Twelve years ago, Reykjavík’s “Little Christmas Shop” (Litla Jólabúðin) opened up in Anne Helen Lindsay’s garage. Hers was the house with the Christmas lights up year round and the painted Santa Claus footsteps marking a path through her garden. She had been importing token goods like puffin dolls and magnets for tourist shops in the city, but business was slow in the wintertime when those stores were just trying to sell back stock that hadn’t been picked up by summer visitors. Anne started importing Christmas items to entice the stores to set up Christmas sections and keep things fresh in the wintertime. Due to large demand, her Christmas imports spilled into her garage and suddenly, Christmas became a year-round celebration there.
Anne was born in Scotland but was adopted to, and raised, in Iceland. Growing up, the holidays kind of smelled like burning ammonia. Her mother was a hairdresser who worked out of their home and was busiest around Christmas, particularly with perms. Even so, Christmas day was the time she got her mother all to herself.
“I’ve always been crazy about Christmas,” she says. “And to have a shop based entirely around Christmas, you have to be a little crazy.”
The year-round decorations and Christmas kitsch she sold out of her garage attracted tourists to her home at all hours. Her garden was often teeming with guests to whom she served coffee and encouraged long visits. The scheme lasted for about four years until it became too much to live at work. One Sunday morning, a woman came knocking on her door very early, asking if she could see the Christmas shop. She was visiting from East Iceland and had to return that day. Anne threw a raincoat on over her pajamas and watched the woman walk around for twenty minutes, choose not to purchase anything and leave.
“I couldn’t get any peace and quiet,” she says. “So I said to my husband, that’s it, we have to move to a new spot.”
She moved it all into a space on Laugavegur, just three streets away from her garage, and kept the name Litla Jólabúðin. The shop has been open year-round for about eight years now and Anne is there every day of the week. Litla Jólabúðin survives the summertime due to the droves of tourists and its choice location. During the summer months of July and August, about 70 percent of her business is selling specifically Icelandic hand-made Christmas products to foreigners.
In addition to her adult customers, Anne sees a lot of wide-eyed kids from all over the world come in to her store. Many of them buy Christmas letters that they can send to “Icelandic Santa” with the guarantee that, come Christmas, they’ll receive a letter and a treat from him in the mail.
Typically Icelandic Santa will visit the shop around December 12, Anne explains with a playful smile, but he’s been anxious to come sooner and has already made one appearance this winter. Still, he’s very preoccupied with responding to and sending out those letters. In all of his Christmas preparations, Anne hopes he will not forget the large red boots that he’s left outside of the shop for some time now.
In addition to Icelandic Santa, Anne shares many stories of the Christmas traditions of Iceland and the thirteen Yuletide Lads with her customers. This has put a good scare into some foreign children, who have never encountered the fear that colors the Christmas experience of their Icelandic counterparts.
Kind of a Christmas break
Anne’s own home takes on the aesthetic of Litla Jólabúðin over the holidays, though none of her own decorations come from the shop. She once placed a Santa statue from Litla Jólabúðin in her living room and couldn’t shake herself from thinking about work. Since then, she uses only items she’s found at other Christmas shops on her travels.
The many Icelanders who depend on Litla Jólabúðin to prepare their homes for the holidays will sometimes tell her they miss when the store was in the garage and they had to follow Santa’s footsteps through the garden.
Anne takes an appreciative look around the cheer and warm sparkle of her shop and expresses an important part of Christmas for most who work year round–the simple significance of taking a break. “I’m happy with this place,” she says. “I’m done taking my work home with me.”
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