Are you wondering what Christmas looks like in Iceland and how it differs from our Polish Christmas? You can prepare yourselves for quite a shock because even though Iceland’s Christmas is already Europeanised, native traditions are still cultivated and strongly accented. And as far as Christmas and New Year’s Eve are concerned, Icelanders are particularly crazy about it. The houses look like casinos from Las Vegas a month before, the lights are literally everywhere – in windows, on fences, roofs, lanterns and on crosses in cemeteries. Although the holidays can be felt much earlier, the real celebration begins only when Stekkjastaur – the Sheep-Cote Clod, the first of the thirteen Jólasveinar, comes from the caves of Dimmuborgir. Together with his 12 brothers, mother, and father, that cheerful company is a true symbol of Icelandic Christmas. And in front of them proudly walks their pet – a bloodthirsty cat.
Christmas in Iceland and the Christmas witch
We have been wondering for a long time who is the most important in all this festive, extraordinary company because everyone is a very interesting individual who deserves to be mentioned in the first place. However, we have come to the conclusion that it would be appropriate to start with the head of the family, which undoubtedly is Grýla. Grýla is a pretty nasty troll that loved to eat people. She loved the meat of small, naughty children, which she hunted during Advent, and her favorite dish was the stew of the above-mentioned. Grýla had three husbands (two of which she ate, only the lazy dork left – Leppalúði), and numerous children and each of them was good at thieving, murdering and making life miserable for the peoples. 13 of them are still well known in Iceland as Jólasveinar.
Christmas in Iceland – About 13 Icelandic (Non)Santa Clauses
And here we will talk about the Jólasveinar, whose lovely mother you have already met before. Grýla, while she always knew how to take care of herself, she did not necessarily take care of her children, although she was undoubtedly very proud of them. Jólasveinar is small trolls, eternally undernourished, living in caves in Dimmuborgir. In the beginning, all of them stole and tricked, but over the centuries their image was softened. Instead of stealing, they give away presents, instead of scaring the children, they rejoice in their presence. Nowadays, they are partly identified with 13 Santa Clauses or Santa’s elves, although there is still something alarming about their names. The first one appears on December 12th – the Sheep-Cote Clod, the last one – the Candle Beggar – on Christmas Eve. They throw small gifts into the shoes of polite children, naughty rotten potatoes. Sometimes only their troll nature wins and they sniff out a sausage or drink milk. On the first day after Christmas, the first Jólasveinar returns to his home in the mountains and so on, one by one, until February 6, when the last of the Christmas boys is hidden in his cave. This day also marks the end of Christmas in Iceland.
Stekkjastaur – Sheep-Cote Clod
He has wooden legs, with which he chases and oppresses the sheep, which are very important for Icelanders and they surround them with special care. They are valued for their meat, wool, and milk.
Giljagaur – Gully Gawk
A criminal mainly known for drinking sweet foam from fresh milk. He hides in the stables and cowsheds and lurks in wait for the occasion. It is said that sometimes he steal the whole milking.
Stúfur – Stubby
Known mainly for licking pots and pans. He likes the burned ones. He works at night and undercover. He uses his strengths, he is small in size, which makes him almost elusive.
Þvörusleikir – Spoon Licker
The Spoon Licker is a villain. He’s tall and skinny as a spoon, which he likes to lick. It is said that he also has a few spoons on his conscience when a careless housekeeper left them unattended, but to this day no one has proved anything to him and he is still free.
Pottasleikir – Pot Scraper
Clever as a fox. When children wash the dishes, he knocks on the door and uses their moment of inattention to lick the rest from the dirty pots and kettles. This one too, like his previous brother, has sticky paws and a few saucepans on his conscience. The only plus is that they’re definitely clean.
Askasleikir – Bowl Licker
You can find him under the bed, where he waits for his moment. He attacks, like all his brothers, quietly and unnoticed and eats the leftovers from all the bowls, including those for dogs and cats.
Hurðaskellir – Door Slammer
This guy, we feel like he’s never coming back to his hut after Christmas. He walks around apartments at night and slams the door. Do you know it from somewhere? I’m sure you do!
Skyrgámur – Skyr Gobbler
He sneaks quietly into the pantry at night and when nobody can see, he eats the whole skyr. Skyr is a kind of Icelandic cheese, similar in taste to yogurt with a slightly thicker texture.
Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Swiper
He steals all the sausages, especially the smoked ones. He is a very agile criminal – he climbed the beams under the ceiling, where it was customary to hang sausages and he steals them. It seems that the sausages that disappear at night are not only due to the husband.
Gluggagægir – Window Peeper
He’s looking thru the window into the house to look out for something to steal. Then he jumps in and steals the item he’s looking for. He’s also got a lot of broken toys on his conscience.
Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer
He sniffs with his big nose for a freshly baked bread, cakes, and other sweets. And when he smells it, he will find it and steal it. No mercy – cheesecakes, gingerbread, sweet buns.
Kjötkrókur – Meat Hook
Sneaks up on the roof and through the chimney, with a special hook, pulls out smoked hams and other meats prepared especially for Christmas. Ruthless bastard.
Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar
The last of the Christmas brothers. The famous lover of wax and candle stealing. Here it should be noted that candles on Iceland used to be one of the most cherished Christmas gifts.
Christmas in Iceland – How not to become a victim of a Bloodthirsty Cat
Jólakötturinn is definitely one of the most interesting figures of the whole Christmas group. The Christmas Cat, also known as the Bloodthirsty Cat is great, has huge teeth, sharp claws and loves human meat. It is a pet and furry pupil of Grýla (it has to be admitted that she had great rearing methods). A Bloodthirsty Cat, like this one, walks its own paths and devours everyone on Christmas Eve night, whether they were polite or not. But there is a way to protect yourself from its huge mouth and sharp claws. How? One of our clothes must be new. It’s also interesting to see how the Christmas Cat has evolved over the years. Initially, Jólakötturinn was used by farmers to scare their employees with it. Those, in turn, fearing his sharp claws, usually finished their work on the wool before Christmas Eve supper, as the custom said. They were also often rewarded for their well-done work with sweaters made of Icelandic wool. Today the cat is used as a marketing trick and drives pre-Christmas trade all over Iceland. After all, who would like to become a victim of the Bloodthirsty Cat? No one, that is why most Icelanders like to go shopping mad before Christmas. Whether it is the fear of Jólakötturinn, or treating it as an excuse for buying something new – nobody knows that, but surely something new will always come in handy.
One of the most famous Icelandic singers, Björk, also sang about our fluffy favorite. It’s hard to understand the words, but listening to the music, it’s easy to catch disturbing sounds about the upcoming cat’s death. We recommend it, and it brings a truly festive mood. We will certainly write about Christmas in Iceland more than once, because this country is full of surprises, and in the meantime – Merry Christmas! Gleðileg Jól!