If you ever have the opportunity to visit Iceland at Christmas time, you will have one of the most charming holidays of your life. In late November, the decorations started going up. Garlands and lights across the streets, almost a dozen huge Christmas trees, and little tiny Christmas trees on all the building facades in City Center. There are lots of great traditions. This week, locals were baking special breads. Today, everybody eats a special smelly Christmas fish, and you can smell it in the streets! This week, locals were baking special breads.
The mood since then has been delightful as more and more lights go up. Yesterday was a big shopping day, and just being out and about filled me with joy for the upcoming celebrations. Little families were walking together shopping for gifts, carolers were singing songs in English and Icelandic, and street vendors were selling sweet roasted almonds. There´s a Christmas Market only a block from my apartment. My German friends are not quite convinced it deserves to be called a Christmas Market, but it´s charming none-the-less. The plaza is filled with little booths and a big, warm tent full of Icelandic crafters, fresh bread, hot cocoa, and great gits.
Last week, a few friends and I rented a car to drive to the very outside of the city (110) to visit a Christmas Market and Christmas Tree Farm. The Market was small, but cute, and in a cozy basement we had hot cocoa and listened to an Icelandic children´s author, Andri Snær Magnason, read an excerpt from his newest book, Tímakistan. Young families were sledding and playing in the deep, freshly fallen show. We wandered into a usually large evergreen grove to sit around a campfire with a dozen Icelandic tots to hear Santa tell a Christmas story and lead us in some Christmas songs.
And of course, the Yule Lads (see the first photo in this post) deserve a mention. Iceland´s Christmas characters are quite different than in the US. There are 13 “Yule Lads” who give presents, but only after causing all kinds of mischief stealing sausages and spoons and whatnot. They come down from the mountains at Christmas time to run wild around the city. There´s also a Christmas cat that will eat you if you don´t get new clothes. The city has animated versions of these characters projected around City Center. Finding them all was fun for graduate students, and I image it would be even more exciting for kids. I have lots more pictures of the city at Christmas, but a broken laptop means I´ll have to share them after the holiday. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful Christmas.
[The photos in this post are scans of unedited film shots taken by me with a Canon EOS Rebel 2000.]