Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter Observations in Iceland

Here are a few random things I have observed about Iceland in the winter time.

I am surprisingly not as tired as I thought I would be. In fact, I am weirdly not at all tired when I should be, because it is so dark so much of the time that it messes a bit with your internal clock. I am a bit restless in bed, and then sleep in late, a vicious cycle. What with the sunrise at nearly 11:30am, it's a surreal experience to wake up at 9am and it is still dark for a couple hours, then you have lunch, and it gets dark soon after.

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are awesome and make for much holiday amusement and a delightful change from a fatty Santa. There are 13 Santas in Iceland, and each one is traditionally a trouble-maker, though now many of them have adopted Western Ways and give children small gifts for being good instead of doing sneaky things like plugging up the chimney, or eating all the sausages, or gobbling up the skyr. Jólasveinarnir also come out of hiding one per day, 13 days before Christmas. Their hideout is the mysterious Dimmuborgir, which I visited in late September.

I did not know about the existence of the Christmas Cat, or Jólakotturinn, nor Grýla! They are also holiday traditions here- the Christmas cat will steal children away unless at least one knitted good is given to a child for the holidays. You don't want to mess with that cat. Likewise Grýla, who will also steal children, is a scary-ass hag who is fabled to have long tails coming out of her backside, and the tails have bags strapped to them in which she hides 100 children per bag. Frightening. Nothing you'd ever see in America, even in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I recently heard that about 90% of Iceland's published books come out during the holidays. The people here are well-read, or so it appears; at least they buy a lot of poetry and give it to others, who knows if it sits on the nightstand unread. There are even displays of new books that pop up at the grocery stores- I think in the States we would more likely see piles of cheap toys and DVDs. Iceland has plenty of those too but the books seem a little more respectable.

This Christmas I hardly did anything for gifts, but the things I did do I made almost completely myself. I bought one item for my parents and two souvenirs for relatives at local shops, but everything else was hand-crafted. It cost about as much to ship home the gifts as it did to buy all of them, but I think my family will appreciate them.

Also, where are the gays. It's been a few months in Iceland and I have yet to really meet any gay men my age. I've met teenagers, and middle-aged men. Are the 28-year-olds hibernating for the winter? Gone abroad? Some I know are already married, seeing how marriage often happens at younger ages here, and you can get gay married and it is no big thang (our prime minister is lesbian). But I go out on weekends to a club and everyone looks all stylish, I can't pick out the gays from straights, the society is so integrated. Eurochic style is a godsend, and a curse.

Finally, Iceland in winter is a place that one can go out wearing a custom-designed cape made from a sleeping bag (the designer Andrea Sisson made me a long-lusted-after cape, it's very warm and even has snaps and beautiful sewn folds) and in Reykjavík, no one bats an eyelash. It's like, oh, I have one of those too, no big whoop. 'Cept mine has a sleeve.

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