Snorri Kristjansson, king of the Vikings and Viking-related books, (after absolutely no bullying at all on our part) with day two of the JFB holiday countdown.
I have been told in no uncertain terms that Santa does not come to naughty authors who do not supply their editors with a Christmas-tradition-related blog post, so here goes.
We all know Santa. Big chap, red clothes, hat and beard. Generous with gifts, relaxed about the space-time continuum. Some of us might know local variations, such as Krampus (German demon who abducts children at Christmas) and Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa, dresses in blue, always accompanied by 6-8 black men).
There are fewer people who know about the Icelandic version – and that’s maybe not such a bad thing, because Icelandic Christmas traditions are . . . special.
We didn’t so much go for the One Santa model, and we’re really not into the gifts business. No, in Iceland we have the Yule Lads.
And what are they, I hear you ask? Well, obviously they are thirteen petty criminals, as is good and proper. Starting tonight, every night until Christmas a new one of these rascal brothers will visit your farmstead and wreak merry (and oddly specific) havoc. Door-slammer will skulk about in the shadows and then grab and SLAM your doors when you least expect it. Pot-scraper will skulk about near your kitchen and then scrape the tastiest remains from your pots. Meat-hook will skulk about (you may be discerning a theme here) on your roof, then gently lower a hook down to your pot and steal your meat. Doorway-sniffer (I am not making these up) will sniff around your doorways and then proceed to sniff out, steal and eat tasty Christmas wafers. And so on and so forth – one steals the milk from the cows, another rather ominously and non-specifically harasses sheep, and so on and so forth. Peace at Christmas then descends when their troll mother strides down from the mountains, gathers them all up and drags them back into the cave where they belong.*
A relatively recent (~150 years or so) addition to Icelandic Christmas tradition is then the Yule Cat, who is silent as the night, big as a house and absolutely 100% certain to devour children who didn’t get new clothes to wear at Christmas.
Now, before you start a world-wide charity effort for the traumatised children of a small island nation in the north, I should probably also point out that like all traditions, this has been subverted to confirm to the hegemony of our times. Starting tonight, Icelandic children put out a shoe in the window, into which Santa/the criminal du nuit (and not at all exhausted mothers and fathers and I REFUSE TO BELIEVE THAT AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME) places a small gift in the shoe to indicate whether the child’s behaviour has been exemplary or possibly slightly less so.
Generally, though, Christmas in Iceland is seen as a big, long excuse to stay indoors, be warm, have light, read books and eat cakes – and that is a tradition I firmly intend to uphold in Edinburgh.