A few weeks ago I was in HomeGoods spending money that I didn’t really need to on Christmas decorations that I absolutely needed when I stumbled upon these Swedish tomte dolls:
Upon seeing these little guys, I got a big ol’ slap from Christmas past in the middle of a discount retail store and I could not hold in the tears. These dolls were a huge part of my childhood Christmases growing up and I couldn’t believe they were right in front of me. And for such an affordable price!! Oh HomeGoods, you cut to the core of me.
Let me explain these weird little gnome / troll dolls to you. My dad’s side of the family is Swedish and our Christmas celebrations with that side of the family were very Scandinavian as a result. My grandmother owned a huge collection of tomtes that were passed down to her from my great grandmother and they only came out at Christmas. My sister and I spent literal hours at my grandmother’s house getting lost playing with these dolls.
The floodgates of my Christmas memories came pouring out and I was filled with the warm, fuzzy feeling of childhood nostalgia. I tried talking to the HomeGoods cashier about these feelings as she rang up my emotional purchase but she wasn’t having it.
As a child of divorced parents, we always got to celebrate two very different and equally magical Christmases. With my mother, I have fond memories of shopping for the perfect Christmas tree and decorating it while we danced to Christmas music. Our tree was not a carefully curated one with matching ornaments and garlands. Those are beautiful, but our tree was always a gloriously kitschy amalgamation of DIY Christmas ornaments, colored lights, and sentimental ornaments collected from over the years. The cherry on top was the ridiculously messy tinsel that we drizzled all over the tree that inevitably ended up making its way to every corner of the house. Once we were done decorating, we viewed the tree with the house lights turned off and each took turns wearing these “glasses” (similar in look to 3D glasses) that would blur the lights of the Christmas tree and make it look extra sparkly. I have looked in vain for those glasses and can’t find them. Does anyone know what I’m talking about or where to find them??
Christmas also meant one other thing: THE CHRISTMAS CASSETTE TAPE! This cassette tape was filled with mine and my sister’s favorite holiday jams. These were the goodies: Burl, Bing, Elvis, Frank, Nat, The Carpenters, etc. To me, these are the only worthwhile versions of the classic Christmas songs. Not today, Michael Bublé, not today! Each song brings me back to riding in the backseat of my mom’s car as we drove around looking at Christmas lights, enveloped in warmth of the car heater and our huge winter coats, which almost lulled us into a long winter’s nap. Our large family gatherings on Christmas Eve were loud and accompanied by a serve yourself buffet. Children were left to their own devices as our large group of cousins tended to watch each other. This meant that I was able to down as many Reese’s Cup miniatures as my belly desired. Because of this, I cannot tell you what our traditional Christmas Eve meal was as I am pretty sure I never ate any of it. .
With my dad Christmas was more traditional – in both dress and practice – and I loved getting to have the best of both worlds. Christmas Eve was spent at my grandmother’s house gobbling up a Swedish smorgasbord – lingonberries, limpa bread, Jarlsberg cheese, a homemade sausage that we all pitched in a few days prior to make, herring, and a variety of pickled things. Everyone yelled out God Jul (pronounced “Good Yule” for all you non-Swedes) and skål when they clinked their glasses together. There was even a Swedish drinking song we all sang – if you see me, I’ll be happy to sing you a few bars of it.
I learned how to wrap presents through much practice as my dad was a known Christmas procrastinator and sought up help from my sister and I on Christmas Eve. Once we were tucked into bed awaiting Christmas morning, we could hear dad wrapping our gifts late into the night ; the smell of a Marlboro drifting up the stairs as we slowly fell asleep. Secondhand smoke for the win and memories!
There are a few gifts that I remember – Jackie The Snake (most epic gift ever), the year I got a Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo (sometimes your divorced parents don’t coordinate gifts) and my first DiscMan with Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope CD. But for the most part, the things that I received have faded out of my memory while these traditions have endured.
Now with children of my own it’s been so fun to combine the traditions of my childhood with new ones that we’re creating together. I never in my life made Christmas cookies or decorated a Gingerbread house, but both are a staple of the holiday season for us now.
My decorating style is a direct reflection of my childhood. Our house is decked out in the same, multi-colored mini lights that I grew up with. As is our tree. A real tree. A non-negotiable for me. I understand the convenience of an artificial tree but wow, the smell of a real tree combined with the excitement of picking it out is something I still love despite the fact that I’m the one watering it every day and cleaning up the pine needles. Each year I make sure to gift my children a new Christmas ornament so that one day when they grow up and move out they’ll have an awesome collection of their own, just like I did. Our tree looks like a hot, disorganized mess but so many of those ornaments have meaning that it drips with nostalgia and tells a story.
We drive around to look for lights, and more importantly, the huge inflatable balloons that dominate the Christmas decorating scene. Not only is it the best way to pass time between the hours of 430pm-630pm, but the kids absolutely freak out at particularly good displays in the most adorable way. The first time we went out this year AJR screamed “I CAN’T BELIEVE MY EYES!” followed by a long “AHHHH” and we all laughed.
My mom used to make our Christmas cards each year and while I don’t have the patient for that, nor would I ever finish on time with our ever-growing list of recipients, I do take the time to stage a “photo shoot” at the house with a cheerful Christmas theme.
Inspired by an epic (and expensive) Home Goods run, I’m starting my own Swedish “tomte” collection. They’re not as ornate or beautiful as the one that my grandmother had, but I still look at them fondly with a sigh of a childhood remembered.
Last week we were making our usual drive around the neighborhood to look at lights. Olivia was upset because she had missed seeing something. Anthony was quick to chime: “Oh, Olivia. Don’t worry. We’re getting ready to see the best lights on the block! OUR HOUSE!” And he truly meant it. I texted Joe, who had spent the better part of five hours putting up the lights, and I could tell from his reaction that it made his day. This is why we do it. Yes, we are running around doing all the Christmas things. Like meeting Santa a hundred times because that dude gets around now – tree lightings, breakfasts, trains, and house calls. We’re moving the Elf, filling the advent calendar with little treats, and wrapping all the ever-loving gifts we got to spoil our kids it. It’s chaotic, crazy, and stressful at times. However, I wouldn’t change a thing about seeing their faces light up and delight in the smallest little things we do. We are making memories for them, with them, and I know that it’s worth all of the effort.