This week, Ben has recruited a few willing volunteers to take his place posting on this blog. We were asked to share a few Christmas memories and traditions as we close in on the end of the year, which is why I come before you today.

Growing up, we generally traveled for Christmas. Not in the way most rational people do, mind you, heading for a warmer climate for a week or two… but heading north into a winter wonderland where the snow is deep and the moose population outnumbers that of humans: Northern Maine.

New Sweden, Maine, to be precise. It is here that my mother grew up (and was Miss Caribou in nearby Caribou, Maine), and it is here where my grandmother still lives on the potato farm with the great white barn that looks like a gigantic ghost rising out from the frosted fields in December. And it was here that a reporter from Yankee Magazine stopped when I was rather young to write a story about the snowy winters in this remote Swedish colony… and about the warmth that family can bring to a cold Christmas day.

I wish I remembered the story better. And I wish I could find the link online, though it was likely written before the Internet was a “thing”, and thus I’ve had little luck. The good news, however, is that I don’t need the story to remember the feeling… to remember that warmth of family in the stark white desert that seems to extend around the farmhouse until it reached the dense pine forests at the edge of the fields. Or to remember the joy of watching bubble lights on the trees, cross-country skiing down the old farm road and into the aforementioned pines, clutching to my father for dear life during perilous rides on vintage snowmobiles, and being visited by Santa as he appeared out of the snow and made his way across the creaking boards of the 100+ year-old wrap around porch and into our hearts.

There was also Christmas Day itself… Waking groggily at an early hour and heading to Julotta, the pre-dawn service featuring Christmas carols sung in Swedish—a tradition passed down from the first settlers in the mid 1800’s. To follow would be a day filled with opening presents; consuming intermittent gigantic meals; detaching the woolen stockings with our names knit upon them by my great-grandmother to find what treasures they held… and feeling an unavoidable sense of belonging though I was 1,000 miles from home.

As the years have passed, air fares have increased, schedules have become more difficult to manage, and electronic devices became a distraction from that warmth of family. It has been years now since I spent my most recent Christmas in Maine, but I am determined that it won’t be my last. Christmas, for me, is a time to focus on intimacy, valuing what family we have and the precious time we have with them. But it is also a time when it is okay to be nostalgic… After all, it is a holiday built around the idea of celebrating events that happened over 2,000 years ago.

No matter what your plans are for Christmas this year, I hope you find yourself surrounded by the warmth of friends and family… and if that cannot be the case, then I hope you will be comforted by the most wonderful of Christmas memories. Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone.