Everywhere I look, a pristine white blanket covers my immediate surroundings, adding an enchanted feel to this special day.
Today is Christmas Eve and the culmination of the Holiday Season has begun. For the second consecutive year our Christmas is white, a truly rare occurrence in my part of the world and one for the record books for sure.
Nevertheless, the snow creates a truly spellbound atmosphere, a picture perfect reality, so magical and dreamy...
As I savour this ethereal stillness of the early morning, I am transported back to the days of my childhood, when happiness would envelop my entire being as soon as I opened my eyes. The anticipation and excitement was one of the kind and holding onto it through the years, being able to feel this way still - keeps my heart and soul as pristine as the white snow outside.
I would like to wish all of you reading this a wonderful Christmas, spend among your loved ones. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your endless visits here in the past year, always offering words of kindness and comfort, making 2010 a great year indeed.
I am taking a holiday break and will be back shortly after New Year.
As I write this post, I am sitting at my windows watching the progress of a total Lunar Eclipse in the northwest heavens. The sky is pristine, the colour of blue velvet and the silver globe is partially obstructed by Earth's shadow, as it floats so effortlessly above the snow covered trees...
A plethora of emotions encompasses my whole being watching this Lunar Event - awe, enchantment, marvel and utter fascination.
However also a slight sting of sadness, a mild irritation about not having a better camera. I long so desperately to be able to immortalize this celestial event with my lens, preserving it forever. I guess though that this moment was meant to be mine only. The vision of the moon, slowly turning red, until it is completely obscured in the morning sky was meant to be captured by my eyes only and preserved as a snapshot solely in my recollection.
How extraordinary it is though, that a total eclipse of the moon takes place during the dawn of the Winter Solstice, when a winter day envelops us in a final twilight, while the longest night falls upon my surroundings.
This Solar Event means that from now on, the sun will commence its journey back, prolonging the fragile daylight of the North.
It begins ever so slowly, with only a few minutes more light by each day, but in a month - an hour will be added to our days.
As much as I love June and the longest day of the Summer Solstice, when our days comprise almost eleven hours more as compared to today, Winter Solstice holds an entirely different allure.
It indicates that soon, we have reached midwinter. This signals the imminence and in its turn the onset of the best time of the year; as we cross the threshold back to light, the countdown to Summer, my favorite season - yet again begins...
(Below a set of comparison images of my northwest views in winter and in summer - and stages of the Lunar Eclipse taking place in the same cardinal direction - please click images for a larger, better view)
As we step into the final week of Christmas anticipation, my surroundings grow darker by each day.
These days, I find myself suffering from a mild case of insomnia - of the good kind. Thus being wide awake in the early hours of the morning, I love to watch the world, as it is still submerged in darkness and stillness.
I do not mind this current state of my mind, as pleasant thoughts fill my entire being and I find incredible comfort in the ebony of the winter dawn. The only illumination - in my home and outside my windows - comes from candles and the beautiful Christmas Lights. Their delicate shine creates a feeling of enchantment and tranquility, spreading a soothing and comforting atmosphere.
Each morning, I enjoy watching the sky turn milky grey, as the illumination slowly looses in intensity, until it at one point vanishes all together, signaling a birth of yet another winter day.
Staying with the romantic theme this week, I have to admit that I love to be kissed. Oh yes I do - and I love to return the kisses even more.
A kiss can mean so much - it can be such a very innocent display of fondness and devotion as well as it can be the most intimate display of romance and love.
I was brought up in a loving home and physical display of affection was always present. I recall that we always kissed our parents good night, for many years as kids.
Thus when I love, I kiss.
I kiss Batcat daily on his cold nose or shower his black beautiful fur with kisses when I hold him tight. I kiss my friends on the cheek and of course, the men I fall in love with can expect to be kissed by me constantly. When I flirt, I blow covert kisses to my admirers and I sign love letters occasionally with a lipstick kiss.
And of course, during Christmas, there is always a Mistletoe hanging somewhere in my house. I love this romantic tradition that belongs to the holidays.
Not many know that this beautiful evergreen is actually classed as a hemiparasite and in nature it grows attached to trees or shrubs, draining them of nutrients.
Kissing under the Mistletoe is suggested by some legends to be of Scandinavian origin; if enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their weapons and observe peace until next day. Ultimately, a mistletoe bunch was hung from the ceiling as a symbol of goodwill and friendship.
To me though, this beautiful Holiday plant simply adds a romantic streak to my Holidays. And maybe one Christmas, there will also be a man there for me - to kiss and to be kissed by - standing underneath it.
