The benefits of multiculturalism

Happy Winter Solstice!
Gleðileg Jól!
Festive Yule.

I just wrote “Merry Christmas” in elvish.

You see, we found ourselves in a position where we have folded four separate winter solstice festival traditions into the season, much the the delight of the munchkins.

However, the Big Kid is definitely getting suspicious and decided to do some hypothesis testing.

Now, the primary event this season is the arrival of the 13 jólasveinar on successive days before christmas (and their in order departure through Jan 6th).
Just remember – on the 13th day of Jól you take the tree (which is dry by now) and burn it in a neighbourhood bonfire to close out the winter solstice festival and ensure its return.

Now these are formally described as elves, although their mother Grýla is a troll. But they bring presents which they leave in childrens’ shoes, if they’ve been good – every single day (only heathen northerners believe there are only 9 jólasveinar…).
Kids like this.

The myth, by the way, implies each kid must get clothing, candles and games, or they trip into the “naughty” category, and the Yule Cat will catch them and take them to Grýla to put in her sack to cook and eat (interestingly one tale suggests that a particularly good and brave girl will cut a hole in the sack before they get back to the cave and rescue the bad children, so they only get a fright. Or they get eaten, depends on who you believe).
But, other than that, the shoes tend to get small candy presents.

Now, for social historical reasons we also do “advent” – except it is not really, it is just dec 1st-24th, but that provides even lesser items of candy or small toys, each day for the first half of december.

Except, there is the Feast of St Nicholas (this has to do with my better half’s prolonged stays in central Europe and nostalgic in-laws, it is socially imperative), which brings bigger presents in the shoe on Dec 6th, and cookies, chocolate milk for St. N. and his helper Krampus (any resemblance to an incarnation of Óðinn is apparently coincidental). Oh, and carrots for his horses. Did you know kids count how many carrots there are in the vegetable bin, suspicious wee ones. Carrots are good for you, doubly so as a midnight snack.

Ok, but then the Icelandic tradition of Jól, is for the present exchange on christmas eve, the day after the Feast of St Thorlacius (Þorláksmessa) (no not that Thorlacius, silly).
So we do the “presents from Amma and Afi and the cousins” on the evening of the 24th, these are left under the tree after 6pm.

But, we’re not done yet – because we are embedded in the Coca-Cola culture, and so we have a red clad Santa Claus (some comercial hybrid of finnish shamen and St Nick and elves) reverse burgle our house that night – he leaves minor presents in stockings (which will move from the US style fireplace location to the UK style foot-of-the-bed for logistical reasons this year), and major presents under the tree, intermingled with US relative presents.

So, the kids make out like bandits, for weeks.
Happy, but a little bit intense. Especially when they have to hear Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in the original and in Icelandic, including the more sensible version where the Icelandic Rudolph becomes a horse, and the more annoying modern Icelandic version where he is a reindeer.

But, the Big Kid is becoming more than a bit suspicious. In fact she is clearly conceptualising Santa Claus as a metaphorical process rather than an actual person (after all, as she asked, if Santa bring the presents, how come rich kids get lots of presents and poor kids don’t, even though poor kids are just as good and rich kids can be naughty, eh? – that and the precise role of the US Marine Corps in the Toys for Tots vis-a-vis Santa’s workshop and elves – lets just say that my friends in the Army probably appreciate her current visual images of US Marines).

But, I digress: so, the problem is, the jólasveinar are Icelandic elves, descended from trolls, and live in well defined and distant mountains. So who puts the presents in her shoes? Is it American Elves? US Marines? And how come none of her friends get this then?

So, tonight she left a blank pieces of paper with her name on it, and a pencil by her shoe (and the Munchkin of course copied her).
See if the elves are real, the will leave her a note when they come, and she will know they were there because they write in Elvish, silly.

Which is why I wrote “Merry Christmas” in elvish at midnight.

FYI: today is Gluggagægir (Window Peeper) – I’m telling you, the Icelandic Yule Lads are hard core.
Followed by Gáttaþefur (Doorway Sniffer) on the 22nd.

  • Stekkjarstaur – Gimpy
  • Giljagaur – Gully Imp
  • Stúfur – Shorty
  • Þvörusleikir – Spoon Licker
  • Pottasleikir – Pot Licker
  • Askasleikir – Bowl Licker
  • Hurðaskellir – Door Slammer
  • Skyrgámur – Sky Devourer
  • Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Hooker
  • Gluggagægir – Windor Peeper
  • Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer
  • Ketkrókur – Meat Hooker
  • Kertasníkir – Candle Thief

PS the children’s name’s are very beautiful written phonetically in Elvish, btw, it is a very elegant and compact way of writing. I had never appreciated the thought that went into it. Very symmetric graphy.


  1. #1 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 22, 2006

    Syncretism gone mad.

  2. #2 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 22, 2006

    Here’s one you haven’t tried yet:
    Pooping peasant popular in Spain

    Yet statuettes of “El Caganer,” or the great defecator in the Catalan language, can be found in nativity scenes, and increasingly on the mantelpieces of collectors, throughout Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region, where for centuries symbols of defecation have played an important role in Christmas festivities.
    During the holiday season, pastry shops around Catalonia sell sweets shaped like feces, and on Christmas Eve Catalan children beat a hollow log, called the tio, packed with holiday gifts, singing a song that urges it to defecate presents out the other end.

  3. #3 Steinn Sigurdsson
    December 22, 2006

    Well, my personal cultural imperatives and social forces would impel me to “little boy pissing” rather than the great defecator. It is hard having relative in Brussels.

    What is amazing is that as multiculturalism goes we’re not that spread, this is pretty much minor variations and adaptation of the North-West/Central Europe Winter Solstice festivals with christian symbolism glued on post-hoc.
    Even a modest additional spread in Euro-Christian traditions would stretch things further (eg if some part of the family were eastern orthodox) and if we actually had non-Euro-Christian myths to incorporate as well, whether due to family or geography, well, then there’d be a lot of partying…

  4. #4 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 22, 2006

    Chinese PhD students say “humbug!” to Christmas

    BEIJING (Reuters) – Ten doctoral students from three of China’s top universities have posted an online petition slamming local Christmas celebrations and calling on people to “resist Western cultural invasion”, state media said on Friday.

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