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More Yule…

Right. As promised, here is more on our Yule, from the list in this post.

Did you know Iceland sells more books per capita than any other nation in the world? And very proud we are of this fact, too. Probably around 90 percent of the books sold [I don’t have the exact figure, although it does exist] are sold in the six-or-so weeks leading up to Christmas. Which means – obviously – that the vast majority of books [probably around 90 percent, although I lack the figure] are published during this period. And this is what is known in Niceland as ‘jólabókaflóðið’ or The Christmas Book Flood.

Basically, this means that books are a huge deal from mid-November onwards. There are announcements about just-released books during the noon news hour on State Radio, and endless book reviews, book readings, book excerpts and book signings. Talk around the water cooler revolves around the new books, and family members routinely ask each other, oh-so casually, “So what do you think of the new books out this year?” – hoping of course for a hint of which book such-and-such would like to receive under the tree. Because everyone must receive at least one book for Christmas, to take to bed when the presents have been opened and the evening enjoyed. Anything else would be sacrilige.

Which brings us to…

I don’t know why this is such a tradition, but I think it has something to do with the above, i.e. retiring to a nice, clean bed to read your book. Also I’m inclined to think it might have to do with the ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ adage, because Yule is so sacred in Niceland that everything must be clean and shiny and pure.

I think to really appreciate this tradition, you’d have to understand the huge part that the family plays in Icelandic Yule celebrations. In a nation where the family is important at any time of year, this is the time when it becomes sacred. So on Christmas Eve day, and often on New Year’s Eve day as well, many people will visit the graves of their loved ones and leave a candle or some sort of light, to say that they are remembered and missed.

My family on my father’s side meets at the gravesite of my grandparents every Christmas Eve day at around 4 pm. It’s a tradition that I’ve come to love, because for a brief time we’re all together and acknowledge our bond as a family, and there’s a lot of love and joy. When my grandparents were alive, everyone used to gather at their house on Sundays for coffee. That tradition evaporated when they died, but this sort of comes close to remembering how that was.

And that aside, I can’t tell you how beautiful the cemeteries look in the midwinter darkness, all lit up with candles. Particularly if there is snow. Truly magnificent.

… Was Giljagaur, or Gully Imp [see above]. A crafty little fella, who snuck down from the mountains and into the stable, nicking the milk when the stable hand was chatting up the milkmaid. At least that was his role in his mischievous-Yule-Lad incarnation. These days he mostly goes around depositing presents in shoes, I believe.

Started off cold but then grew mostly overcast with snow showers. Some of it managed to stick on the ground, which is just the way we like it in December – in fact if it could stay like this it would be great, just enough white to get us in the mood, but not enough to be a nuisance. And now I must go, I can hardly keep my eyes open past 11 pm these days [I blame SAD] and in a minute I shall have to employ toothpicks to hold my eyelids up. And my little calendar is in the other room and I’m too tired to get up and fetch it to give you the sunrise sunset times, so meh. But it was late and early, respectively. Goodnight!



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