That fleeting, yet such a completely transcending emotion; one that makes us feel so fragile and invincible, simultaneously.
At times I truly doubt that the romantic kind of love was ever meant for me - still I do believe and rejoice in its existence for others. As it is that one single human sentiment, which makes everything worth our while.
Even though some of us might feel lonely right now, missing that special connection with another human being, I believe we are never really alone - as love connects us all...
I became reminded of this belief by a set of touching sentences of comfort, send to me recently by a stranger, yet a kindred soul. Her poignant words resonated so strongly within me, I decided to share them here with you;
"Many people forget we belong together as one Universal family - when we forget we feel isolated... The Soul knows no ego, no pride nor fear of humiliation, whilst acting from the heart..."
Such a powerful message from an unexpected source...
Christmas is the time to remember those we love and have loved, no matter what kind of love that might be. As love takes all shapes and travels across vast distances to warm those we hold dear.
To celebrate this surpassing and collective emotion of Love, I have compiled a few of my favourite love quotes in the clip below, using my best winter photographs and the harmonies of one of the infinitely most poetic and romantic songs ever written.
I dedicate it to all of you, whether you feel loved or lonely this Christmas, and whether you are with the ones you love or miss them dearly...
I find it utterly fascinating, when natural wonders take place just outside my windows. Those stunning artworks, that appear to be created by an unseen artist, in any season.
No one can ever reproduce that which nature creates.
We can only strive to do so and we can indeed come very close - such as using the lenses of our cameras to convey what we see. It can never measure up to the original though, as to appreciate the natural beauty, we must perceive it with all our senses.
Nevertheless, Winter paints the natural canvas in the most enchanting way. The ethereal works of art that currently comprise my vistas simply leave me standing in awe. I can not help but pause every time I pass my windows, in order to take in the spellbound beauty of my views.
The images that greet my gaze are as stunning as the brilliant bloom of Spring, can outmatch the luscious colours of sea and sky in the Summer and in elegance, they surpass the flamboyant foliage of Autumn.
(These are selected photographs of my views this past week, please click on each image to enlarge)
My Holiday home is never complete until one special guest enters my house. The Tree.
Some of you might recall that I have a particular tradition in my white house on a hill - I cut down my very own Christmas tree each year.
Well, I do get help with the actual cutting - nevertheless - it is a winter Saturday that I look forward to with almost a childish enchantment and anticipation.
In Denmark, tree plantations that grow spruce trees for this purpose, where people are allowed to select and cut the tree of their choice, are very common. The experience to walk among the trees and finding the one, which is just right - is one of a kind. It carries so much symbolism and represents an almost nostalgic Holiday sentiment.
This year the white snow added a great deal of magic to this December tradition, as the tree, its branches still heavy with the wintry precipitation, entered my home. The air grew gently saturated with the scent of fresh pine and the spices of hot wine, while I trimmed sparsely its evergreen attire - keeping it simple, the way I prefer. As the day slowly closed towards its end and the afternoon twilight brought on the illumination of my beautiful guest, the atmosphere of happiness in the company of my very good friends created a perfect Holiday moment, completing a winter fantasy...
The Christmas celebrations that I recall most vividly are the ones that were spend in Sweden, whereto my family immigrated when I was thirteen and where I lived until I was twenty five.
Upon our escape to the west, when we found ourselves as political refugees, my family became a very closed knit one and still is today. Thus Christmas, which highlights the value of family and celebrates those who are us near, was always a very joyful and infinitely happy time that I recollect today with absolute fondness.
Never forgetting our central European origins, we kept many of the traditions of our Slavic roots, nevertheless also tried to integrate with the new society and thus allowed ourselves to be assimilated by the Scandinavian Christmas traditions.
Such as the Advent observance, which turned December into a month of celebration, when the house became illuminated by multitude of candles. Particularly the lighting of Calendar Candle and the opening of Christmas Calendars became a wonderful daily ritual as we counted impatiently down to Christmas Eve. The weeks were filled with scents and tastes that are so significant of this special time, such as Glögg, a type of mulled wine, a very traditional Christmas drink in Scandinavia, the ginger biscuits and the saffron buns, baked on Saint Lucia Day.
Among all this, the perfumes of the traditional Slovak and Czech holidays cuisine kept us close to our origins and reminded us of the culture we once came from, bridging the past and the present in a poetic way...
The warmth of these almost twelve years of traditional celebrations in Sweden was what laid base to those I established as a young adult. My very own Christmas was born in North Carolina, where I lived for almost a decade.
