Even if one is doing nothing more than eating Chinese food with one’s Muslim and Jewish friends (don’t order the pork lo mein), being together on the longest nights of the year, as the cold sets into the ground and makes it crunch, the warmth inside is infectious and transcendent.

This, after all, was the month in which families began tightening and closing and sealing; from Thanksgiving to the New Year, everybody’s world contracted, day by day, into the microcosmic single festive household, each with its own rituals and obsessions, rules and dreams. You didn’t feel you could call people. They didn’t feel they could phone you. How does one cry for help from these seasonal prisons?

Each February/March the entire country takes a “ski week”. The schools shut down, parents take off work, dogs go to the in-laws, and Finland’s middle and upper classes go on holiday. But not all at once. They can’t have the entire country gandala-ing up to Lapland at one time (AVALANCHES!). So the country takes turns. The best region goes first: Southern Finland. Then the second best: Central Finland. Then the reindeer herders and forest people take a week off from unemployment and go last: Northern Finland.

Snowflakes swirl down gently in the deep blue haze beyond the window. The outside world is a dream.

Inside, the fireplace is brightly lit, and the Yule log crackles with orange and crimson sparks.

There’s a steaming mug in your hands, warming your fingers.

There’s a friend seated across from you in the cozy chair, warming your heart.

There is mystery unfolding.

One of the hardest things you will ever have to go through is the death of a child. The second hardest thing you will ever have to go through is having a child die at Christmas time. The third hardest thing you will ever have to go through is telling your child that their friend and family member has passed away. The bittersweet moment that pulls you through it all is when your child says, “Mom don’t cry. They’re okay because they are with God now and they promise not to leave until they help you get through this.

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