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What do cream puffs and bloated bellies have in common with dead cats?

I was somewhat surprised yesterday to discover that three of my favourite days of the year are already coming up right after the weekend: bolludagur [Cream Puff Day], sprengidagur [Eat Salted Lamb Until You Burst Day] and öskudagur [Ash Wednesday]. This happy trio marks the beginning of Lent, and as you’ll probably know Easter comes exceptionally early this year, hence their early arrival.

Bolludagur comes first, on Monday. On this day children are supposed to sneak into their parents’ room before they get out of bed in the morning and spank them on the bottom with colourful wands specifically made for that purpose. The number of spanks they manage to get in determines the number of bollur – cream puffs – they get to imbibe. In other words, hitting your mother five times on the butt will earn you five cream puffs.

The spanking bit does not extend to grownups [unless they are partial to that sort of thing] who can simply go out and buy their own cream puffs, like EPI and I did today. In fact, most people here get an early start on the bollur and buy them as soon as the bakeries start offering them, which is generally the weekend prior to the official day. Here’s a little educational video that mbl.is put together to teach people how to eat their bollur with a minimum of fuss. Watch and learn.

Right after bolludagur comes sprengidagur, when you’re supposed to eat saltkjöt og baunir [salted lamb and split-pea soup] until you burst. Of the three days, this is my favourite, simply because I LOVE salted lamb and split pea soup. Seriously, it’s one of the most superexcellent meals ever. Super bad for you, too, what with all the sodium and preservatives and whatnot, so eating it once a year is about right. Today we went grocery shopping and bought salted lamb in copious amounts and already just the thought of Tuesday’s dinner is making me swoon. – Incidentally, the idea behind sprengidagur is that you eat so much that you can fast for the entire 40 days of Lent, which of course is what EPI and I will be doing.

When that’s done, we’re onto öskudagur, which is the same as Ash Wednesday and sort of like Iceland’s version of Halloween. When I was a little kid you were supposed to sew all these little pouches and fill them with ash and then pin them to the backs of unsuspecting adults who would then go around for the entire day with little pouches pinned to their backs and supposedly be objects of ridicule. Personally I always thought this day was kind of stupid and never as much fun as it was made out to be. In fact, it was no fun at all. So you managed to pin a pouch to some person’s back – whoopee! They walked off, and you were out of a pouch that you’d put considerable effort into making. Absurd.

Up in the north, though, in Akureyri, they had a far superior tradition: everybody got dressed up in costumes and then banged a wooden barrel that supposedly contained a dead cat. This activity, prosaically enough, was called “banging the cat out of the barrel”. There was also candy involved, although I can’t remember exactly how – I only took part in this activity on one occasion. Here’s a picture [I’m the one dressed up as a demon, pretty scary huh?]:

Anyway, the modern version of öskudagur is a lot more fun in that kids get all dressed up and go around to stores and businesses and sing songs in return for candy. More gratifying than hanging silly pouches onto the backs of clueless adults, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Last night was like the deep freezer – when I went out to drive AAH to a dinner party its was -15 fricking °C, which hardly ever happens around here. [What? You thought Iceland was cold?] It got so bad that there was record hot water use in Reykjavík [we heat our homes with geothermal water, as I’m sure you know] and it got so bad that a number of swimming pools had to be shut down because of a shortage of hot water. Something I’ve never heard of happening before. Anyway, we’re in for some respite as early as tomorrow, meaning I can go for a run without getting frostbite on the inside of my lungs, phew. Right now it’s only -3°C [27F] and the sun came up at 10.07 and went down at 5.17 pm.

PS – THANK YOU to all of you who voted for the Weather Report in The Bloggies, and not least to all of you who have emailed or left comments with kind words and good wishes. It really means a lot!