Thursday, January 1, 2015

The end of the year festivities

Isbladsviken Djurgården Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |

Like magic, just as we were putting the final touches on Christmas Eve dinner, flurries began to dance down from the sky—thick and insistent, they laid a fine blanket of pure white all over the city. We peeked out from behind candle-lined windows before opening the door to shiver happily as we watched the snow come down.

After two brief dalliances with snow earlier this season, our Christmas bounty ended up staying for the entire week after the holiday, spoiling us with its gleaming brightness under days and days of sunshine.

Snowy Stockholm streets  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |
But first, there was Christmas Eve, which we began with a walk through the nearly completely emptied-out city before returning home to a typical Swedish dinner in all its smörgåsbord glory. With the addition of R's traditional lasagne, though, it became a dual-nationality feast. And then since I was inspired to contribute something—especially after realizing that Scandinavian countries have a rice porridge dish that's eaten this time of year which translated nicely to kheer from the Indian tradition, our feast became a representation of three different cuisines.

Unfortunately, my dessert didn't go over quite so well, though. My poor brother-in-law visiting from Sicily took a bite and after having already being burned by a chocolate-covered marzipan (which he thought was a chocolate truffle, as he hates marzipan), looked up at me with the saddest face and said, "Is this rice?" and then laid his spoon woefully back in his still-full glass bowl.

(But it wasn't too much of a shame, as I had a nice week of creamy rice pudding breakfasts and after-lunch desserts for myself.)

Christmas Eve on Biblioteksgatan Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |
Swedish Christmas Decorations  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |

Before we finished all of the desserts and started pulling packages out from under the tree, my mother-in-law stepped out "to get milk" for the next morning's breakfast and a few moments after she left, there was a knock at the door and Jultomten (Santa Claus) was waiting outside with a bag full of presents.

My first Christmas in Sweden a few years ago I thought s/he appeared solely on my behalf so I'd have a traditional Swedish Christmas, but as this was my third Christmas in Stockholm, and there was no one in the house under 30, I've realized that his appearance isn't just for me, but to keep the spirit alive for everyone—something I find so dear.

Isbladsviken Djurgården Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |
Isbladsviken Djurgården Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |
The next morning we all slept in and before sitting back at the table to indulge in a Christmas Day dinner of leftovers, R, his brother, and I took a bus across town out to Djurgården for a walk along the canal leading out to Isbladsviken and the archipelago. It was frosty out and the sky was an incredible blue while everything else was white. Such a change from the view we had in November when we took the same walk.

After dinner I begrudgingly sat down to play Monopoly—the board game I detest most in the world (mostly because I always lose frighteningly fast), but as I'm always the only one that feels that way, at least once a year I have to join in (and of course I was already bankrupt by the end of Hour 1).

Helin & Voltaire, Djurgården Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |

After that, and before New Year's, R and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary. Five years and two months ago he arrived at JFK with a one-way ticket and a fiancé visa to marry me, and somehow we're living in a completely different country and already celebrating five years of marriage. We spent it as we always prefer to spend holidays and special occasions—quietly, without too much fuss, and with a long walk.

As we did for our first anniversary, we chose to have lunch at "our place", Helin & Voltaire. Once we'd finished our sandwiches and salads, I popped back up to the counter to choose something nutty and scrumptious for dessert. As I walked back with our coffee and a cookie, I saw R brushing off the bench where we were sitting. He said, "the seat is dirty, I was just brushing my side off, you should do it on yours, too".

So I set down the plate and cups and started swiping away at the bench coverings and that's how I noticed an envelope peeking out from under. R had his little-boy grin in place while I quickly ripped the envelope open and out fell two pieces of paper—a flight itinerary and hotel booking. He had fully planned and booked a 5-day trip to a city I've long been fascinated with (right up there with the last two I finally visited: Sevilla and Granada/the Alhambra). Later this month we'll be hopping on a flight to explore a new city together—the nature of which which also means we'll be indulging in one of our favorite past times (can you guess where we're going?).

(And in case you're wondering, my gift to him wasn't nearly as significant, so he's two up on me this year as his Christmas gift was just as thoughtful and surprising!).

Hoar Frost and Icy Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |

Finally, just as we'd gotten used to normal-sized meals and somewhat normal days (and the beauty of hoar frosted trees), New Year's Eve rolled around. R and I have both always said our most favorite New Year's (as two people who never really enjoyed the hoopla) was before we were married.

We'd met in Stockholm for Christmas and then flew down to the west coast of Sicily to spend a night at an agriturismo, then rented a car and drove across the island to his side for a few days together before I flew back to New York. Our farmhouse-turned-bed-and-breakfast was in a tiny little town on the waterfront and after we'd checked in we wandered down to its one market to fill a basket with cheese, olives, sun-dried tomato, salami, baguettes and other little fixings, as well as a bottle of wine and a bar of very dark chocolate, to have a New Year's Eve picnic in our quaint room overlooking a citrus grove.

By 8PM I was already asleep and R was watching something on T.V. At midnight he awakened me for a kiss and a "Buon Anno", and then I was out again. But come 6AM we were both up, wrapped in our winter coats and picking our way along the seashells on the beach before a hearty breakfast in front of a fireplace in a stone-walled wine vault. For me (us), there is absolutely no better way to say hello to a new year.

This year though, as we're home with lots of family, we did a version of a way. We shared the last meal of the year with my in-laws—a seafood-filled feast: oysters, smoked salmon, sashimi tuna two ways, lobsters, and a fish soup—followed by a teensy nap before the midnight show. In New York barges pull out to the middle of the East or Hudson River loaded up with fireworks. Here in Stockholm, the neighbors in the other buildings surrounding our courtyard chipped in to buy professional-grade fireworks to set off at midnight. All we had to do was open the balcony door and join in the cheers—no crazy crowds in the street or jostling for a space at a window or on a rooftop. We were so close we even saw the flicker of the match's flame as it lit each fuse. The dark sky quickly filled with star bursts, spiraling lights and purple, red, green, and blue shimmers, and we were soon hoarse from our screams of glee.

By 12:30AM though, we were in bed.

And now, after all these lovely, sunny, snow-filled days, January 1st has decided to slink its way in—all drab greenish grays and limp browns. The weather warmed up to 6C (~40F) and all the pretty holiday sparkle is melting away, but I have a feeling Stockholm won't let us down and another dusting will come our way soon.

Hope you've all had a lovely holiday and Happy New Year!

One year ago: Christmas traditions, Red-eyed revelry
Two years ago: A bout of the sniffles, Honduran holiday, Merry Christmas from Honduras

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