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Yule requests addressed

Many thanks to Pharmacy Trainee, Rozanne and Tim, who were all curious to know more about parts of yesterday’s Yule listing, thus mercifully sparing YT the effort of actually having to think of what to post. For as I’ve explained, the grey matter isnt’ quite up to scratch these days, what with a mere four or so hours of daylight to jolt it awake.

Here in Niceland, Christmas is pretty well delineated. It begins officially at 6 pm on the 24th [Christmas Eve] and finishes 13 days later, which is when the 13 Yule Lads have all gone back home, one per day [just as they arrive]. In Iceland, this day is called ‘Þrettándinn’ which means ‘The 13th’, but coincides with ‘Twelfth Night’ in the Anglo-Saxon version, presumably because in Anglo-Saxland Christmas is celebrated one day later than ours.

According to folklore, strange and magical things took place both on ‘Þrettándinn’ and on New Year’s Eve. The cows started talking [but people were warned not to listen to them, because their talk would drive them mad], seals shed their skins [Icelandic legend had it that seals were humans under a spell because their eyes are so expressive], and the elves moved from one abode to another.

Today, this tradition lives on in that bonfires are burned throughout the nation [just like on New Year’s Eve, only smaller] and the ‘Elf king and Queen’ will often make an appearance, dressed in fancy clothing and riding a horse. This is mostly for the benefit of the younger generation, I hasten to add, much as Santa Claus makes an appearance at various Christmas events.

I have no idea why this is so, but eating mandarins has become one of the most indisposable traditions of the Icelandic Yule. I suspect the explanation is terribly banal: Yule coincides with mandarin season, and boxes of mandarins start appearing in the stores in early December. Practically every home has mandarins set out in bowls so they’re there for the taking – and snacking. In fact, I’ve suddenly developed a severe craving for a mandarin, so if you’ll excuse me for a moment…

I ask you: is there any fruit whose taste, sight and smell is more Christmasy than the mandarin? I think not.

Aside: As late as the 1950s and early 60s, apples and oranges were luxury items here in Iceland that were available only at Christmas. Even EPI remembers when crates of apples arrived just before Christmas, and how absolutely special they were. When I was a little girl this was changed, although still green apples were still a rarity. My grandmother, bless her, became known for her refrain “Would you like a green apple?”, even after they became commonplace, which meant she really wanted to spoil you.

That’s right. Little kiddies throughout the land put their shoes on their windowsills last night and left their windows open a crack, in hopes of finding something nice in them this morning. Which would have been conditional on good behavior, because naughty children only get a potato in their shoe, as everyone knows.

The Yule Lad who came to town today from the mountains was Stekkjastaur, or ‘Gimpy’. This guy had a wooden leg and a penchant for suckling the farmers’ sheep for their milk – for as you will know if you’ve been paying attention, each Yule Lad has his own distinct and very mischievous personality. The problem was that the wooden leg made it difficult for old Stekkjastaur to get underneath the sheep – a dilemma that I’m sure most of us have encountered at one time or another [not].

There is a delightful set of poems about the Yule Lads, composed by late Icelandic poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum, that can be found on Garðar’s wonderful Yule site, with the accompanying English translations. Just make sure you click on the drummer boy to take you to the Yule Lad of the day.

Oh, you want weather? It’s been beautiful, the sky all pink-ish and lurrvely, and Mt. Esja across the bay looks like a big delicious cream torte with all the snow, which note bene is sadly absent here in the capital. Temps currently right at the freezing mark, sunrise was at 11.11 and sunset at 15.32.

PS. The outstanding requests will be addressed tomorrow and/or over subsequent days, as needed. Yo.



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