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Today was the first Sunday in Advent, marking the first of four weekends leading up to Christmas. Advent marks the official start of the Christmas season here in Iceland and this is when things start getting magical: when lights start appearing everywhere, shining out of the winter darkness, when traditions are observed, when concerts abound, when the festive spirit permeates everything.

EPI and I did some house cleaning today in anticipation of getting out the decorations, and then headed downtown for some fresh air, daylight and, well, a spot of Christmas shopping. We had a whole bunch of stale bread so we first stopped at Tjörnin to feed it to the ducks, swans and ferocious, man-eating geese [trust me on that one].

Heading towards the city centre, we suddenly realized that this was the day when the lights were being lit on the Oslo tree – another firm Icelandic tradition. Every year, the city of Oslo gives Icelanders a big evergreen that is set up in Austurvöllur square and the lighting of the tree has been a momentous occasion for decades, particularly for families with children. It is accompanied by entertainment for kids that includes Grýla and Leppalúði, plus a couple of the Yule Lads that – if you click on the link and peer your eyes – you will see are dressed in very un-traditional Santa Claus attire [whereas their parents, said Grýla and Leppalúði, are wearing Nicelandic sweaters, baggy potato-sack trousers, sheepskin shoes, and are looking decidedly ragged].

Speaking of which. Here in Iceland there is a cast of characters that sort of populate the traditional lead-up to Christmas. I’ve blogged about them for the last two years in December and sort of feel that I need to blog about them this year as well if I’m going to blog at all, because they are such an integral part of what makes Christmas in Iceland unique. I do worry, however, whether I’ll have anything interesting or fresh to say. After all, how many time can one hold forth about the mischievous antics of the Yule Lads?

Here are the Usual Suspects:

GRÝLA: A terrible ogre who lives up in the mountains and eats small children if they’ve been naughty. Also the mother of the Yule Lads.

LEPPALÚÐI: Husband to Grýla, an ineffectual, simpering type. Colourless. Father of the Yule Lads [supposedly, although if I were them I’d be demanding a DNA test].

THE YULE CAT: A large black cat that lives in the cave with Grýla and Leppalúði and eats anyone who doesn’t receive a new garment for Christmas. In other words, if you don’t have anything new to wear, the Yule Cat gets you. Meaning that today, the purveyors of men’s and women’s fine clothes are laughing all the way to the bank.

THE YULE LADS: A bunch of mischievous n’er-do-gooders who start coming to the inhabited areas thirteen days before Christmas, one per day. They each have their unique characteristics [more on those later, perhaps] and in olden days they’d annoy the hell out of the general population. Whereas today they’ve sort of morphed into kinder, gentler Yule Lads and bring gifts for kiddies who have been good, depositing them in the kids’ shoes who have been left in the window for that purpose.

THE RANCID SKATE: A particular, ahem, delicacy consumed on December 23, a day before the Big Day [Nicelanders celebrate on Christmas Eve]. The main headache is how to get the smell out of your house before the bells start ringing in Christmas. Rancid skate parties are held throughout the nation and YT normally attends one each year, a tradition I hope will continue for a Very Long Time because – skate or no skate – they’re an absolute blast.

Right then! We’re going to have to wrap this up but do stay tuned – now that I’ve introduced these delightful characters I’m starting to think that perhaps there are one or two things I’ve left untold.

Superb! Calm, clear and beautiful skies, mild weather, although with enough of an edge that you couldn’t forget what season it is. Just the way we like it in December. Mt. Esja was so beautiful, all covered in snow with a full moon hovering just above it in the pastel blue-and-pink sky. Temps at the freezing mark right now, and sunrise was at 10.50 and sunset at 15.44.



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