So you moved to Iceland and you’re about to celebrate that most popular of Christianity-based holidays—and for some reason, this year you’re not making the trip home to attend your traditional celebrations! Oy gevalt! Maybe this is a lump of coal in your stocking—you couldn’t get out of the country for some reason, or you’re not welcome on the other end—or maybe it’s the candy cane on your gingerbread house: a time to create new traditions and take charge of that little holiday known as Christmas.
Whichever one you’re feeling, I can relate. I moved here almost seven years ago and this will be my third year in a row staying on the island rather than going back to the Canadian yuletide hubbub. Plus, I have a birthmas, so it’s two partridges to knock out of that pear tree. As excited as I was to spend my first birthday/Christmas here on my own terms, by the second year I was craving some sort of familiar gathering. The third year I spent here, I found a fairly fine balance of both, but noticed that more and more expat friends were reaching out to potentially join my celebrations. I couldn’t exactly invite them to my in-laws’, but had I been single, it would have been the perfect time for us to come up with our own tradition.
Gather near faithful friends
Your first option is Friendmas. You might be feeling very lonely right about now, hearing all your classmates or coworkers go on about their family plans, and this might serve to underline the idea that you have nobody. But that is a lie: you are not alone. You just need to find your tribe. With a few strategically placed queries to acquaintances and on that Internet thing, you will soon find yourself with a nice group or a cosy little pack of Christmas elves to celebrate with.
Chances are you and your choice group of Xmas friends are coming from from different places and backgrounds, so take the opportunity to merge little bits of your cultures together. Maybe one of you isn’t even a usual Christmas celebrator and you can make it a Chrismukkah or Hannakwanzaa! Or something! Have a Secret Santa or bring one big collective present to the party for everyone to enjoy! Make a holiday playlist of songs with the words “Jesus,” “Mary” or “Joseph” in them and have a nativity-themed dance party! Have an eggnog drinking contest! Fun Christmas times guaranteed.
Another way to do Friendmas? Ship someone in. On the first Christmas I spent here, my high school bestie flew over and we spent all of December 25th listening to nu-metal and drinking duty free booze until we were dancing on the dining room table. Feel free to do that, too.
Someone else’s home for the holidays
If, however, you are latched onto an Icelander like a pit-bull on a poodle, you should make it your business to go along to their family’s place for the traditional hoo-ha. This might take the form of a Friendmas as well, since you may just be tagging along with your newest BFF, but it’s more likely that this is someone you’re shacking up with so act like family, dammit. That means shower, dress up nicely and smile while your partner’s frænka pounds back the cooking cognac.
Use the opportunity to learn all types of holiday-centric Icelandic words and to ask them all about eating skate and the Yule Lads. In my experience, my older in-laws absolutely relish the opportunity to shower me in Christmassy anecdotes of the cultural gap between here and everywhere else. Even if you know what they’re telling you, it will be a good story to hear. Plus, you’re going to get some good food out of this, so be polite. Bring some treats for your hosting family—a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates is a sure hit. If there’s one family member whose good graces you really need to get on, a good book is a surefire present.
What can be really nice about spending Christmas with an Icelandic family, be they your in-laws or the kind-hearted family of a friend, is that you get to see that there is a common thread to Christmas rituals worldwide. The whole gamut of emotions and behaviour runs amok and it can make you feel a little bit closer to your own crazy family, even if they are far away.
You know how John McClane, of the Christmas movie classic ‘Die Hard’, handles things? On. His. Own. Are you any better than John McClane? You wish. We all do. Your third option is to go it alone and make Christmas your own personal Nakatomi Plaza to blast your way through the holiday. You might need to do this because you just can’t shake off the holiday blues, and that is totally cool. If you are really feeling rough, you sometimes gotta do you and place full focus on taking care of yourself*.
You could also do this in joyful reckless abandon, prepping your house with a refined selection of your very favourite foods—Hagkaup and Kostur are prime spots for getting treats from abroad—and curating a fine selection of nostalgic holiday programming for the big day. The aforementioned ‘Die Hard’ is a classic for many, but you also have the heartwarming Tim Allen ‘Santa Clause’ franchise, the goof-and-spoof ‘Home Alone’, the whimsical ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’, the delightful ‘Elf’, and the “Ahnuld”-ness of ‘Jingle All The Way’. There’s a couple more Christmas movies out there, I think.
If you’re not such a movie-watcher and would rather be out and about, make a thermos of hot chocolate (spiked, if that’s your bag) and stroll downtown to see the big Norwegian tree, have a skate on the rink in Ingólfstorg, and enjoy the rare peace and quiet of the city. And then go home and dance to nu-metal on your dining room table. Gleðileg jól!
*If you are having serious trouble coping with the holidays and feeling depressed or suicidal, please call 1717 or 112. Help is here for you during this difficult time. You are not alone.