Friday, December 16, 2016

An Icelandic Christmas

    Okay, sure, this is a repost.  But, don't most of us expect reruns during the holiday season (I'm talking to you, Charlie Brown)?  
    If you haven't read this, by all means enjoy.  Or visit some of the other fine blogs out there.  Like the japing ape.
    If you have read it, by all means, delight in rereading this sure-to-be-a-holiday-classic to the kiddies.

    And tell the little bastards to STFU because that effin' freak Rudolph won't be on until tomorrow.

"No, seriously, if you pull on that string, my legs and arms will fly up.
And I'll get a chubby."

    For those who haven’t paid attention (or only visit Penwasser Place for the kick-ass pictures), my family and I lived at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Keflavik, Iceland from 2003-2004.

    The base, opened during World War II, has
"Well, that blows.
What are we going to do
with all these shields now?"
since shut down and returned to the Icelandic government.  I suppose it was felt the money to keep it operating could be better spent elsewhere.  After all, the threat of Viking raids has pretty much petered out. 

    During the short time we were there, we experienced a rich culture.  From ogling New Year’s fireworks displays which were truly “shock and awe” to lolling about geothermal spas in sub-freezing temperatures, we immersed ourselves in all that was Icelandic.

"Feliz Navidad.
    Except for that holiday where they ate rotted sheep heads.  We gave that one a pass.

    One of our favorite traditions happened at Christmas.  Readily acknowledging Santa Claus as the favorite of children worldwide, Icelanders add their own unique way of celebrating the run-up to December 25th.  For the thirteen nights prior to Christmas morning, legend has homes are visited by the mischievous gnomes known as the Yule Lads.

    From Sheep Worrier to Candle Beggar, each
"Sorry, Butt-Sniffer,
you didn't make
the planning meeting."
Lad has his own specific identity.  Never malicious or harboring ill-intent, they play tricks on each household, whether by drinking all the milk or rearranging the furniture.  Revealing their softer sides, they also leave presents in children’s shoes, unless they’d been naughty that year.  In that case, they leave potatoes.

    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 pay a visit that night.  To be ready, they needed to place one of their shoes on their windowsills so that he could leave them a present.

    Or a potato, I kidded my son.

"Yule Lads?
Oh, I thought this
was 'Evil Clown Under the Bed.'
My bad."
   Several hours after the sun went down (at 3:30-this was Iceland, after all) and the kids had gone to bed, my wife and I set the stage for the first of the Yule Lads’ visits.  Since the military didn’t allow us to transfer our sheep from the States, we opted for the modern tradition of placing empty milk cartons in the fridge.

    Certain the kids were asleep, we stole into their rooms to place small presents in their shoes.

    Our daughter was snoring away-no doubt dreaming of what kind of “loot” she’d get from the little troll that night (and I don’t mean me).  A precocious fourth-grader, she made sure to tell us at dinner that she’d been a great girl that year.  Hopefully, Stekkjarstaur would be able to fit a puppy in her sneaker.

    One child down, I told my wife I’d place
"If Governor Christie is coming,
we'll need a whole  bag."
a “Family Size” Snickers (if the family was the Klumps) in my son’s shoe.

    The base’s apartments weren’t like the typical ones back in America.  Everything was so small, I didn’t have room to walk around his bed.  This being the case, I had to stretch clear across where he slept just to reach the windowsill.          

    As I neared his shoe, I heard a voice from out of the darkness, “That’s okay, Dad.  You can turn on the light if you can’t see.”

    Busted, I quickly dropped the candy into his shoe and departed without a word.

    The next morning at breakfast, I asked my eleven year old about the night before.

    “Oh, that,” he said with a wave of his hand, “I’m too old for that stuff anymore.  I’ll tell you what, just save yourself the trouble and give me my present before I go to bed.”

    Mildly depressed that my little boy was growing up, I said nothing as he headed off to school.

2016 Update: 
He's buying his own damn presents now

    Before he walked through the door, he called over his shoulder, “Oh, hey, I left something for you and Mom on your nightstand.  See you this afternoon.”

    Shaking off my gloominess, I shuffled into my dollhouse bedroom and saw a piece of paper next to the alarm clock.  It was my son’s Christmas list.

    Starting off with “Dear Santa,” it went on to list, by color, size, and memory storage, everything he wanted to see under the tree come Christmas morning.

    At the bottom, he closed with, “Oh, yeah, just in case, Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad.”

    Or, as they say in Iceland, “Gleδileg Jól.”
Keflavik in December.
No snow.
It's a Christmas miracle.


  1. Always thought the shoe idea was great indeed, even if you did get busted. Nice of him to leave you a very specific list though.

  2. I don't remember this post and I doubt I would have forgotten the Sheep Worrier. I must have been hibernating at the time. Those chimps look as if they're watching the Olympic Games.

  3. I'd pass on that rotting sheep head as well. Yikes!

  4. very good post and rather heartwarming indeed - Merry Christmas Santa or Mom and Dad....cover all bases.
    I like your Icelandic tales and would like to visit that country some day.

  5. Is the national motto, "At least we're not Greenland".

  6. Did you ever get to eat hakarl (putrefied shark)?

    1. Could've. Turned in down.
      Ate a whale steak in Andoya, Norway, though.

  7. Yeah it sucks when they outgrow the magic of Christmas

  8. Just dropping by to pad your pageviews...

  9. Thanks for including the photo of that head, Penwusser. I really appreciate it.


  10. Well, that was a buzz kill. Ah well. (And as for repeats, I save mine for the end of the school year. All new posts on my blog this week ;)

  11. I love this...sans the sheep's head-reminds me of The Godfather...ick. We celebrate St. Nicholas Day Dec. 6th and have chocolates in the shoe or a potato:)