There’s something about December. Something magical. Beautiful. Connective. Something that, amidst the chaos and pressure of the holidays (to consume, indulge, arrange, prepare), brings us back to ourselves, our family and our surroundings.

In the most of beautiful ways.

We decorated the house and tree early this year. We placed the star on the tree with gratitude and wishes for a joyful and healthy season. We cherish our Swedish and American family traditions.

From Sweden, I love the December 13 tradition of Santa Lucia, marked by the eldest daughter in the family wearing a white dress, red waist sash and crown of candles on her head, followed by siblings in white dresses with tinsel, bearing traditional breakfast bread to the family early in the morning (now more at parties and in the gorgeous old churches in Sweden). The crown is a wreath made of lingonberry branches, an evergreen, symbolizing new life in winter. In Sweden, we celebrate on Christmas Eve with glogg, a traditional mulled red wine with spices, a traditional dinner of cured salmon, lingonberries, herring, meatballs, cured cucumbers and an array of potato and vegetable dishes. Santa shows up after dinner with a lantern and big red bag of gifts for the children.

From my native California, Santa may be dressed in board shorts with a surfboard under his arm (a small exaggeration), but still bears the gifts and good will of the season. I love the briskness of winter and the solitude and peacefulness of an early-morning holiday walk on the beach.

Other traditions observed around the globe are equally special, beautiful, intimate and connective:

Beauty: Oaxaca Mexico celebrates the fiesta for the Virgin de la Soledad, patron saint of Oaxaca, with beauty and vibrant colors of the season – and splashes of red-and-white radishes artfully carved into nativity scenes, conquistadors and dancers. The fiesta signals the beginning of the Navidad festivities. On December 23, the annual Noche de los Rabanos takes place. This is a very festive time when booths are set up along the length and breadth of the zocalo, or town square. The focal point of each booth is an exhibit of these hand-carved, giant radishes. There are also colorfully-decorated floats, music, traditional dancing, and piñata prizes. The crowning glory of this fiesta is a mammoth fireworks display.

Warmth: I love the tradition of the Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany, a Christmas market that offers traditional delights for the senses, wooden ornaments, food, paper stars whose textures invite touch. Aromas of gluhwein spiced mulled wine and gingerbread fill the air as you wander through the finger-tingling cold streets, wrapped in your warmest gear soaking up the festive atmosphere.

Light: Oil lamps carry the light of the season in India where, those observing Christian holidays, decorate banana or mango trees, place red flowers (typically poinsettias) in their homes and give to charity in lieu of exchanging gifts. And in Israel and Jewish communities worldwide, the candle-bearing menorah heralds Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.

Intimacy: From the birthplace of our moor mud – Hungary – a traditional Christmas is celebrated only with immediate family – no traveling about. Christmas trees are decorated by adults (on the eve of December 24) as a surprise for the children who believe angels brought the tree.

Connection: France, quite fittingly, celebrates the season in high fashion. Friends and families gather on December 24 to enjoy a multi-course dinner featuring fresh oysters, fish, poultry, meat, cheese and dessert, served with wine and champagne. Guests dress to the nines and the best silver, china and crystal is brought out. Connecting hearts, which this year, especially in Paris, is so very needed.

There are so many more beautiful and sacred holiday traditions. Whatever your personal observances, whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, all of us at Kerstin Florian International wish you a joyous and light-filled festive season. And the happiest New Year.

With Love,
Charlene

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