fimmtudagur, desember 22, 2005

"this christmas sucks!"

I was just sitting around lunch with my coworkers and they were asking me about Christmas traditions from the Old World. I mean, my Old World, the good ole US of A. Christmas in Iceland follows a different schedule, and I'll relate that to you gentle readers based on a single Christmas data point last year with the kindly family who took me in.

On aðfangadagur (Christmas Eve) many families go to evening mass at 6 pm. Then they come home, staying in their fabulous church clothes, and eat a whole dinner together. The dinner is something traditional like hamborgahryggur (glazed ham) or rjúpa (ptarmigan) or even hreindýr (Rudolf!). Everyone eats, and laughs, tells stories, and drinks wine. Later, at around 9 pm, people go into the living room and begin opening their gifts. The gift procession continues in an orderly circle, with each person opening one gift in their turn. During this time, more wine is consumed, special foods and chocolates are passed around, and fireside cuddling commences. Finally at 2 or 3 am, everyone is sleepy and goes to bed. They then sleep until it's light again on Christmas Day (jóladagur), maybe 11 am or noon, and many go to eat more food with other bits of the family on that day and then eat more communal food on the 26th, which is called annar í jólum, the second day of Christmas.

(A side note here is that it is absolutely forbidden to utter the words "gleðileg jól" (Merry Christmas) until 6 pm on the 24th. Everyone understands this rule here, and saying this forbidden phrase, for example to a coworker at the end of the workday on the 24th, will be met with a confused and/or outright frosty expression.)

So back to the lunchtime narrative: I was explaining to my coworkers about how my family had people over on the 24th then pretty much went to bed. When we were kids my brother and I couldn't go downstairs until usually 6 am on Christmas Day (following a 2-hour period of clock-staring). At that point we could get our stockings and open them, but had to wait until 7 am when my parents woke up and came downstairs. MB would make Irish bread, something she only made on that day, and we would stuff our faces with butter-soaked pieces of that and look plaintively at our parents. At a leisurely 8 or 8:30 am, after breakfast was all cleaned up, we'd saunter into the living room and open presents in an orderly (and Icelandic) one-gift-per-person circle. (There was always the dreaded Chicago Box which had to be opened before my grandparents called at 9. In fact, the Chicago Package Deadline was often what motivated my mom to get through breakfast and allow us to start the gift opening.) Somehow my dad would always end up with the most packages to open, so by noon or so we'd be staring at him unwrapping things carefully. Then we'd go for a walk.

About midway through this story my most Americanized coworker began jeering and catcalling me. "Boo! This Christmas sucks!" he said. The other coworkers were similarly scandalized. Opening gifts on the 25th? Crazy! This must be torture for little kids! When do you read the books? What about the drinking wine? And so forth. We had a great laugh. I told them that E and I were splitting the difference, opening half of the gifts on the 24th and half on the 25th in an Icelando-American hybrid X-mas. This seemed to calm the maelstrom somewhat. "Now go blog this!" said Americanized coworker man. So here it is, Chief.


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

for the record, both my mother's and step-father's sides of the family back home in Texas always did Christmas on the night of the 24th. We didn't have wine but there were lots of drinks spiked with rum or scotch. We'd play games or talk until midnight, when someone would dress up as St Nick and hand out presents from under the tree, one by one. The actual present opening was mayhem... people opened everything simultaneously as fast or slow as they liked until huge mounds of discarded boxes and wrapper ended up on the floor, with everyone trying to wave thank-you's or give hugs to everyone else for about 30 minutes.

My Dad's house was much like yours... we'd do Christmas gift-opening on Christmas morning.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Oh, Gledileg Jol, is more like Happy Yule, rather than Merry Christmas.
I only say this as in the states it is now pc to say Happy Holidays.
Now, me not being a christian, if someone says to me Merry Xmas, I respond, and Happy Yule to you.
There's a slight difference :D as those of us that aren't christian prefer the old Happy Yule to you tooooo

So to all of you guys 'Happy Yule and may you have a Blessed New Year'!

Blogger EnuhCorK said...

This is the best Christmas ever...wide eyed kids waiting patiently to open gifts...then you find out the truth...and the magic slips away...and the holiday becomes a hassle-day...

This Christmas Rocks!

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Wow...Xmas at the Bibler Villa is nearly identical to Xmas at the Chateau McG. Except that our once-a-year baked good is Stollen (a yeasty breadstuff packed with candied fruit and covered with a sugary glaze).

Happy Holidays, from the frighteningly PC confines of the Capitol Beltway!


Blogger Alda said...

Hm, I've never heard that before, that it's forbidden to say Gleðileg jól before 6pm on the 24th. Everyone I know says it in the last few days leading up to Christmas, and even people in the shops!

Blogger JB said...

We were talking about this the other night, and I think the rule is that you can't say "Gleðileg jól" to someone before 6 who you know that you'll see after 6. So plenty of people say it in the shops, for example, but you can't say it to someone in your household until after 6, for example. Anyway that's what we pieced together from lots of conversations on the subject.


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