The Christmas Party

There was wind. There was threatening rain. There was a storm on the ocean, a storm strong enough to keep our guest speaker from Seattle, David Johnson, from joining us. Two days in a row, the Clipper catamaran’s run between Seattle and Victoria has been canceled. However, he sent a message encouraging us all to attend the INL weekend of fun and frolic in Seattle this coming spring. I made a short speech encouraging people to attend. I’ve found that attending INL conventions has increased and changed my knowledge and opinions about my Icelandic heritage.

However, none of us local members had to come by crossing the ocean. We came laden with good food. Much too much good food. Enough good food for a vast number of people. We could  have fed the multitudes on the Mount.

There was Riverton rúllupylsa, cookies that were in the shape of a Viking boat with its sail up, rosettes. I just about felt like I was back in New Iceland. There were cakes and fruits and more cookies and desserts I did not know the names of. You can tell we come from a culture where eating and celebrating went together.

Trish’s viking ship cookies.

Kladia Robertsdottir brought the laufabrauð that I made at her house the other day. Although they were not as pretty as Kladia and Trish´s, they got eaten. Kladia also had made one with the initial W on it for William. I accidentally included it in the basket on the table. However, it was retrieved. It´ll get eaten at the family Christmas dinner.

Kladia’s rosettes. There was a time when, I could have eaten a dozen topped with whipped cream and a bit of strawberry jam. Of course, in those days, I had a 28 inch waist.

Trish Baer told us a bit about her Phd dissertation on images in the Eddas. She gave a presentation in Sweden this summer, is going to give another at the University of Victoria and is, I believe, going to give a presentation at the INL conference. Her dissertation has been submitted and is being read by her committee.

The Vikings would hold parties that went on for days with feasting, drinking, story telling, negotiating, buying, selling, and just about anything you can think of and, when it was over, they gave their guests rich presents. That´s when things were good. Crops were good, and if they needed a bit extra, they went off and killed people, burned down their homes, looted their storehouses and demonstrated how good they were at this sort of thing by giving away a lot of what they´d stolen. That meant no one criticized them for their business  methods.

However, the Vikings ran out of wood for making ships,faded away,  became sheep farmers, lost their independence to Norway and then Denmark, and times became tough and then tougher. The weather changed. No more cereal crops. Not much to trade. However, they kept up the tradition of feasts as best they could.

The bishops may have been able to stamp out dancing but they couldn´t stop people from eating. The Icelanders did their best with what they had. During the hard years of famine, a sheep´s head was a feast. Nowadays, with Icelandic prosperity, there´s the Jólahlaðborð, the Christmas buffet. Some people go to two or three or more. That doesn´t surprise me. I remember, as a teenager, eating a full Christmas dinner at Fjola and Brinky Sveinsson´s and then their son, Robert, and I walking into town to my parent´s place to eat another full Christmas dinner. Little did we know that we were carrying out an Icelandic tradition.

Then there´s the Jólaglögg. Often made of wine and vodka, it stimulates the appetite and weakens the knees. With the harsh liquor laws in BC, one drink is all you are allowed before you risk losing both your driver´s license and your car and being forced to stand on a street corner with a sign saying you are an irresponsible glogger.

Also in Iceland, there´s Þorláksmesa, celebrating Iceland´s patron saint, Þorlákir helgi. I don´t remember us celebrating any saints. As a matter of fact, I didn´t know we had any. We just ate our way through Christmas day, dined on left over turkey and whatever on Boxing Day, struggled through boxes of chocolates and left over shortbread cookies for a week or so, then partied on New Years. New Year´s parties were about drinking, dancing, smooching, yelling, singing and having a hangover the next day . When there was food, it was more along the lines of dinner and dance food. Icelandic perogis, Icelandic hollopchi, Icelandic chow mein, Icelandic haggis, that sort of thing.

Times have changed. Old age has snuck up on some of us. Where did that hair go, we ask ourselves when we look in the mirror? Where did this stomach come from? Icelandic perogis, Icelandic hollopchi, Icelandic chow mein, Icelandic fried chicken, plus kleinur, vinarterta, hangikjöt, pönnukökur and rosetttes. Etc.

We can´t eat and drink as much as we used to but we can still talk as well as ever and at the Christmas party we did talk, we conversed, we visited, we enjoyed ourselves. When we were leaving, we felt better for our conversations about now and about our past, often a past that began in New Iceland, for, like the Vikings, we´re travelers, many of us having traveled across oceans and over continents earning a living. Most of us are far from home.

Gleðileg Jól, Gleðileg Jól, to one and all, wherever you are. We´re with you in spirit. May your Christmas party be as enjoyable as ours.