Tuesday 2 December 2014

(IS) Christmas in Iceland

Preparations for Christmas start in the beginning of December when most people decorate their houses and gardens with some Christmas lights. Most people use December for other preparations for the festivities, such as baking an assortments of cookies which are consumed over the holidays.

Christmas itself is celebrated 24, 25 and 26 of December but on the 23rd many
celanders eat fermented skate (a fish) with potatoes and melted sheep fat. It smells
very bad but many find it delicious althoug there are many who will never eat it.
Christmas begin at 6 o‘clock at Christmas Eve, December 24th. The custom in most families is to eat dinner and then open the Christmas presents. Some go to Christmas mass which begins at 6 o‘clock and then eat dinner, but there are always fewer and fewer who do this.

Most people get several parcels for Christmas. There are gifts from parents, siblings and grandparents, and also from cousins, uncles and aunts. It is very common for children to recieve 10 gifts and some even more.
The most common festivity food eaten at Christmas is smoked lamb, smoked ham or ptarmigan ( a game bird from the grouse family, Lagopus). In recent years turkey has made its way to the Christmas dinner table and the main reason is that the ptarmigan has declined in numbers and fewer people go ptarmigan hunting. For dessert many enjoy ris à l'amande (rice pudding) with an almond hidden in the bowl and the lucky one who gets the almond on his plate is rewarded with a small gift.

The Icelandic yule lads (an equivalent for santa Claus) are 13 brothers living in the mountains and before Christams they come down from the mountains one by one. The first one arrives 12 December and tha last one visits 24 December. Children put their shoes in their windows in the evening of 11 December and the yule lads  bring small presents which they place in the shoes. The children must take care to behave or they risk recieving an old potato from the yule lad visiting the following night. They leave for the mountains after christmas, one by one and the last ones leaves on January 5th. Every yule lad has his own name and his uniqe characteristics. In the olden days they were quite the pranksters and their mother, who was  a troll called Gryla, had a reputation for eating naughty children. Her husband is Leppaludi and together they had the Christmas cat, a black cat monster who according to legend ate children that had not recieved any new clothes.

Following are the Yule lads‘ names, their „speciality“, arrival date and the date they leave for home.

  • Stekkjarstaur (Sheep-Cote Clod), harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs. Arrives December 12, leaves December 25.
  • Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. Arrives December 13, leaves  December 26
  • Stúfur (Stubby) is abnormally short. Steals pans to eat the crust left on them. Arrives December, leaves 14 December 27
  • Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker) steals Þvörur (a type of a wooden spoon with a long handle - I. þvara, ) to lick. Is extremely thin due to malnutrition. Arrives December 15, leaves December 28
  • Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper) steals leftovers from pots. Arrives December 16, leaves December 29
  • Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker) hides under people‘s beds waiting for someone to put down their 'askur' (a type of bowl with a lid used instead of dishes), which he then steals. Arrives December 17, leaves  December 30.
  • Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer) likes to slam doors, especially during the night. Arrives December 18, leaves December 31.
  • Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler). A Yule Lad with an affinity for skyr. Arrives December 19, leaves January 1
  • Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper) would hide in the rafters and snatch sausages that were being smoked. Arrives December 20, leaves January 2.
  • Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper) is a  voyeur who would look through windows in search of things to steal. Arrives December 21, leaves January 3.
  • Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer) has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð (Leaf bread = a thin type of decorated bread). Arrives December 22, leaves  January 4
  • Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook) uses a hook to steal meat. Arrives December 23, leaves  January 5.
  • Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer) follows children around in order to steal their candles (which in those days were made of tallow and thus edible). Arrives  December 24, leaves January 6.

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