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To begin, you’ll want snow, a thick, sparkling coat of snow over the fields and the roof of the red house and every bare limb. In later years you’ll eat this meal in the desert, in the rain in a fertile valley, in the front seat of a car parked beside your tent next to a drying man-made lake in California. But to begin, you want snow in the northern reaches, and sun catching every glistening crystal of hardened water, as if all that reflective light will make up for the fact that it is dark by 4pm. It should be morning, but not too early–after the stockings are emptied of jellybeans and clementines and small, senseless oddities, before the full onslaught of torn open packages and the retreat into piles of new books. This first unwrapping will become your favorite–the peeling back of white butcher paper from wedges of cheese–gjetost, jarlsburg, a marbled and stinking blue–the soft popping of lids from glass jars of pungent pickled herring and lingonberry jam. Slim packets of paper hold cured meats in slices, which are piled onto a plate with a fat slab of sweet cream butter to smear across the dark rye. The centerpiece, of course, is the side of smoked salmon, ringed in raw onion, wedges of lemon, a dish of capers and froths of fresh dill. There will be eggs. What you do with your eggs depends on the particulars–soft scrambled in plenty of butter for a crowd, simply boiled on a camp stove and sprinkled with salt when the meal calls for more planning ahead. This is the only time of year that you search high and low for the large round of Siljans Knakebrod that your Mormor loved, its stately blue packaging a requisite appearance at the table out of tradition more than a unified love of its slightly bland taste. Of course there will be drinking, even though it is morning, even small sips for the young. There should be beer–dark and yeasty ales, sparkling blonde pilsners–and of course the aquavit, clean, astringent, yet so redolent of anise it is viscous in the mouth and near medicinal. The size of the group will vary. At first it will be your large and sprawling family. At times it will be only you and another and you’ll relish the privacy of this version too, the shared secret of a hotel mini fridge cleared of its contents to make way for cheap cans of beer, a salami, and the only can of smoked fish you can find for miles. It is a good celebration for taking in friends, old and new, the only rule being that they must love food and drink and the clamorous talk and sudden outbursts of song so common amongst your clan. After the meal, like true Vikings, fortified by food and buzzing with booze, you must fling yourself now into the day, no matter the weather. Get air in your lungs. Get sun on your face. Get snow in your boots. Feast on the day. Feast on the company. Let the blood rise in your cheeks and let all of your senses feast before the light falls. Merriam-Webster defines the word feast as, among other things, something that gives unusual or abundant enjoyment. This tradition, so portable, so pure and unashamed in its simple purpose to indulge in the day, this pleasure in a meal and in the company who shares it, this is how you will come to understand Christmas. The feast. This is the gift. Gledelig Jul.

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