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December 13th, just before dawn.

Nestled in the snow-laden pines of the Nordic is a house enveloped in darkness. Inside that house, a family sleeps. Mother rises first, careful not to make a sound and tiptoes her way to the rooms of the children. Gently she wakes them with a reminding whisper of the special day. They crawl out of bed half asleep yet eager to dress themselves in the white gowns they had laid out the night before.


Garlands of tinsel are tied around their waists, wreaths of lingonberry branches placed on their heads, and a candle given to each set of hands. All except for the eldest daughter, who wears a red sash and entire crown of candles. Then a single flame breaks the darkness and is passed among them until all lights are burning brightly. It’s time. Down the hall they walk in an illuminated procession, led by the girl with the glowing halo. They begin to sing:

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Night walks with heavy steps

Round yard and hearth,

As the sun departs from earth,

Shadows are brooding.

There in our dark house,

Walking with lit candles,

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Father, still tucked in bed, wakes to the melody from beyond the bedroom. There is warm light filling the hallway and as his family approaches their song grows louder, the glow grows brighter, and he is taken back in memory to the mornings of December 13th from his childhood. Santa Lucia. It’s been the same way ever since. They enter the room, still singing:

Night walks grand, yet silent,

Now hear its gentle wings,

In every room so hushed,

Whispering like wings.

Look, at our threshold stands,

White-clad with light in her hair,

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

That’s the ideal, anyway. Plenty of busy families might just flip on the T.V. and enjoy the national televised version over breakfast, instead. Whether a family holds their own or not, one would certainly come across the celebration that day at school, the office, or at a local church. One might even have tickets for an evening performance by a famous choir where hundreds participate in a single procession.

It isn’t any wonder why Scandinavians, Swedes in particular, have placed so much importance on the Lucia tradition. In a part of the world where daylight is a precious commodity in the winter months, the Festival of Lights is huge.

Lucia of Syracuse was an Italian Christian Martyr who died in 304. It’s said that she carried food through dark catacombs to the persecuted poor in hiding and her crown of candles lit the way. Her name, Lucia or Lucy, comes from the Latin word Lux, meaning “light”. December 13th is within reach of the Winter Solstice, the hopeful return to longer brighter days.

What constitutes a Lucia celebration? Well, there’s the woman herself whom you can’t miss (she’s the one with lights on her head), the attendants who follow her and very often at least one star-boy, who dons a wizard hat covered in – you guessed it – stars. Most Americans have a negative connotation with an army of white robes and wizard hats but let’s remember to think cross-culturally about this. Lucia comes in peace, bearing light and singing songs. It’s all good.

In Sweden, where competition is a faux pas, it’s no-holds-barred when it comes to the starring role. Competition for Lucia is downright fierce. Luckily, with the implementation of color-blind casting, the girls with the longest blondest hair are no longer only up for consideration. In some cases men have even landed the part! A true egalitarian approach is taken at many preschools, however, where you’ll often find a whole slew of adorable Lucias. It’s from these early years that kids are learning the Lucia repertoire, embedding the songs deep into the national consciousness. However, you’ll still find attendants slacking at the semi-professional level, who write the words out to more obscure songs on their cardboard candle cuffs. Incidentally, they make a handy cheat sheet.

If you’re wondering how all of this candlelight and loose fabric doesn’t amount to a massive fire-hazard, rest-assured that participants under 12 are given battery-powered flambeaus. Other than that, Scandi’s are pretty passionate about their use of real candles, as anyone who has purchased a 100-count bag from IKEA can attest to. As long as performers don’t slug down too much glogg before the show, it usually turns out fine.

Glogg, if you are wondering is a warm spiced wine served throughout the winter holidays. Other foods typical for Lucia are lussekatter, saffron scented buns shaped like curled up cats and of course pepparkakor, also known as ginger snaps. The songs, the glow, the mugs of steamy wine, and alluring scents all coalesce to produce a delightfully warming effect. And that’s the whole point of Lucia, to warm and uplift the spirit by looking towards the light, and the promise of brighter days.

Darkness shall take flight soon,

From earth’s valleys.

So she speaks

Wonderful words to us:

A new day will rise again

From the rosy sky . . .

Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

Want to experience a taste of the Lucia tradition? Serve up some glogg and gingersnaps this holiday! By candlelight, of course.

Ginger Snaps Recipe

Ingredients:

1 cup of corn syrup

5 ½ oz butter

2/3 cup of sugar

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1 tbsp. ground cloves

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. baking soda

1 egg

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Oven temperature: 400°F

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and combine with sugar, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, corn syrup and baking soda. Stir into a paste. Leave to cool before adding the egg. Mix in the flour to make a dough. Refrigerate the dough for an hour. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out part of the dough until it’s wafer-thin. Make patterns with cookie cutters or a knife. Transfer to a greased cookie sheet and bake for 4-6 minutes.

Serve and pair with some Stilton cheese.

Glogg Recipe

Ingredients:

1 bottle of red wine

½ cup of sugar

18 whole cloves

8 whole cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

1 piece of fresh, peeled ginger (1 inch.)

1 orange peel

Serve with raisins and blanched almonds.

Mix wine, sugar and spices over medium heat. Turn off the heat when the sugar has melted. Cover and leave to stand for an hour or more. Strain off the spices.

For a stronger version add 4 oz or aquavit or vodka after cooking. Add raisins and almonds. Ladle into mugs and enjoy while it’s hot!

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.


Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

This article was sponsored by Pipette. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"


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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)

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Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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