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Happy Ash Wednesday!

Third day of our Three Fun Days leading up to Lent: Ash Wednesday. Nothing quite so weird as our other two days, that is unless you consider it weird for children to dress up in silly costumes and go door-to-door begging for candy. Which of course cannot be weird since such a large part of the world actually does it. And as we all know, what lots and lots of people do is not weird. It’s only weird if a handful are doing it.

The difference between our Öskudagur and Halloween, though, is that here the kids only target shopkeepers, not private homes (phew!). And they’re usually made to put on some kind of song-and-dance display for their handouts. Plus in some locations they get a piñata-type of thing going, with kids having to bash some sort of object with clubs to get the candy to come tumbling out.

WARNING: SHOCKING SINISTER FACTOID AHEAD

In fact, this day in its present incarnation is pretty new throughout Iceland. It used to only be celebrated with costumes and the piñata-type thing in Akureyri, in the north. Only instead of the paper maché object usually employed they had a barrel, inside of which was [dare I say it] a dead cat. Don’t ask my why. [Don’t sue me, either]. Presumably something to do with shock effect. Or something. I dunno.

In any case, in YT’s childhood, this day was the dullest of the three because here in the south [capital Reykjavík] the only thing differentiating this from any other mundane Wednesday was that you were supposed to try to pin these little cloth bags with ashes in them to the backs of unsuspecting people, without them noticing. They would then walk around with them all day on their backs, blissfully unaware, unless of course they were clued in enough to figure out why everyone around them was always snickering.

We were always dead envious of the kids up in Akureyri who could get all dressed up and go parading down into the centre of town to bash a barrel with a dead cat inside. In fact, one of my most memorable, um, memories from childhood was when I got to visit my father up there on this day. At the time he was artistic director of the regional theatre and I not only got to dress up in a silly costume, I actually got to go into the theatre’s costume storage room and choose any costume I wanted! [Provided it fit a 10-year old]. So you wanna know what I chose? I chose a fiend costume. Like a little demon. With this there was only one problem: my face needed to be black. And for some reason there was no black stage makeup to be found in the entire theatre. So my father had the brilliant idea of blackening a cork from a wine bottle by holding it over a flame and then smearing it on my face. Which was sort of OK until it had to be removed. Which no cream managed to do. We had to resort to scrubbing. [Shudder!] I can still remember the cloth scrubbing the skin of my face raw – it hurt for days afterward.

And I didn’t even get to see the dead cat fall from the barrel. Prolly wasn’t even one in there at all. [Hoping].

Anyway, here’s a pic of a pic of YT as a fiend (furthest on the left). Pretty scary, huh?

WHAT, NO WEATHER?

No, this post has gone on for Too Damn Long already. Suffice it to say that it was windy, then came a blizzard, then sunshine, and now there are just a few flakes falling. Temps -3°C. Sunrise: 9.42; sunset 17.43.

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  • Gretchen February 9, 2005, 5:26 pm

    Wow, those Icelander kids must be pretty tough. If I busted open a barrel with a dead cat in it, I’d be in therapy for years. 🙂

  • Anonymous February 10, 2005, 12:53 am

    Mmmm, let’s see. Dead cat in a barrel….yep, I thought as much 🙂 These 3 days crack me up 🙂
    Louise

  • Bluegrass Mama February 10, 2005, 1:52 am

    We got pancakes on Tuesday and church tonight.

    Not a dead cat to be found anywhere.

    Sigh.

  • Hopeless February 10, 2005, 9:12 am

    So, let me see if I have got this right. On the first day you eat cream puffs, on the second day you eat salty stew and on the third day you eat dead cats?