Icelandic Language Blog

Christmas is almost here. Posted by on Dec 19, 2014 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs, Icelandic history


Heading towards the fourth Advent.

Iceland is expecting Christmas completely decked in white. We had even more snow yesterday and cars were stuck throughout the country, so in case you saw people clad in red pushing them out of the banks (link) those were not Jólasveinar but Björgunarsveitinn, the voluntary rescue units. They don’t give you presents but I bet you’ll still be happy to see them when you need them! Meanwhile we also found out that the Holuhraun volcano – that is still erupting just as strongly as months ago by the way – has taken a festive approach in its lava flow (link).

jol1423Hátíð fer að höndum ein… a beautiful song that’s currently very appropriate (link). It’s also an interesting example of how, once you’ve studied the grammar for years and think you got it it still manages to sneak up behind you. You see:

“Hátíð    fer að höndum    ein.”

Lit. transl. “Celebration/Holiday   goes at hands   one.”

Actual transl. “The Holiday is almost at hand.”

Why? Because the pronoun “einn/ein/eitt” can occasionally be used as an article “the” or “that particular one”. As a confusing additional feature, in poetic Icelandic the word order can be jumbled up almost any which way as long as the conjugation is correct, so although it’s not grammatically correct to throw “ein” to the end (it should be “hátíð ein…”), in a song it’s quite alright. 😀

jol1424And here you may see… our Christmas tree and a grill, both waiting for their proper seasons. Well, they’re somewhere under there anyway. It’s becoming a futile task to clear the snow off of the balcony when new piles of it fall in almost daily. The snow ploughs are hard at work too, and like this video reminds you it’s good to let them do their job if you can (although the car owner is heard saying he simply cannot move the car because of all the snow)*.

* I’m going to spoil the fun a little though – the video is staged (link). 😀

jol1415If I was asked what’s the most prominent Icelandic Christmas feature, the one that truly heralds the celebration, I would have to go for the decorative lights in and outside of the houses.  After a long, dark and miserable autumn they suddenly pop up everywhere. Some people go quite crazy with them, lighting up the whole house with huge spotlights, creating rainbow stripes along their walls, covering every possible shelf-like structure in Christmas statues with lights inside, just generally throwing on enough lights to light a small city… and they’ll stay on long after Christmas. Some people don’t even get rid of the obvious Holiday items such as the Santa Claus or Christmas angel lamps. Winter is so long and dark that all those lights serve a purpose, lighting the otherwise depressing season.

This is not a new tradition of course. Candles used to serve the same purpose for the Holiday and Icelandic children were often given one as a Christmas present, which is why they often appear in fairy tales regarding Christmas. Candles were a valuable gift back in the day, so a woman giving one to elf children was indeed being kind.

jol1420Another thing would be the Jólasveinar, Yule Lads. Here they are on our Christmas curtain in full mischief, several carrying stolen goods with them – can you recognize them all? The Christmas Calendar will help you out (and don’t forget it’s still going to run several days more, come and meet the Christmas creatures big and small, strange and scary, each day a few new ones).


The Icelandic blog of Transparent Language and Hulda wish you all Happy Holidays!

Gleðileg jól og farsælt komandi ár!

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!