Tag Archives: Christmas

We Need A Little Christmas

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All over the world decorations have gone up, trees have been lit, and markets selling ornaments, toys, treats and drinks have opened up for the season.

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What does that all mean? Are they just lights? Toys? And a bunch of parties that guarantee that, alongside Halloween and Thanksgiving, we all put on weight for the winter?

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For those who truly believe (Christians that is), the holiday has a deep spiritual meaning, as it commemorates the birth of Christ. However, the picture gets a little bit murkier. The holiday has a secular component to it that is embraced by many non-believers. Caught up in that secular component, some Christians lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday.

There are also some external factors that can sometimes make it hard to enjoy the holiday season. The pressures of life in the modern world have the potential to suck the fun out of any season. Year-end deadlines at the office, combined with the pressure to buy the right gifts and get family events organized, produce a season of stress for far too many people.

The true spirit of the holiday can vary quite a bit from person to person, and from year to year. Many are familiar with the story of Ebineezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, a lonely businessman who resents the day as an unnecessary interruption in his business. There are also more subtle examples of people who see the holiday as just something “to get through”.

I have fallen into that trap in past years. There have been years for me when I resented what I saw as an ill-advised obligation to buy gifts and an unwelcome interruption in my young adult life, with the people I usually hang out with not being around to do the usual stuff I like doing.

This year feels different. Whereas, the past few years, I don’t recall thinking or hearing much about the holiday until mid-December. This year, there is this anticipation, both within me and in the people I am around, that started long before Thanksgiving.

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Perhaps it is a reflection of where we are as a society in 2017. There are a lot of problems we have; loneliness, difficulty finding fulfillment, all the forces that are driving us apart, etc. Many know that we are not completely blameless in creating these problems, and that we can make a conscious effort at creating a better society. Yet, the world of appears to be finishing up 2017 in nearly the exact same state as it began the year. It is possible to argue that things actually got worse.

What I am excited about, and what I feel like the people around me are excited about, is not the toys, the lights, and the drunkenness. It is not even the snow, which, here in Colorado, really hasn’t happened yet.

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It is the true meaning of the holiday which applies to both its religious and secular traditions. It is taking time away from the grind of every day life. It is being in the presence of family and close friends. It is comfort. It is rest. It is taking time to stop trying to earn, learn, advance, and achieve, and just play, laugh, and smile.

That is what the trees, the lights, the decorations and the toys symbolize to me. That is what we, as a culture need now, and we likely need it more than we did in years past. It is why I started anticipating the holiday weeks earlier than in recent years, and it is this component of the holiday that is my top priority for the remainder of 2017!

Christmastime in Copenhagen

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There is, perhaps, no better way to get into the spirit of Christmas than to find oneself surrounded by the ambience of the holiday, taking part in local traditions. Christmas may mean something different to different groups of people. Some focus more on the religious aspects of the holiday. Others on the secular. Still others celebrate different holidays altogether.

In central Copenhagen, where the spirit of the holiday can be seen all around, with decorations on buildings and streets.

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And numerous Christmas markets all over town offering holiday treats.

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The spirit becomes contagious. It is felt in the air. It is hard not to want to join in the traditions of the region. Eating nordic food, both new and old.

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And, of course, drinking gløgg, a warm spiced Scandinavian wine commonly drank on cold, cloudy winters days; particularly at Christmastime. It would be almost impossible to imagine myself here at this time of year without drinking it.

Denmark is known to be a happy place despite the weather, which is commonly cloudy and rainy, particularly in wintertime. In fact, it may even be because of the weather, as Danish culture has found some unique ways in which to cope.

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Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga), is a word we do not have a direct english translation for. It is happiness, in a friendly, slower paced, and cozy sort of way. Upon any reading or discussion of the subject, it becomes quite apparent how the weather has influenced the culture. Winter here means a lot of time spent indoors, in the dark. Spending it among good friends, eating good food, and removing oneself from the pressure of day-to-day life provides some form of rejuvenation.

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While Copenhageners spend a lot of time indoors at this time of year, it is apparent that they do not let the weather stop them from cycling. Despite the cloudy, and even rainy weather, and daylight that only lasts from roughly 8:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M., there are still plenty of people on their bicycles, using them to transport themselves, and sometimes even other people and their cargo, around town.

As a cycling enthusiast, this is actually one of the factors that drove me to want to visit Copenhagen. It is by some measures the most bike friendly city in the world, and boasts one of the highest percentages of bicycle commuters. Perhaps because of the fact that nearly every street I encountered here in Copenhagen had some form of bicycle accommodation, it is a way of life here that cannot be stopped by the combination of darkness, rain, and temperatures in the lower 40s (around 5C).

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Besides what appeared to be the expectation of year-round commuting, I noticed several other manners in which the cycling culture here differed from what I see in the United States.

First, the bikes are different. I saw mostly cruisers not necessarily designed to go high speeds.

