Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gleδileg Jól


  This isn't one of my usual wiseguy yuckfests (at least I hope my posts are yuckfests).  Still, I thought I'd pass along a holiday experience my family and I shared when were living in Iceland. Now that I'm retired and my son is in college and my daughter is a high school junior, I sometimes miss those days...


     A few years ago, my family and I lived near the Arctic Circle at the U.S. Navy air station in Keflavik, Iceland.
    The base, first opened during World War II to patrol Allied shipping lanes between America and Europe, has since shut down and reverted to the Icelandic government.  A victim of fiscal cost-cutting in light of a changing world, it was felt that the money to keep it running could be better spent elsewhere.  Especially since the threat of Viking raids in the North Atlantic has pretty much petered out. 
    During the short time we were there, though, we experienced a land rich in stark beauty and a culture awash with tradition.  From ogling jaw-dropping New Year’s fireworks displays which were truly “shock and awe” to lolling about geothermal spas in sub-freezing temperatures, we completely immersed ourselves in all that was Icelandic.
    Except for the national delicacy of rotted shark heads.  Those we gave a pass.
    One of our favorite customs happened a couple weeks before Christmas.  Readily acknowledging Santa Claus as the favorite of children worldwide and undeniable champion of early winter festivities, Icelanders inject their own unique way of celebrating the run-up to December 25th.  For the thirteen nights prior to Christmas morning, the legend has it that their homes are visited by the impish gnomes known as the Yule Lads.
    With names as diverse as Sheep Worrier, Pot Licker, and Candle Beggar, each of these bearded little creatures maintains his own specific identity.  Never malicious or spiteful, they instead play mischievous tricks wherever they visit, whether by drinking all the milk or rearranging the furniture.  Then, perhaps as a way of atoning for their pranks, they reveal their softer sides.  Before slipping quietly on to the next house, they drop a treat into each sleeping child’s shoe.  Unless the youngster has been naughty.  Then they get a potato.
    Enchanted by this charming bit of folklore, my wife and I played up the fable of the Yule Lads to our two children.  As December 12th approached, we told them that Stekkjarstaur, the Sheep Worrier, would surely be paying us a visit that night.  To be ready, they needed to place one of their shoes on their windowsills before they went to sleep so that he could leave them a present.
    Or a potato, I kidded my son.
    Several hours after the sun went down at 3:30-Iceland is pretty much at the top of the world, after all-and the kids had gone to bed, we set the stage for the first of the Yule Lads’ visits.  Since Navy regulations forbade the housing of livestock in government quarters, we didn’t have any sheep.  So, we opted for the modern tradition of placing empty milk cartons in the fridge instead.
    Certain the kids were asleep, we stole into their rooms to place a small goody in their shoes.

To be continued...When a Yule Lad Comes Callin'

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