It was here that I for the very first time decorated my home for the Holidays, trimmed the tree and started slowly to combine the traditions that I have carried with me from my past, all the way from childhood. Slowly, Christmas became a holiday that I no longer celebrated with my parents, but with my friends. It was difficult at first, but I realized quickly that all the love and happiness I felt once in the past, when I was a child or a teenager, resonated still within me.
I realized that I was capable of creating my own traditions, the ones that would dictate a new direction of the Holiday celebrations that would become my very own.
We have stepped into the fourth and final season. As we turn the pages of our calenders to December, the reign of Winter is most definitely palpable in my surroundings.
I can sense her presence as she passes covertly by my windows, her icy breath leaving frost upon the transparent panes, crystals of frozen water in patterns and shapes, creating enchanted art.
Everywhere I look, a heavy blanket of snow instigates a sense of spellbound beauty and stillness - a certain kind of tranquility that is so very contagious. The only harmony in the air is the music delivered by the icy branches, while they move in the rhythm of the arctic wind. The contrast between the dark skies before a heavy snowfall and the white landscape comes across as intricately pleasing to the eye, as it creates a sense of fascination for this ultimate seasons fury and power.
Simultaneously though, Winter is a cool, reserved beauty, enticing us with her imperious allure. Occasionally, when the elusive December sun appears, moving ever so low over the horizon, while reflecting in the white landscape - the light becomes platinum and the blue skies promote an atmosphere of elegance and sophistication.
(The below images are taken this past week, out of the windows of my home. The last two are captured with my iPhone from a friends car, while driving outside the city limits.)
Traditionally, I decorate my home for the Christmas Holidays around the 1st Advent, which usually takes place on a Sunday shortly after Thanksgiving.
I relish in that weekend, when everything begins for me. When the atmosphere of my home changes as if by magic and becomes saturated by colours and illumination. The sentiment of that weekend is always the same and has a transcending effect on my mood and my state of mind.
While I try to bring that spellbound feel of Christmas into my house, I am always taken back in time, recalling the holiday home of my childhood, when my mother would deck the halls in red, green and golden. My love for aesthetics and the sense of creating a safe haven was instigated during those years, as I watched her transforming our home into a fairytale of light and colours.
It was without a doubt then that my love for this beautiful time in the year was born.
As I was decorating my home for the holidays this weekend, some of the shapes and colours brought back a wave of memories of Christmas celebrations of my past.
It made me contemplate with a hint of nostalgia the fact that I have adopted and gone through so many different traditions, stretching some forty years back in time. Having lived in so many places in my life, it is inevitable that even the celebration of my Christmas today is a product of my cosmopolitan past.
I have decided to reminiscence over my past celebrations in two posts; today and next Monday. I hope you will enjoy this sentimental walk down the memory lane with me.
I was already born into a family that combined traditions of two cultures; the Czech and the Slovak. I do not remember much from my early years, while we lived under the Tatra mountains in Slovakia. That time seems so far removed from my consciousness today, it comes across almost as an entirely different life. Still, a few odd and amusing details enter my thoughts as I recall these Christmas celebrations during the communist era.
Such as my parents covert attempts to trim the tree the day before Christmas Eve, while my sister and me still believed in the enchanted Christmas in which the tree and the gifts magically appear out of nowhere.
The carp, that used to swim around in our bathtub a few days before the 24th, bought live at a marked, to fulfill its grand destiny and be served at the dinner table, according to a long lived Czech Christmas tradition. Although my parents very quickly abandoned this custom, feeling sorry for the poor creature, unable to inflict it any pain.
I recall our pre Christmas visits to the Tuzex store, located in the stunning and beautiful Tatra mountains. Its concept was the irony of the communism regime, selling western merchandise in exchange for hard currency, to those who were privileged and could afford foreign bills.
The drive would always be a very enchanted one, and always in snow, taking us on deserted roads through breathtaking natural scenery and today I smile with amusement as I recall how we would say that "the trees were covered with whipped cream"...
Finally, the enchantment I felt when watching Cinderella on television, when the broadcast of this famous fairytale in a Slavic version became a tradition during Christmas. The Czech adaptation is still today one of my favorite films, due to its stunning visual and infinitely romantic feel.
Thus I leave you with the final scene of this cinematographic gem, one that still today keeps me spellbound, even though I should long have outgrown the allure of make believe and naive fantasy...
We have been in snow for the past four days. An arctic cold front has ventured as far down as southern Scandinavia and its grip is firm, severe and extensive. Our temperatures plummeted in midweek and we have been in subzero ever since.
