anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas

24 Days of Making, Doing and Being: Digital Advent Calendar 2018

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I’m not sure where the idea originally came from, but sometime towards the end of November last year I decided to take inspiration from my childhood advent calendar and make a digital one. The goal was to offer a daily prompt or short essay themed around the topics of Making, Doing and Being. The challenge was to create a little space for slowing down, consuming less, and being more present during the holiday season.

Swedish Christmas always involves advent calendars, whether they are in paper form or something larger. The tradition of printed advent calendars dates back to the early 1900s in Germany. Growing up, I had a particularly special advent calendar, one that my mother had woven, filled with 24 pockets, each to hold a small note. It hung outside my bedroom door and every night, she or my father would write a note for the following day and slide it in. When I woke up, it was the first thing that I checked.

Sometimes the notes would be about a holiday task to do that day, like baking cookies or decorating the tree. Other times it was just a prompt for taking a little extra time to make an ordinary activity a bit more magic, like listening to music or reading a book. It made all of December – not just Christmas – special.

This can be a difficult time of year for many reasons. Family relations can be strained, social expectations can be crippling, stress levels run high and money might be tight. At the same time, there is also so much potential for magic and wonder. But we have to actively create it, and we have to show up for it.

December means the arrival of the solstice, and in the Northern Hemisphere, winter begins. Perhaps just like we’ve lost the meaning of the holidays—trading experiences and togetherness for mass consumption—we’ve also lost the winter way of being. We have forgotten how to slow down, how to hibernate. Instead we sprint as fast as we can to the “big day” and then count down the days to the New Year when we can give ourselves the gift of a blank slate.

Think of all the advertising and marketing that happens at this time of year; so much of it is focused on selling a cozy, slow image. Why? Because that’s exactly what we’re craving. Here’s the secret to that kind of living: you can’t buy your way to that feeling, you have to create it yourself.

The goal with this advent calendar is to do just that; create a little magic every day during the month of December, so that’s it’s not just a countdown but an everyday celebration. It’s a focus on slowing down, finding balance and contentedness. The calendar is created as an antidote to the consumer frenzy that has come to define this month, a challenge to ground yourself wherever you are and reconnect with both yourself and the people around you.

Of course, the joke in my family all of last December was that while I was busy writing about slowing down, I was cranking out the newsletter on a daily basis, often in quick bursts between other projects. There were nights when I was up late because I realized I had forgotten to schedule the next day’s post (my parents tell a similar tale of all those years spent writing notes for my advent calendar), and there were even a few “morning of” emails, all crafted while wondering why I had committed to this thing in the first place.

But inevitably in those moments of insecurity, of wondering if perhaps I could have chosen a better use of my time, someone would send me an email to thank me for bringing a little light into their day, and I would feel a sense of immense gratitude.

The whole endeavor ended up being one my favorite things that I did last December. It turned out that I needed it as much as everyone else did. So much so that I decided to do it again.

If you want to receive the Making, Doing and Being digital advent calendar, all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter. Every day, you’ll receive a morning email. It might include a recipe, a quote, a prompt. Whatever it is, it’s always paired with an original papercut illustration. There will be some Scandinavian inspiration as well, and this year, even some input from friends and colleagues who I think embody this concept of Making, Doing and Being in their own personal and professional practices.

There’s no paywall and you’re not required to buy any of my books or work to receive the digital advent calendar; it’s 100% free. I want to keep it that way, accessible for everyone, because I want to share without expectation, create art and magic and put it out into the world just because. In a world gone mad, that feels like the one sane act that I can contribute. That being said, putting together this work takes time and effort, so if you feel like making a donation to sponsor the advent calendar you can do so here.

It all kicks off on Saturday December 1, 2018, so if you want to receive the advent calendar, be sure to sign up for my newsletter.

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Written by Anna Brones

November 29, 2018 at 07:35

Jólabókaflóð

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When it’s cold outside, there’s the gentle call of curling up with a book and a mug of tea or coffee (or even a glass of wine or a beer). Reading is wonderful any time of year, but if I was going to pick a reading season, winter would certainly be it; when it’s cold and dark, we want to curl up with a good story.

Maybe it’s the cold darkness of the north that has led to Iceland’s popular Jólabókaflóð, otherwise known as the “Christmas book flood.” Not only are many new titles released this time of year, but the majority of Icelandic book sales happen at this time, everyone prepping to gift a book come Christmas.

The tradition has its roots in World War II, when many imported items were heavily regulated, but paper remained fairly inexpensive. The book became the holiday gift of choice, and it still is today.

It all kicks off when the Iceland Publishers Association distributes a free copy of Bokatidindi  – the annual catalog of new book releases – to every single Icelandic household. It’s a season of book buying and book giving. “It’s considered a total flop Christmas if you do not get a book,” Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir told Read it Forward. Just imagine if children (and adults for that matter) were upset because they didn’t get a book as opposed to whatever new version of iGadget was on their list.

Having a culture of books and reading comes with many benefits. 93% of Icelanders read at least one book a year, compared with only 73% of Americans. (To put that another way, one of of four Americans isn’t reading at least one book a year.) Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world, and one out of 10 Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime.

For those of us who don’t live in Iceland, how about creating our own book flood this holiday?

Start by visiting the library. Find a book you didn’t know you wanted to read.

If you read and feel inspired to write, do so.

