the last few weeks, trying to bring about some sense of koselig in the room I use in the evening, trying to enjoy the food and drink of winter, trying to spend some time outdoors each day, and just enjoying the warmth and coziness of the evening darkness. This has been pretty easy with the beauty of the Christmas lights and decorations, but I am looking forward to continuing it into the new year.
Perhaps, most difficult of all, I have tried to temper my speech so that I no longer complain about the weather. It has not been easy. Yet, when I have been successful, it makes a huge difference; I remember what I had forgotten from my youth, winter really can be beautiful.
I am grateful that I discovered koselig during the Advent and Christmas seasons, the seasons of incarnation, because the very concept expresses what we love to believe and long to embrace about Christmas. The beauty of the incarnation is the realization of God’s presence entering into creation. With this gift, all things are infused with the mystery of God’s beauty and peace. All things that touch our lives can lead us to this presence.
In the coming weeks, the gift we receive this and every Christmas season, can open us to the beauty that surrounds us, and even the struggles of winter can be an opportunity to embrace koselig.
Perhaps, learning the lesson of our neighbors in the north, we can embrace again the deepest meaning of Jesus’ Christmas name, Emmanuel, God with us. What a wonderful winter gift to help us live the beauty of Christmas, all through the year.