Second, cyclists here most certainly follow the rules. Nobody ran red lights.

And, finally, I also noticed that it is common practice here to leave bikes unlocked. I guess there is less worry about theft, but the idea of not locking a bike feels foreign to me.

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There is perhaps no place more iconic here in Christmastime than Tivoli gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks.

The lights here, at night, are a must see for anyone who comes to Copenhagen at Christmastime, even for those who do not care for roller coasters.

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Recent reports have linked the lack of social support to unhappiness, poor health, and other bad life outcomes. The Danish people appear to take pride in their status as one of the happiest countries in the world, and, at least in part, attribute it to this concept of hygge.

According to the Little Book of Hygge, written by Meik Wilkins, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (which happens to be located in Copenhagen), hygge, while practiced all year long, is strongly linked with the Christmas season. The idea of taking a break from the stress of everyday life and spending time with loved ones is the core element of Christmas no matter where it is celebrated.

Often times the season for this is cut short. For many, some combination of pressure to complete end of the year tasks at work and holiday shopping keeps stress levels high for much of December. Experiencing Copenhagen in late November, with the spirit of Christmas already in full swing, I am inspired to make this entire season, not just a couple of days at the end of December, about giving, sharing time with those closest to me, and de-stressing.

Going Back to My Roots

“If you know your history, then you’ll know where you’re coming from”, Bob Marley explains in his classic hit song Buffalo Soldier.  It’s hard to really know how many places the functional equivalent of this phrase has been uttered throughout the history of mankind.

What does it mean to “know your history”, or “know where you’ve been”?  Is it sufficient to know your personal story?  Or, do you need to know the story of your parents, and your family’s ancestors?  How deeply must we understand the cause and effect relationships of events in the past?  After all, history, whether we are talking about it in an academic sense or in a personal narrative is about more than just facts.  When asked, nearly all people can recite the rudimentary factual aspects of their lives.  Where they were born, what schools they attended, when they moved, married, changed jobs, etc.  I always wonder, though, whether they understand their life’s events more deeply, how certain things impact one another, what emotions were involved, and what events were significant.  In other words, do they understand the “story” of their lives?

This holiday season, and by holiday season I am referring to Christmas and New Years, was kind of a trip back through my own history, or at least the places where said history took place.  First, Christmas was spent in the suburbs of Chicago, with my immediate family.  I spent a little bit of time in the City of Chicago, with friends, which is where I spent the four years before moving to Denver.  But, I largely spent that time in Buffalo Grove, a sort of typical suburb 35 miles northwest of downtown, and the place where I spent my Junior High and High School years.

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It’s been said, particularly of Millennials, that young adults go home for the holidays and revert into their teenager mode, subconsciously, because they have returned to the setting of their teenage years.  For me, it is a little bit more complicated.  Some things are the same, but some things are different.   Some things get a little bit more different every year.  There is the obvious course of change any particular location undergoes over time; that restaurant that closed, with a new one opening in its place, the road that was reconstructed and widened on the other side of town, and the new neighbors.  But there’s also a strange change in how we respond to things, sometimes things that are exactly the same as they were in previous years.

Over the course of our lives, we periodically re-examine things (I do this more than most).  Maybe it’s a different experience, or being exposed to a different point of view on something, or some major event.  Each year we come back with a slightly different perspective, and, that experience, which was the same exact one we had last year, the year before, and back when we were 14, is viewed differently in our own minds.  When it comes specifically to what my family does, both during the holidays, as well as in life in general, there are mixed emotions. There are some things my family does that I did not really appreciate with I was younger, but have found a new appreciation for.  There are other things now seem strange to me.  I am guessing many people who have moved a significant distance away from “home” have a similar experience at the holidays.

The Chicago area is not my full history.  The first 11.5 years of my life, I lived in New York, outside of New York City on Long Island.  I didn’t specifically travel to New York on New Years Eve as part of some plan to revisit my past.

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But, the two practically back-to-back trips did line up in a manner where I could not help but think along these lines.  New Years is already a time when people reflect on their lives.  Having just spent time in the place where I spent my recent past, and now being in a place where parts of my early childhood unfolded, I could not help but think it is time for me to re-connect with who I am.

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The move from New York to Chicago, my college and graduate school experience, jobs and more recent move to Colorado are the rudimentary facts of my life.  My “history”, is the memories, the periodic experiences, the kind of person I was and the kind of people I was around.  It is something that is remembered, hopefully accurately, and something that can be reconnected with, but only partially.  The New York of 2016 is not the New York of the 1990s.  Neighborhoods have made transitions, different kinds of people have both left and moved in, and some of the things one will experience here are significantly different.

