Christmas Away From Home - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Christmas Away From Home

Christmas Away From Home

Published December 22, 2011

Christmas is surely a magical time of year—a time when people are more connected than usual. However, not everybody can be with his or her family during this special time. Foreigners who are in Iceland temporarily or for good will likely celebrate the occasion quite differently than they would in their homeland. For some it will be a pleasant time spent with relatives and friends, but for others it will be a tough time of homesickness—or it might feel like just any other day.
Andrej Holbička from Slovakia has lived in Iceland for thirteen years. He tells me that he has grown accustomed to the life here, and adapted his holiday celebrations accordingly: “We will have a typical Slovakian Christmas here, although there were years when we spent the festive season with Poles and it was a little bit of everything from Poland and Slovakia. I also tried traditional Icelandic Christmas.”
This year, Andrej plans on spending the holidays with his wife. Their traditional dinner starts with a wafer topped with honey and garlic. “This is followed by Kapustnica, a traditional Slovakian cabbage soup with mushrooms and as carp,” he says. In Slovakia people traditionally buy live carps, kill them, smoke them, and eventually use them as an ingredient for the cabbage soup. In Iceland, Andrej’s family will serve a different type of fish that they will eat along with a potato salad. As he reveals, it is also customary to put coins under their plates, a tradition that’s meant to ward off financial difficulties in the coming year.
Gheorghe Vasi from Romania has divided the last six years between living in Romania and Iceland. Last year, he spent Christmas on the island. “I was just in a dormitory, drinking wine and relaxing.  I didn’t have a special dinner or anything that reminded me of the festive season. That is why I plan on being with my family this year. It’s very important for me,” he tells me, adding that in Romania the traditional festive meals include pork sausages and plum brandy. Sour cabbage rolls called Sarmale are also popular, and George’s family always enjoys them. In addition, pickled cabbage leaves, pork, beef and rice are staples of the festive dinner.  
Nina (who preferred not to give her last name for whatever reason) is married to an Icelandic man and moved to Iceland from Spain five years ago. She believes that an Icelandic family Christmas might not differ greatly from a Spanish or Italian one. “In the end it is all about the same things; being with your family and enjoying it,” she says. Nina plans to be alone at home this Christmas.  “I don’t feel like spending it with my husband’s family, because I don’t speak Icelandic and I don’t feel like part of the family. They welcome me; but in the end, no one talks to me. That is why I don’t think anybody will miss me there,” she explains. This year’s Christmas will be like any other day of the year for her. She will have something to eat at home and watch DVDs.
Strahinja Đorđević from Serbia will be in Iceland with his girlfriend over the holidays. He explains that Orthodox Serbs celebrate the festive season according to the Julian calendar, which is January 7. “This year I will spend Christmas without my family and I don’t believe we will be able to celebrate it completely with all the traditional Serbian customs due to the lack of materials for it,” he explains. In Serbia, the fast begins 40 days before Christmas. As Strahinja says, the Christmas Eve tradition entails serving dinner on the floor covered with straw, where they put a candle, walnuts, honey, wine, dried fruits and various fasting specialties. They eat traditional Sarma, which is stuffed cabbage along with pork, and homemade sljivovica, an alcoholic drink made from distilled, fermented plum juice. Also, a kneading cake is served, and a coin is placed inside in belief that a man who finds it will have luck and money throughout the year. “However, here in the dormitory we don’t have an oven to bake it,” he adds.

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