It’s been business as usual this Christmas, with adherence to both personal and cultural traditions, plus indulging in some serious [and well-earned] laziness.

Predictably, Yule chez YT begins on the 23rd, what with birthday celebrations and the much-anticipated rancid skate party. A short lie-in is allowed on Christmas Eve day, before gearing up for the last-minute preparations. Inevitably some item of food or a small prezzie supplement has been forgotten in the gazillion-or-three shopping trips made in the final days, and this must be taken care of before shops close around 1pm [or 3 or 4 if you want to settle for a limited selection]. And you’d better get it while you can, because there will be nothing else open for the next 48 hours or so.

In the afternoon of the 24th, we observe a very personal tradition that we happen to share with a large section of the Icelandic population, namely a trip to the cemetery to visit the graves of loved ones. My father’s side of the family always meets at the gravesite of my grandparents at 3.30pm, ostensibly to light candles but mostly just to touch base with each other and wish each other Merry Christmas. It’s a tradition that I’ve come to fervently love because it’s generally filled with fun, warmth and joy. Plus the cemetery is utterly breathtaking to behold – virtually every grave has a candle or some sort of decoration [thankfully the Icelanders are not partial to very garish ornamentation] and as darkness falls the twinkling lights of the candles are visible as far as the eye can see.

At 6pm sharp, Christmas begins when all the church bells throughout the country ‘ring in’ the jól. Everyone wishes each other a Merry Christmas and the radio begins broadcasting Christmas mass from the Dómkirkjan church. This is normally a very intimate and festive evening that you generally spend only with your nearest and dearest. Dinner begins soon afterwards and when that is completed, people relocate to the living room [or wherever the tree happens to be] to open presents. This takes up most of the evening, and afterwards everyone just sort of does what they wish – that is to say, if they don’t attend the midnight mass at Dómkirkjan, which starts at 11.30pm.

Christmas Day in Iceland is generally a lazy day. Reading is popular – in this country it is traditional for everyone to get at least one book for Christmas – as is sleeping, going out for a walk, watching TV, or anything else that requires minimum exertion. In the evening, many people attend some sort of function with the extended family – in our case, we meet up with EPI’s father and brother and sisters and spouses and kids for dinner. We always have the same thing – hangikjöt [smoked lamb] with all the traditional trimmings. [Laufabrauð, Ora green peas, Waldorf salad, red cabbage, potatoes in white sauce, and a few other sundry items. And chocolate cake for dessert.]

My family also gets together – however because my father works in the theatre and there is always a big premiere on Boxing Day, we tend to meet up at his house on one of the succeeding evenings. When I say ‘we’ I mean my crazy mixed up various-parts-make-up-a-whole family on my father’s side, including spouses and kids. It’s always a great evening – last night we had a blast playing Trivial Pursuit, for example. [Well, I had a blast. I won.] Plus the food prepared by my father’s wife is always to die for – generally turkey and stuffing plus trimmings, including an amazing wild mushroom sauce.

Anyway! This post started out being about something else entirely, but here I’ve somehow wound up giving a run-down of the YT family Christmas. I blame the overload of smoked salty foods – taste great going down, but are definitely not the best thing for the old constitution and may very well make you dazed and confused. [Unless it’s all that sleep]. Up next, our madcrazymayhemanarchy of a New Years Eve that people travel from all corners of the world to experience… although in the meantime I may post a photo or two of rancid skate… but not today… tomorrow…

… Which against all odds turned positively wintry today, with proper freezing temps and even some hail and snow – enough so that this country lives up to its name at least momentarily. Should be a relief for that poor British couple who thought Iceland had snow for most of the year [excuse me again while I guffaw!] and who next time might consider joining the Google ‘iceland weather’ people, who inevitably land on The Iceland Weather Report before they get here. Temps are now exactly at the freezing mark and I’m going to head outside to observe some of that strange white stuff firsthand. Sunrise: 11.22, sunset: 15.37.