However, some of the things are the same.  And, while I was not reliving a childhood event, coming back to the places where our formative years unfolded can help us reconnect with our roots. Through this experience, I feel like I am being called to return to my roots, the person I am, naturally, rather than the person we are all pressured to become as we adults in today’s world.  It’s like 2016 begun with what the year’s theme needs to be.  Outside of whatever negative feedback we have received, the adjustments we have made to be accepted, and who we were told to be, there is a person inside of all of us, the person we naturally are.  In this midst of everything I do in my adult life, this is a person I need to not lose sight of.  It is a person many of us need to reconnect with.  It is my sincere hope that in 2016, we all reconnect with our roots both individually and collectively.

Christmastime in Breckenridge

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Last winter, I spent around a dozen days in Breckenridge, Colorado, including a week-long stay here in late February.  Only a 90 minute drive from Denver, I feel quite comfortable coming up here on a day trip, without spending money on lodging, on a regular basis.  To wake up, drive to Breckenridge, ski for six hours or so, and then drive back does not make for an overwhelmingly tiring day.

When traveling to a particular destination becomes as regular as this one has become for me, the lines become kind of blurred.  In a physical sense, I am most definitely traveling.  I prepare, I pack, and I get in a vehicle and go to a different location which is a non-trivial distance away.  It is not a run of the mill trip to the grocery store or a neighbor’s house.  However, there are a significant number of people who commute longer than 90 minutes each way to work every day.  For them, a trip that takes at least as long as my trip to Breckenridge (when there isn’t bad traffic), has become routine.  It is certainly not something that any of these commuters would categorize as “travel”.  A trip up to Breckenridge for me is without a doubt more interesting and exciting than a 90 minute drive to work, but it is only slightly less routine.  I know what to pack, I know what to expect, and I know where everything is.  So, a trip like this straddles some kind of middle ground between what most would consider “travel”, and what most would consider just a part of life’s routine.

However, for many, Breckenridge is most definitely a highly sought after travel destination.  In fact, according to a fairly recent Travel + Leisure article, Breckenridge is the second most visited North American ski resort, behind only Vail.  And, since the printing of that particular article, the resort has actually gotten bigger, with the opening of a whole new section of the resort- Peak 6.

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Despite its size, it is actually fairly easy to get around the resort.  Each peak on the resort labelled numerically, and both the ski lifts and trails are labelled quite clearly.

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A variety of great trails, and panoramic views, already existed before the opening of Peak 6.

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Peak 6 added something unique; essentially intermediate level skiing in a wide open area above the tree line.

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Even with Peak 6 rising to 12,300 feet, the highest point on the mountain is still the top of Imperial Express.

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At 12,840 feet, the very top of the mountain it often gets quite windy.  In fact, this part of the resort gets closed quite frequently due to high winds, even on some perfectly sunny days.  If there are relatively strong winds at any of the other parts of the mountain, I will often have no desire to come up here, and deal with even stronger wind at this elevation.  Luckily for us, Saturday was a relatively calm day, making it an ideal time to head to this part of the mountain.  For anyone that can handle the more challenging terrain up here, I would recommend making a trip to the top of the resort at least once on a calmer day, as there are very few places where you can overlook a ski area from above as you can here.

Town of Breckenridge in the Winter

In addition to the popular ski resort, Breckenridge is a pretty vibrant town, especially during ski season, and one that I greatly appreciate.  Main Street, which is lined with shops, restaurants, and even nightlife, is a mere two blocks from the ski resort’s main Gondola parking.  Numerous condos line the roads that offshoot from Park Avenue, providing many visitors with places to stay within walking distance of both the ski lifts and Main Street!

In addition, the town is fairly unique.  Surrounding nearly every other ski resort I have visited is a ski village that was built primarily to serve the ski resort.  These villages are typically pedestrian-only areas (usually buses can come in) that lie between the main parking lot and the ski resort.  Since these towns were built around the ski resorts, they typically have all of the amenities that anyone on a ski trip would need, often including numerous hotels and ski shops.  However, Breckenridge, having existed long before the ski resort, offers the experience of a ski town that has the layout, and feel, of a normal town.  It feels a bit less like one is visiting a resort village, and more like one is visiting a town that happens to have an incredibly popular ski resort next to it.

With the lighting of the Christmas tree Saturday night, Breckenridge “officially” kicked off the Christmas season.  For many, the Christmas season has already begun.  In fact, some do not even wait until Thanksgiving to begin preparing for Christmas.  However, now, for better or worse, the season has kicked into full gear.

On the drive back Sunday, after another nearly full day of skiing, some lamented that it was time to return to “normal life”.  But, did we ever really leave our “normal lives”?  All of us involved in this trip live in Denver, and ski up in the mountains quite regularly, carrying season passes to multiple resorts.  Having skied 22 days last winter, 18 the year prior, and with the expectation of skiing nearly as frequently this winter, I feel as if last weekend, I was simply enjoying a funner part of my “normal life”.  And, this Christmas, I can be thankful that something as fun and enjoyable as skiing in Breckenridge is not a “vacation” or “travel” from which I will return from, but a part of the cadence that represents my “normal life” in its’ current state.