And finally, in the spirit of not consuming (although, if you are going to buy presents, books are a pretty good option, and remember to be sure to support your local independent book retailer), here’s one final prompt for today to kick of your own Christmas book flood:

Go to your bookcase. Find a book that you loved reading, but are willing to part with. Think of someone who would enjoy reading it. Package it up, and take it to the post on Monday, or gift it to them in person. If there’s one thing better than reading a good book, it’s sharing one with someone else.

This post originally appeared in my 24 Days of  Making, Doing and Being advent calendar. To receive it, sign up for my newsletter

Written by Anna Brones

December 12, 2017 at 10:03

24 Days of Making, Doing and Being: A Digital Advent Calendar

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The month of December has a tendency to pass in a flurry, the main focus concentrated on Christmas Day. The other days pass in anticipation, and often, a stress inducing countdown. December has become an extension of our overbooked, over-planned, over-digitized lives; a month where chaos and stress levels collide.

It’s cliché to say that we’ve forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, that today, Christmas is an over-commercialized affair that’s about the procurement of things rather than generosity, caring and celebrating.

Given this frenzy, it’s no surprise that Christmas advertising and marketing works; it sells a cozy, slow image that we’re all craving. Families in pajama sets sitting by the fire smiling at each other (if only you invested in those pajamas, your family would be happy too). A cup of tea on the windowsill overlooking a snowy morning (make sure to buy this particular brand on tea, or your mornings won’t look like this). A couple on a winter walk through the woods (trust us, you can’t go on one of these walks without buying these boots).

Here’s the secret to that kind of living: you can’t buy your way to that feeling, you have to create it yourself.

For me, part of creating that seasonal magic has come in the form of an advent calendar. Growing up, every December meant the enjoyment of an advent calendar. There would always be more than one. Often, a beautifully illustrated one sent from relatives in Sweden, and the other one was an advent calendar that my mother had woven, each day made to hold a small slip of paper. My parents would write a note every night, so that it was the first thing I saw when I woke up the next morning. The note might say something fun that we would do that day (“build a gingerbread house”) or just be a reminder to enjoy the season (“curl up with a book and a cup of tea”). The advent wasn’t a countdown to Christmas, it was a way of making every day during the month of December special.

I have had that advent calendar hanging on the wall every single December since I can remember. Today, it’s a link to the past, an object that carries a lot of magical childhood memories. But it’s also a reminder of the present, the prompt to focus on the now and create a little magic every day during the holiday season.

This is a time of year focused on consumption. It’s a time of year that can be stressful. It’s a time of year that’s frantic. The U.S. version of my book Live Lagom comes out at the end of December, and I have been thinking a lot about how lagom applies to the holidays. Certainly, it means a little indulgence, in the form of a plethora of holiday cookies and glögg, Swedish mulled wine. But it also means balance. It means slowing down, spending time with family, taking winter walks. All the things that we often tell ourselves we will do, but never make the time for.

So this year, I’m putting together a digital advent calendar that’s focused on slowing down, creating and experiencing rather than consuming. The advent calendar will be in newsletter format, sent out every morning. It will include everything from holiday recipes to creative prompts, something new every day. You’re sure to find a little Scandinavian inspiration as well. The goal with this advent calendar is to help you create a little magic every day during the month of December, but also focus on slowing down, finding balance, breathing.

It all kicks off on Friday, December 1, 2017, so if you want to receive the advent calendar, be sure to sign up for my newsletter.

Update: I am doing this advent calendar again for 2018, so be sure to sign up!

 

Written by Anna Brones

November 29, 2017 at 11:21

Glad Lucia!

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It’s Lucia Day in Sweden which means on the other side of the Atlantic it’s time for singing the Lucia song and baking saffron bread. And drinking glögg of course.

Saffransbröd – Saffron Bread adapted from Vår Kokbok

Almond paste

  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 1/3 cup sugar

Mix almonds and sugar in Cuisinart or blender until a chunky paste forms. Set aside.

Saffransbröd – Saffron Bread

  • 1/2 gram saffron
  • 75 grams butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 teaspoons yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 3 cups flour
  • Currants for decoration

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Written by Anna Brones

December 13, 2011 at 09:30

God Jul!

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Sweden has snow and weather in the negative teens. Here in the Northwest it’s dark and rainy. The perfect time for candles, mandelmusslor, saffransbröd and glögg.

God Jul!

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Written by Anna Brones

December 24, 2010 at 11:25

Winter Sunset

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Frost covered the ground for the larger part of the day, a white dusting remaining in cold corners protected by the shade of trees. Typical Pacific Northwest gray rain clouds were traded for clear winter skies, a brisk nip in the air. On beautiful days like this, it’s clear that the evening landscape shouldn’t be missed, and we packed up a thermos of tea and headed for one of the many rocky beaches of the Puget Sound.

Quiet and clear, as afternoon turned into dusk, the seasonal sun set, with warm colors reflecting off of soft clouds, turning the sky into a winter painting. With the setting sun, the air turned colder, and steam rose from our tea cups as we looked out over the calm waters and breathed in the winds of the season.

That’s how you should spend Christmas Day…

Written by Anna Brones

December 26, 2009 at 13:10

God Jul!

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A classic Swedish Christmas in a Pacific Northwest home tucked away in the winter forest…

God Jul!

Written by Anna Brones

December 24, 2009 at 13:02