Christmas across Europe: Iceland's festive traditions and why they've stood the test of time

6 months ago 192

By David Mac Dougall  •  Updated: 20/12/2021 - 14:49

Illustrations from the 1932 publication  Jólin Koma (Christmas is Coming)

Illustrations from the 1932 publication Jólin Koma (Christmas is Coming)   -   Copyright  Credit: Tryggvi Magnússon

While millions of children each implicit the satellite hold eagerly for Father Christmas oregon Santa Claus connected Christmas Eve, youngsters successful Iceland commencement receiving their presents connected December 11th.

That’s erstwhile the Yule Lads statesman 13 nights of visits to Icelandic homes, bringing tiny gifts to enactment successful the shoes of well-behaved children.

Naughty children, however, get thing unpleasant successful their footwear.

Who are Iceland's Yule Lads?

These mischievous tricksters each person unsocial names and property traits, similar Þvörusleikir the Spoon Licker; Pottaskeifill the Pot Licker; and Askasleikir the Bowl Licker (you tin spot a food-related signifier here!)

Some of the Yule Lads swipe sausages, gobble skyr, oregon skim the champion froth from the apical of the milk; and others slam doors, bargain candles and peep successful your windows.

While the Yule Lads are considered reasonably harmless nowadays it’s their parent the troll witch Grýla who is genuinely terrifying - she’ll boil naughty children live - there’s her lazy hubby Leppalúði, and her evil achromatic feline who prowls astir Iceland and eats anyone not wearing a caller portion of covering astatine Christmas.

These homegrown Icelandic Christmas traditions person endured, adjacent arsenic Western Christmas ideals of a decorated conifer tree, Santa Claus connected his sleigh pulled by reindeer, and elves making toys person go firmly cemented successful galore different countries.

“We don’t person the American Santa Claus really,” explains Dagrún Ósk Jónsdóttir, a folklorist astatine the University of Iceland successful Reykjavik.

“Many radical are precise arrogant of these Icelandic traditions and clasp them precise dear. It’s precise ocular arsenic well, you person these events wherever the Yule Lads come, and connected each beverage carton successful December you’ll spot pictures of them” she says.

The improvement of Iceland’s modern Christmas traditions

Although the Yule Lads and their frightening household dependable similar they’re profoundly rooted successful Iceland’s past, they’re successful information a comparatively caller improvement successful their present-day form.

The archetypal written notation of Grýla appears successful the 13th period but astatine that clip she’s conscionable a troll pistillate and doesn’t go connected with Christmas until the 17th century.

Meanwhile the modern mentation of Yule Lads lone truly commencement to harvest up successful written stories and poems successful the 19th and 20th centuries, though they surely existed overmuch longer than that successful oral storytelling traditions.

The fig and quality of the Yule Lads person truly lone solidified successful the past period and a fractional - earlier that they were overmuch much sinister, dressed each successful black, with much gruesome quality traits too.

The Lung-Splatterer for illustration was said to person his lungs connected the extracurricular of his assemblage and would tally aft misbehaving children and effort to deed them with his floppy lungs.

As folklorist Dagrún Ósk Jónsdóttir explains, each parish had their ain acceptable of Yule Lads with their ain traditions, but astir 150 years agone an Icelandic writer picked the 13 which appealed to him the astir and brought them unneurotic into 1 household portion with Grýla, her hubby and the cat.

“It’s astir the aforesaid clip that the Yule Lads started making amended traditions, they started giving kids presents, they weren’t the misbehaving thieves they were before,” she says.

“Before, radical feared them, but present they’ve taken up amended ways to a degree, adjacent if they inactive bargain nutrient and slam doors and aftermath you up successful the night!”

How Christmas traditions accommodate adjacent successful the 21st century

All implicit Europe Christmas traditions person evolved done the centuries, but we tin convey the Victorians for being liable for shaping galore of the astir enduring Christmas images and activities.

Queen Victoria’s hubby Prince Albert is credited with bringing the contented of decorating a Christmas histrion to England successful the 1840s - portion successful Southern Germany trees were being decorated already successful the aboriginal 1600s - and Charles Dickens’ seminal communicative A Christmas Carol was archetypal published successful 1843.

The V&A Museum successful London holds a postulation of 30,000 greetings cards and notes that its founding manager sent the archetypal mass-produced card.

The Victorians besides introduced wintertime scenes with robins, holly, and snow-covered landscapes, and invented the Christmas cracker, and the depiction of Santa Claus arsenic a jolly aged antheral with a achromatic beard and reddish suit archetypal became fashionable successful the USA and Canada successful the 1820s.

“It is close that people traditions person to germinate and person relevance to society, different they volition conscionable beryllium forgotten,” says Dagrún Ósk Jónsdóttir.

And Icelanders are besides seeing immoderate changes to bespeak modern-day values successful their Christmas traditions, with Grýla’s feline becoming much environmentally conscious.

“You’re expected to bargain a caller point of covering for the Christmas Cat oregon other he’ll devour you. But present with much consciousness of the dangers to the satellite of wide consumption, helium has besides go this instrumentality for advertising,” Dagrún Ósk Jónsdóttir explains.

“Now, the Yule Cat doesn’t caput if you get utilized clothing, arsenic agelong arsenic it’s caller for you.”

This is portion of a five-article bid looking astatine however antithetic parts of Europe people Christmas. We'll people a caller 1 astatine 15h CET each time this week.

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