The other day, a small post appeared on FB where the sender wrote something like “instead of writing a list of what we wanted for Christmas, we should write a list of what we could not lose.” This hit me. What is there, that I cannot lose?
Christmas is a touching and vulnerable place to be, it is simply characterized by nostalgia. An old theory in the art of memory claims that nostalgic people have both stronger and has an easier way to evoke memories (Yates, 1999) Now, that theory may no longer apply, yet Christmas brings forth, with its rituals and traditions a melancholy, a nostalgic feeling, the is something that has been lost and it is something that is kept alive by the handling of tradition and habits, sometimes bad habits. The list of what you cannot lose is possibly linked to this particular nostalgic feeling of what Christmas should be like, maybe give the same feeling as when you were a child, surrounded by bright tones from “sølvguttene” (a Norwegian male choir) blended with the sound of the cracking of nuts. When you think about what you do not want to lose, it may not be the material that you first and foremost think about, but what surrounds the Christmas decorations that are so old that it barely can keep together, the gifts wrapped in specific paper and the smell of sauerkraut – what we want to keep are the memories, both the personal and the cultural memories.
In the Norse poem Grimnesmål, the god Odin says in a verse that he is afraid. Odin has two ravens that fly around the world every day, Hugin and Munin are they called. Odin is scared, he is scared Hugin which means the thought will not come back. But he is even more afraid that Munin, which means the memory, will not come home. In other words, memory has long been important to human, so important that it is placed in the mouth of a god to reinforce the fear of losing it. We may lose a bone, a finger, the hearing and yet and probably we will remain the same, albeit somewhat moderated, the brain researcher Steven Rose writes, but remove the memories of a human and it will change immediately (Rose, 2012).
Memories help form the basis of our identity, we have the personal memories like remembering a specific gift you received or gave away, or something that happened during Christmas Eve; and we have the cultural and collective memories like a particular way of cooking, Christmas stories or Christmas mass.
Back to the list of what you cannot lose – at the top are there some that are dear. I’ve lost someone, my son died a few years ago, now I am afraid of losing the pain, because the pain assures me that he once lived. Of course, I am still afraid of losing someone who is dear to me, , another child, another family member, a close friend, colleagues. As you get older, this is an inevitable life cycle. One should lose someone. The memory of him who died is reinforced during Christmas, because then the family will be central to the celebration and our memories are linked to stories. Where the family gathers, the stories of the family that mark this particular family are also told. The same stories are told over and over again to emphasize belonging and identity. The family’s chronicle is communicated to remember, identify with and ensure that dissemination continues.
If one goes further down the wish list, the freedom something we cannot lose. The renewal of education in primary school will take place at school start-up 2020 in Norway, here emphasis is placed on public health and livelihoods and democracy and citizenship. Again, memories come in as an important factor, for those who have experienced what «non – freedom» is, that is, World War II is about to disappear. The personal stories of living in war lose their origin tellers. Family and relatives continue to live with the sounds of the stories told.
At the same time, travelers from other parts of the world have come to Norway, who have traveled with the danger of their own lives with freedom as their goal. These are stories that also need space, time and listeners. But most of us take freedom for granted and do not understand that freedom also implies a responsibility and respect for other people’s views and opinions. Freedom is demanding, because we are expected to be active and listening citizens in the society we writes ourselves into.
Nature is naturally on the list. Young people have expressed their views, asking us not to put responsibility on their shoulders for all that may disappear from the nature in the climate crisis. On the other side of the table, little responsive grown-ups are sitting, formally dressed, and making far too slow turns and unmusical statements. Once I heard a kindergarten employee say it was a human right to have “nail bites”. It is an expression you find in Norway, describing when it is very cold, so cold you feel the pain under your nails. The future is predicted to be a time of “snow cannons” and “stuffed polar bears”. The white Christmas might in the future only be found on old pictures and in plastic ornaments with glitter. Even the plastic bags seem to be difficult to get rid of as they are filled with even more «plastic shit» for Christmas. It’s raining outside, it should have been snowing, and on my son’s grave, the lights won’t light, it’s too wet.
The list consists of more, maybe such things as work, a place to live, good health, mastery, love – all that gives you security and belonging.
Anyway, it’s a good exercise to imagine a list of what you cannot lose.
Here’s today’s story:
Unseen people on a travel
Source: Haukenæs, Th.S., 1906, Norsk sagnskat, Bergen, I kommission hos C. Floor
In the old days there lived on the farm Syse in Ulvik a man named Thrond. Thrond was poor and this was because he had no luck with his farm animals. Once Thrond traveled to town, it was just before Christmas. He was alone and rowing the boat. When he was done in the city, he left for home again. He got headwind and rowed and struggled. Day after day went, finally the day before Christmas came over him and yet he had not come much further than half way. He rowed against the wind and current.
«I’ll help you,» cried a man coming from a pile near the beach he was rowing past. «Thank you,» Thrond replied, rowing ashore. The man came on board, sat down, grabbed the oars and began to row. This was a strong man rowing into the fjord like a whipped rat. Thrond wanted to know what kind of man he was on board, but did not dare to ask.
The man hinted that he would like to stay in the boat all the way to Ulvik, and then nothing more was said. Both of them rowed with all the forces of life and when it was evening at Christmas Eve they were at Syseland. Thrond thanked for the help and for the good company and asked if the stranger would like to follow him home and taste his Christmas food. Yes, the man came along.
When they had walked a while, the man stopped and said that first Thrond had to follow him and taste his Christmas food. Before Thrond came to answer he stood in a nice living room, candles were burning and it was warm and cozy. Food and drink were brought to the table and the men sat down to eat and drink.
But as they sat at the table, it began to drip from under the roof and down onto the tablecloth some nasty, slimy water with a disgusting smell. Thrond asked what it was. «It comes from above, from your barns,» the host replied. «It has plagued us for many years, if you move the barns, I promise you better luck with your animals.» Thrond was about to answer, but it turned dark and when he looked around, he was by his own house. Now he understood that the unseen people he had brought with him on the trip home again and this one was even his closest neighbor.
When spring came, he moved the barns and from that day on he had good luck with the animals.
Rose, S. P. (2012). How Brains Make Memories. In P. Fara, & K. Patterson, Memory. Cambridge University Press.
Yates, F. (1999). The art of memory. London: Routledge.