By Kyla Hanington
It’s dark here. I am aware of this when, at four-thirty in the afternoon, the gloaming is made brilliant with sunset orange, as though some clumsy god has kicked a bucket of tangelo paint out across the sky.
And when driving one Sunday at eight-twenty in the morning and I see the mauve of sunrise fading behind the snowy mountains, I am again reminded. Here, it is dark.
I have lived in dark, wintery places before. I lived for three years in Århus, Denmark, more northern still than Terrace.
There the dark was broken with candles; a plethora of tealights.
In Denmark, people look to cozy for defense against the night. Candles, gløgg, æbleskiver with icing sugar and jam. Æbleskiver are like little pancake balls.
At Christmas time, in the center of Århus, vendors would sell candied almonds, æbleskiver, and gløgg, mulled wine with cloves and cinnamon, served steaming in paper cups. From living room windows candles twinkled out into the night. Inviting. Reassuring. We are here. You are welcome.
I am grateful for this Danish experience now that we are here, in Terrace, where we arrived during what we later learned was the first snowfall of the year.
I was wearing my Birkenstocks, and no socks, and it would not take too long before I was bewildered by the cold. I dug through the moving boxes until I found our winter boots, our hats, gloves. The sorts of things we needed only rarely in Nanaimo but that clearly we would form an instant attachment to in Terrace, to which we moved just in time to prepare for Christmas.
I dig into my Danish memories, light candles in the evening to make the house cozy, make sure we go out and walk around downtown.
We line up for hot chocolate in George Little Park when the opportunity presents itself.
We take photos of snow on the mountains.
Because we are new here, everything is magic. The way our breath hangs in the air. How long it takes the car to warm up. The twinkling of coloured Christmas lights on the houses we pass.
The magnificent raptors that congregate at the Terrace landfill, making the dump the first place I take any out of town guests.
Merry Christmas, I say, leaning in to kiss a cheek. Come. We are going to the dump.
I have Christmas’d also in Hawai’i, where it is dark for approximately the same length of time all year ‘round.
There one hangs up Christmas lights while wearing surf shorts and flip-flops, the kind of footwear I grew up calling thongs, back when thong had, I think, an entirely different cultural meaning than it does today.
Santa would arrive on a surfboard. I imagined he’d be terribly warm in that red suit. And possibly water-logged, too.
But gifts arrived, stockings were filled.
But without the dark – without the cold – there is no need there for the gentle gift of twinkling candlelight, no huddling in groups warming hands on hot chocolate or mulled wine.
Christmas is not wildly different than the rest of the year, although like elsewhere, in Hawai’i the holidays are a time for family, friends, companionship. The gentle kindnesses that can be hard to muster throughout the rest of the year.
This is one of the great gifts of Christmas in Terrace, I write as a newcomer. The gift of the dark.
How colour splashes out across the blue dome when one is awake and outside to see it.
How the company of strangers, a hot drink, and candle light are promises. We get through this together. Come, stand with me.
Kyla Hanington lives with two children, a great deal of enthusiasm and is a grateful new resident of Terrace.