(After the usual day of furious last minute preparations)
Breathe in and out… try to relax, to let tired muscles ease. I let the chair support me, listen to the silence. I take the path to my place on the mountain side. On the slopes behind, lights twinkle, but here it is all dark and still. To find my way I need a lantern. I light the candle and start off, the flickering light showing now a trunk, now the path. When I come out onto the plain of Midgard, it is lit by a radiance that is neither dusk nor noon.
I come to the Worldtree and call to Raven, still preening herself, replete from yesterday’s feast. Together we fly through and over Bifrost Bridge, and come to the gates of Asgard. Heimdall wears his godly form tonight. He holds a mug of something cinnamon scented and frothy in his hand.
“is there a feast tonight, and may I observe?”
“Come through the gate,” he replies, “and take the path that winds to the left and downhill.”
I nod, wondering, for I have not been thus way before. The woods are very thick, many firs, so far north, less pine, interspersed with deciduous trees that lift stark skeletal branches against the sky. The woods are very dark, and I am glad to have my lantern. Presently I smell woodsmoke, though not, thank goodness, the scent of gingerbread.
Still, the house I find is very much like the one in Hansel and Gretel, thatched and whitewashed. The whitewash is shining, the path newly swept, the garden weeded, though all that grows in this season are a few evergreens. Hesitating, I go up the steps and knock on the door.
It is opened by a bright-faced girl with a kerchief over her brown braids. She holds a broom in her hand. She welcomes me and hands me the broom.
“I’ve been doing housework and such all day”, I complain. “Why the hurry? The house looks clean enough to me.”
“No doubt it does,” comes a new voice. “I have seen your kitchen. But I would be ashamed to greet the holy feast with dirty floors.”
I look at the newcomer, an old woman, though still hale, with ruddy cheeks and bright eyes. Her silver hair is pulled back in a bun. She wears an apron over a blue tunic. The brown haired girl goes into the other room and I hear the sound of something heavy being lifted and shaken. Through the open door behind me I can see that it is beginning to snow.
“Well, come in, woman, don’t let the cold air in.”
“Yes, Lady Holda”, I reply, for I know where I am now. “I am sorry to disturb you. I was told that there was a feast here?”
“Told? I think not—-only that he told you to come this way. Tonight is for preparation, to clear the space, open the way, create a setting into which the new year can be born. So, you wear yourselves out finishing your shopping.”
I can understand that. It’s why I struggle to have all the presents wrapped early, but rarely succeed.
“I understand,” I reply, “and I will help you, if you will help me to continue trying to clean up my house tomorrow morn.”
“Preparation is also holy, it is also a prayer, to bring order to chaos, to heal, to repair, to cleanse. All these things are part of the holiday. Teach your children. Say it aloud. You cannot expect them to understand what they have never been told. They are my children through you, and this is part of their heritage….”
I continue to sweep, and with every stroke, the room glows a little more to my sight. When the room is done, Holda comes and leads me to another, where there are fruit and pastries, and hot food.
On the table is a cake with a crumbly top, and mugs of cocoa. When I have eaten, I turn to go.
“A blessing on your house and on all those who live in it.” I hear her laughter as I make my way back down the path.
Through the gate, and over the bridge, through the woods and I am at my beginning place once more, which becomes the guardian of my home.
Thank you, Holda.