Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Iceland: A Winter Wonderland

When our plane was descending upon the little island of Iceland I couldn't help but be completely charmed. Down below, was Reykjavik, the northernmost capital in the whole world! The city sits up on the peninsula jutting out into the ocean. It gets better. Miniature houses were lit up by warm yellow lights, smoke billowed out of miniscule chimneys and everything in sight was covered by a blanket of thick, fluffy looking snow. It was like a real-life miniature Christmas village spread out before me. It could have actually been twinkling with sparkles. I would have believed it.

It was six in the evening. It was cold, clear, dark and white. Snow! Winter! It had been so long since we had seen the snow and it was dazzling. Everything was white and fluffy and wonderful. Well, it is now, anyways. I may have felt differently in those first few hours. I didn't appreciate the snow at first, of course, because I was too busy being tired, annoyed, cold, wet and hungry as we trudged through the (incredibly inconvenient, stupid, cold...if you had asked me at the time) snow looking for a place to spend the night. 'Look at how beautiful this is!' J exclaimed every five steps twirling around in a circle, as if it would make me take notice to the winter wonderland that surrounded me. I didn't look. I was concentrating on scowling and not falling on my frozen bottom on the snow-covered, unplowed, slippery, bumpy sidewalk. I have no idea how, seeing as we had booked this flight nearly a year ago, that we could be so utterly unprepared for our arrival in Iceland, the land of fire and ice. But we were (J: says K) . And I was annoyed.

As always, everything eventually worked out, J speedily found me some food (smart man) and the wonders of Iceland began to make themselves apparent to me. Almost like they had been there all along. hmm. Downtown Reykjavik is so wonderfully festive and lit up like no other city we have ever been to. The city has reason to put so much thought and effort into their lights- they have more darkness in which to show them off. This morning, at 10:30, when we had set off down the main street to find an ATM-we were still appreciating the light show. It was still dark! By eleven-ish the sky was a tad lighter-that eerie 6:00 am kind of blueish-grey light, that at home lasts mere minutes and here continues on into the afternoon. Its a strange, strange feeling to be wandering down a festively lit main street-completely deserted besides ourselves- on a Sunday morning that looks like its 2:00 am on a Monday but feels like its transported out of some horror show where you are the only ones left on the entire planet. Creepy and fascinating at the same time. By early afternoon Reykjavik was as bright as it was going to get. It was light in a grey cloudy winter afternoon kind of way- which made sense, considering it was a grey, cloudy afternoon. By 16:00 the light had faded back into the twilight, grey sky and by 16:30, everything was black again. And that just about sums up the sun's brief appearance in Iceland today.

Being here in the Holiday season not only allows us to see all the festive lights (almost all day long) but we also get to learn about Icelandic Christmas traditions. One that I find especially fun and interesting are the 'Yule Lads.' These 'lads' are descended from trolls and have a terrifying ogress as a mother. Starting Dec 12, one Yule Lad comes down into town from his mountain cave every night until Christmas Eve. The Yule Lads traditionally get themselves up to all sort of trouble from door slamming and pot licking to swiping sausages and window peeping. These are actually their names too- so you know exactly the sort of trouble you can expect from 'Spoon Licker' and 'Candle Beggar.' The boys are usually looking to steal some food and pull a few pranks. This is mild compared to their cannibalistic mother who, it is said, always keeps a pot boiling on her stove in case there has been a child in town that was particularly naughty and needed to be eaten straight away. Needless to say, the Lads and their mother were traditionally used to terrify poor children into behaving here in Iceland. It got so bad that in 1746 the Icelandic authorities issued a public decree forbidding parents to frighten their children with such tales. The lads began to behave themselves a tad and fear was transformed into bribery. Good little boys and girls could now leave an empty shoe by an open window and each night, the arriving Yule Lad would drop a present in their shoe on their way past. Bad boys and girls would wake up to a lonely potato in their shoe. Mother 'Gryla' Ogress comes into town from time to time these days. We saw her Saturday night, actually (seriously) wandering down the main street, waving and greeting the little children she passed, warning them to behave. Oh, and Mrs. Ogress has a cat too- that attacks and eats anyone who hasn't received a new item of clothing for Christmas! (What a shopping excuse! 'Sorry hunny, I had to or, you know, The Yule Cat....) These lads are no Santa Claus, however. 'We have no needs for your big, international, fat, jolly, capitalist, greed-mongering Coca Cola Santa Claus here in Iceland, as we have thirteen of our own that are much cooler...' (The Reykjavik Grapevine). Wowzahs, Iceland. Tell us what you really think. Suspiciously enough, the photos of these new, less threatening Yule Lads portray the lads, all white haired with long white beards and jelly bellies, dressed in red and green and looking very Santa Claus-esque indeed. All pettiness aside, I think the Yule Lads are a fantastic tradition here in Iceland. Warning to Dad, Uncle Dan and your sopressata: Tonight, Dec 20th, is the fateful night that the Sausage Swiper lad comes to town. 'The name of this guy says it all. He snuck up in the rafters and nicked the sausages that hung there for smoking. It was all full of soot and smoke up there, but that didn't bother him. If there were sausages to be had, he was in the house.' (Reykjavik Christmas Guide) Maybe someone should stand watch...

3 comments:

Parentals said...

well Jeremy said he tricked the "yule lads" because he and Dad had sausage for supper and it was very good.

Anonymous said...

Adam wants to know which one is Jon ?? LOL

Sandra said...

Waou!