December 1, 2013


There are few better ways to wrap up the first of December than to sit on your bed balancing a plate of cinnamon toast on your knees, sipping on hot chocolate, and listening to Christmas music. Come to think of it, there are few better ways to spend a weekend than the way I spent mine. Life post-Swedesgiving has been good to me. Let me tell you 'bout it.

A few weeks ago, a little committee decided that it would be a good idea to have some light entertainment during our Friday lunches on campus. One of my teachers asked me last week if I would be willing to be the inaugural act and play some jazz piano. It's funny because in Provo, pianists are a dime a dozen, especially if you're looking at my talent bracket. But here, everyone thinks it's such a treat that I can play. (Unfortunately, they also erroneously believe that I can just whip out anything I'm handed on the spot, which has been a problem more than once.) Luckily for me, I had some sheet music for the occasion and I agreed to the gig. I figured it would be really casual and like, no one would be listening anyway. But when I got to the cafeteria, Kurt, one of the groundskeepers, was carefully wiring a full-sized keyboard so that it would play through the speakers all around the room. There were two crooked little music stands shoved as closely as possible to the front of the keyboard (though not quite close enough, I came to find). Kurt seemed quite specific that I was to play thirty minutes of music starting at quarter to the hour. 

Lunch that day was especially exquisite. There was homemade bread, a nice cheese selection, pears, and then some kind of vegetarian cabbage soup that was warm and tasty. I was hesitant to leave my food to go be the center of attention, but fortunately most everyone just kept carrying on with their conversations while I played. Hopefully they didn't notice that I played a couple songs twice (guess a thirty-minute set is longer than I thought). Or that I kept playing the wrong notes. Or that my sheet music fell down like, three times. Or that the keyboard was originally set to a "Stage" sound setting that nearly blew out the speakers. Or that I had the hardest time keeping an even volume the entire rest of the set. The flaws left me wanting to sneak back to my table for more cheese and pears afterwards without fanfare, but one of the lunch ladies insisted that I come forward for applause and a series of gifts: a jacket, hat, and key-chain with the school logo on them. Even though I most certainly didn't deserve such enthusiasm, it felt really great to realize that I was among people who appreciated me in spite of my mistakes. I guess that's probably been the case all along.

Friday also happened to be the day when the groundskeepers set up lights in all of our windows and even a little electric Advent candelabra in the common room at my dorm. One of the things I've learned in my time here is that Swedes seem to be keenly aware of how the atmosphere of a given room or space affects our well-being. People are constantly lighting candles to make things "cozy," including in the cafeteria. Our classroom has been designed a certain way to make it inviting and conducive to learning. And obviously, my little piano performance was basically engineered to give everyone warm fuzzies while they were enjoying lunch. This attention to our personal environments has already been beneficial to me, but I can only imagine how much greater it's going to be now that the Christmas season is here. I've heard that the Swedes really know how to celebrate Christmas. So far, so good. A+, Sweden.

My friends Agnes and Lova invited me to go with them into Umeå to see Gravity at the movie theater on Friday night. My great discovery of the evening was that here, you don't have to sneak candy and treats into the cinema! You can just bring along whatever you want! Merry Christmas to me! Merry Christmas to everyone! We stopped at a convenience store on the way and I bought a full bag of cheese popcorn, a Dr. Pepper, and a pretty huge bag of candy with absolutely no shame, no blame, no remorse, and no fear that the items would later be confiscated if I didn't hide them in an oversized purse. That's what I call freedom.

Oh, and the movie was pretty good. Next time you see me, remind me not to go on that dangerous space mission I've been planning. Unless George Clooney is there.

Saturday was perfectly lazy and wonderful. I watched a nice film, did some cleaning, and ate Swedesgiving leftovers. (Holiday tip of the day: never underestimate a good glass of cranberry juice.) I'll be honest: historically, I've never particularly cared for Saturdays. As a kid, they actually used to scare me because they seemed so empty and void of a reassuring routine. That feeling followed me even into my college years. It was probably grad school that really helped me to befriend Saturdays and to truly welcome their possibilities. But I have to say, they are the best here. I can't explain it, but I'm always filled with this happy wonder about my quiet, modest life when Saturdays roll around here in Vindeln. It's a time for planning, for daydreaming. And for disinfecting my sink.

Some people like to go on about how Christ was actually born in April and Christmas as we know it is actually appropriated from a pagan holiday... blah blah blah. But you know what I think? Christmas needs to happen in December. We're getting cold and we're getting tired and the year has worn on, and then the Christmas season drifts in to give us warmth, light, peace, comfort, and the hope for new beginnings. 

Today is First Advent, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Camilla was telling me today that Advent helps her prepare for the Christmas season and to feel as though she's celebrating the entire month. Obviously, count me in. Our church choir sang a traditional Swedish hymn called "Hosianna" to begin Sacrament Meeting. It also happened to be fast and testimony day. Without much forethought, I stood up to express my gratitude for everything the church members here have done for me. I wouldn't even be able to attend the Sunday meetings if it weren't for their generosity in offering to pick me up from the train station, allowing me to stay in their homes overnight (there are no Sunday morning trains), and giving me the honor of breaking bread with them after church while I wait for the train back to Vindeln. It has been a deep and rich blessing to get to know these families and to feel of their love these past few months. My heart is so full. Especially now as I rejoice in the gift of my family, even when they're far away, and of all the people who choose to be my family in the meantime. Even better that there's hot chocolate the whole way through. Swedes actually call it "warm chocolate," which seems extra cozy and holiday-esque. Is there really a better word than warm and everything it represents?


  1. Thanks for a little glance into your adventures :)
    I agree about Christmas, it comes at a perfect time!

  2. I didn't even think about it being your last fast Sunday there. I'm happy that you were able to express your thanks to all those in the congregation who have taken you in and made you a part of their little branch/ward family. Just found out that the First Presidency Christmas devotional isn't tonight, but next Sunday. Hope that somehow you will be able to watch it and enjoy the message that is always so heartwarming...and of course hear the MoTab choir singing their Christmas fare! Three weeks until you will be back home! ~Moo

    1. The Christmas devotional is broadcasting at like, 2 a.m. local time, so I will just watch it later in the week. Maybe I can invite a couple friends to join me. Even though I'm excited to be home, probably the saddest thing is leaving behind the wonderful families from the Umeå branch. I only wish you could meet them! But of course I'm also looking forward to a great Wilson family holiday season. Now it's only two weeks away!