This year it looks likely that there will be no snow in Iceland for Christmas, a situation the locals call “a red Christmas”. Why red, and not some other colour?
Fréttablaðið spoke with Daníel Þorláksson, a meteorologist with the Icelandic Met Office, to ask the question on everyone’s mind now that we’re a week away from Christmas Day: will there be snow?
“In reality, a lot of precipitation isn’t expected, and what little will fall will for the most part be rain or sleet,” he said. “I would imagine that where there’s already no snow on the ground, not much will be added. But where there already is snow, they will likely have a white Christmas.”
As such, a “red Christmas” is predicted this year, i.e., a Christmas without snow. So why “red”?
Vísindavefurinn, a University of Iceland site that answers academic questions from the general public, addressed this question in 2002. In Icelandic, “red” as an adjective can have more than one meaning. In addition to the colour, it may also mean “snowless” or “vacant”.
This phrase is used in other folk expressions in Icelandic, for example “red Christmas, white Easter, white Christmas, red Easter”. This stems from the belief that if it snows on Christmas, it won’t snow on Easter, and vice versa. A similar expression can be found in Danish, “grøn jul bringer snehvid påske”, where they use “green Christmas” to mean a Christmas without snow.
“Green Christmas” as a way to describe a Christmas without snow might make more intuitive sense, but in Iceland, a “red Christmas” is what we can likely expect this year.
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