Gledileg Jol: Merry Yule from Iceland

Iceland_Winter-33

Iceland image by Oliver Hoffman

When and why early man began celebrating Yule is shrouded in mystery, but the celebration at this time of year certainly seems to have been connected with the longest night of the year and the promise of the returning sun.

As is the case in many Northern European countries, especially those having precious little sunlight this time of year, the celebration of Yule or Jol in Iceland dates back beyond memory or written language.

Today in Iceland, Jol is celebrated as Christmas, but the old name sticks and to say Merry Yule (Christmas) in Iceland one says Gledileg Jol. You want to hear how this is pronounced?  Click here!

December lights

December lights in Iceland by Kristin Sig (check out her photostream)

Iceland is truly a stunningly beautiful country. Don't take my word for it - join in on this photographic tour provided by National Geographic to see for yourself! (Be sure to scroll through all the slide show images to the right and to the left.)

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My Yule Cat made to celebrate winter solstice!

Many of the Christmas traditions and celebrations in one way or another reflect the relative isolation endured by the people of Iceland for centuries.

Yule gifts consisted always of clothing and candles. The reason for candles is obvious - at this time of year there are only four hours of daylight!

As inducement to finish the knitting, weaving and sewing of all clothing in time for Yule, the Yule Cat was invented. Read this delightful story of the Yule Cat on my favorite Christmas site - Yule  Jol in Iceland.

If you haven't yet had time, take the time now, before it is too late, and visit the Yule Lads. If you have been nice, Stekkjarstaur has a lovely gift waiting for you that includes a pattern and instructions for making a Yule Cat! That's mine in the picture above! I can't help myself!  I love the tail!

More recently, books have become a traditional gift for children and adults alike. (Did you know that the people of Iceland, per capita, read more books than any of the rest of us?)

Evergreen Yule trees must be imported as there are no indigenous evergreen trees in Iceland. Yule trees were fashioned from a deciduous tree that grows over much of northern Europe - the Rowan. The Rowan was cut and the trunk cleaned of it's branches and then new branches in the shape of an evergreen were attached to the trunk. The inspiration for my "Iceland Tree Advent Calendar"!

Tree

Tree and mountain landscape - Iceland by Jon Ragnarsson

Yule begins on December 12th with the arrival of the first Yule Lad (Jolasveinar) and ends with a huge bonfire and fireworks on January 6th.

If you will take the time to enjoy the Yule Lads each day as they arrive from their hiding place in the mountains of Iceland, not only will you receive gifts for being well behaved, but you will learn many interesting facts about life in the "old times". Did you know for instance, that the tables found in old Icelandic homes were strictly work tables and were not used for dining? Meals were eaten while sitting on the bed and were eaten from a personal bowl called an askur which was left, with any remaining food scraps, on the floor next to the bed at night for the cat and dog. A few images of askur can be seen here.

Laufabrauð

Laufabraud by Brian Suda

Yule foods are unique and again reflect the scarcity that was partly due to the island's isolation.

Laufsbraud is a paper thin bread that is intricately decorated with images or a series of geometric lines. Wheat was considered nearly a delicacy long ago and the thinness of the Lausbraud was designed to stretch precious little flour as far as possible.

A special sweet porridge is often eaten for dessert and, as is the case in Norway and Denmark, an almond is hidden in the porriage before it is served.  Since finding the almond will bring good fortune, every one at the table is hopeful and eager to eat!

For many, many years, fruits were only available dried so a favorite treat became "Sweet Fruit Soup". I will be making something very much like it tomorrow by soaking dried fruits - plums, pineapple, apricots, raisins, cherries - in hot water for several hours. Sugar is added to the hot mixture along with a little cinnamon. In Iceland, something similar to tapioca is added, but I prefer mine without. And sometimes I like to add a bit of Kirschwasser.

For recipes (including Laufsbraud, Yule Porridge, pork and lamb, and Caramelized Potatoes) and more about the traditional foods prepared in Iceland to celebrate Yule, visit Yule Food at Yule In Iceland.

The House Where Time Stands Still

The House Where Time Stands Still by Asgeir Kroyer  - Be sure to link over and read more! And more awesome images of iceland in the photostream!

Learn much more about Yule in Iceland:

Yule Jol in Iceland

Christmas in Iceland 2000

National Museum of Iceland Christmas Traditions

Iceland.IS  Christmas in Iceland

Beautiful images of Yule in Iceland on google images

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"No Place Like Home for Christmas" a painting made by me in 7th grade art class.  This is the street in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Acequia Madre) where I grew up. The last house on the left was where I lived. (Of course Acequia Madre looks nothing like this now.) I do miss Santa Fe most at Christmas time.

And now it is time to wish you all a very merry and joy filled Holiday Season and a very happy New Year!!

See you in January!

You had me at cat. I might be

You had me at cat. I might be a few weeks (months) behind reading up again, but something tells me that Yulecat might be just what I need in everyday life. A little furry, purry monster gently nudging (and scratching and biting) me into being a little bit less lazy and a bit more productive. Ok, ok... a LOT more productive. Meow.

This post actually made me

This post actually made me cry. that happens occasionally when I'm here.

I would LOVE to go to Iceland. My wife doesn't really care to go to the cold lands. But eventually...

I get my way!!!

Gledileg Jol!!

Oooh! Iceland looks so lovely

Oooh! Iceland looks so lovely Pam! It's one of those places I always plan on getting to one day!Thank you for these beautiful photos!

The photos are amazing, but I

The photos are amazing, but I have to confess I am fully charmed by the winter solstice cat!!

Erin

Dear Pam, I just wanted to

Dear Pam,

I just wanted to stop by and say Merry Christmas and that I hope your holiday is all you want it to be.

Maureen

Love this post and thank you

Love this post and thank you for these links!! Iceland is such a special place. I had a chance to visit in 2010 and absolutely cannot wait to return.

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