Last night an extensive snowstorm passed over us and this morning I woke up to a heavy blanket of white, covering everything in sight.
November and December snow is very unusual in my part of the world, as we are positioned in southern Scandinavia, where the Gulf Stream keeps our winters temperate. Still, intense snowfall can at times occur in the beginning of the year.
Thus this year Queen Winter seems to be arriving way ahead of time. Unexpectedly and in all her icy fury, she is determined to demand her reign without mercy.
When the snow started to fall, I was trying my very best not to give into a certain kind of irritation, or almost sorrow. Usually the first snow is magical, however this year initially it came across as oppressive, annoying and tiring. It arrived simply too soon, as vivid memories of our last never ending winter still linger in my perception.
But then unexpectedly, something changed today.
Standing in my living room early this morning, I was taking in the view of our snow covered scenery, feeling the stillness reign over my surroundings. Later, after I lit the fire, I watched it flicker, listening to its crackling noise, and suddenly I felt at ease; I felt safe and comfortable. Almost happy.
As I leaned my gaze against the silvery white cover outside my windows, a certain kind of transition took place within me. Looking at the sugar coated trees and the spellbound, white landscape, while I decorated my house with red, green, silver and golden colours of Christmas, my heart could not help but feel a certain kind of joy.
Surrendering to that universal spirit of celebration, which seems to have suddenly settled over my city - while I soon light the first out of four advent candles - made me realize in no uncertain terms that the Holiday Season has truly began.
And the snow cover made this onset feel incredibly enchanting and alluring, just like it is suppose to be...
It is more than a decade since I returned back to Europe, but I still recall with joy and longing the American Thanksgiving celebration, which I took part in for so many years while living in North Carolina.
Today, even though I no longer observe this lovely tradition, I do get reminded of the approaching Christmas through one beuatiful, subtle sign.
Each year, as precisely as clockwork, my Christmas Cactus stands in full bloom around this time. Its stunning, almost flamboyant veil of pink flowers - cascading down like a magenta waterfall, adorning my bedroom window - signals in no uncertain terms that the onset of the enchanted and most beuatiful time of the year is indeed imminent.
With the imminence of the Thanksgiving Holiday and the fact that November is often viewed as a month in which many express their gratitude, I decided to acknowledge my two very dear companions; my two dear friends of perhaps the unusual kind, but with whose help I am able to express myself in pictures and words.
These are perhaps not friends as such, but they are my tools, they are almost extensions of myself, allowing me to use my own capabilities to their full potential; my small 'point and shoot' camera and my laptop computer.
I simply can not live without these two items any longer.
They are invaluable and priceless, as they follow me everywhere I go, helping me document what I see and feel at any given moment.
The camera is a Nikon Coolpix. It is very simple and very small, fitting in the palm of my hand easily, or in almost any pocket, making it so effortless to carry. Of course it has its limitations, nevertheless it has taken some stunning images, as it enables me to eternalize moments in time. Capturing unforgettable natural wonders, the beauty of seasons and sunsets, the faces of family and friends, highlighting special occasions in my life.
My laptop is an Apple MacBook. I am a devoted apple fan and have been a mac user since I first saw a Macintosh commercial in the cinema in the early eighties. Even though it has a few years on its back and we all know the light speed with which computers evolve today, this is by far the best computer I have ever own. I have my life on its hard-drive, pretty much. I use in my writing, I use to it surf the net, to organize and store my photographs. I use it in my work, I use it to pay bills, to watch movies, to listen to music. I keep in touch with family and friends through its software.
And I am able to be online and share my sentiments, thoughts and reflections with all of you, a fact that will forever entice and fascinate me.
Even though there is so much more that I am grateful for and even though I know that the quality of my life is not solely based on technology or material items, I still do recognize the incredible potential that modern technology does provide.
Used wisely and with good intentions, it enriches our life in the most profound way possible.
I was born under the Tatra Mountains, to a Czech father and a Slovak mother. I grew up in Sweden and lived almost ten years in North Carolina.
More than a decade ago my line of work took me to Denmark, where I live today. My home, which I share with the man that holds my heart, lies in the northerly part of a Danish peninsula, in the proximity of endless, wide and pristine westbound sandy beaches, surrounded by the rough and untamed North Sea.
My writing is defined by reflections on my cosmopolitan past and my intriguing present. Ultimately I try to convey in words and images my personal thoughts and feelings about life itself, with all its magic, natural splendour and the beauty of simple pleasures.