A COVID Christmas – The Icelandic Yule Lads Visit Croatia

Yule Lads in Croatia

For last ten to twelve years, my mother has been sending me the yearly Jacquie Lawson advent calendar but for this COVID Christmas, I find myself relying heavily on it for some sense of Christmas cheer. These interactive advent calendars have become a Christmas tradition that has flourished in adulthood. I have come to expect this gift from my mother, emailed to me just before December 1st. Each day of the advent serves as a reminder. For, even though the month may be filled with the usual adult stressors, the advent period is still a special, joyous time. This year, the advent is Nordic-themed. So for each day, a new nordic tradition, interactive scene, or recipe is revealed with all the hygge vibes of true Scandinavian winter.

David and I are celebrating Christmas away from both of our families in Croatia. We had initially intended to head back to Iceland but my 90-day visa issues and our long stay in Italy capped the 90 days allotted in Schengen. That, and, David is avoiding spending six months there because he’d have to pay Icelandic taxes. He hadn’t expected to be barred from entering America again and no one had expected the ban on H1-B renewal visas. Anyway, we’d only be able to fly in to Iceland a couple of days before Christmas. Flying all that way to spend Christmas in a COVID quarantine seemed a little more than just sad. So here we are, bringing our American and Icelandic Christmas traditions to Opatija, Croatia.

The Yule Lads: Iceland’s Santas

Just the other day, my advent calendar showed a picture book explaining the Icelandic Yule Lads. When we were in Mývatn over the summer, we walked around Dimmuborgir. Dimmuborgir is where the Yule Lads come out to entertain families during the advent. My advent calendar made these strange men into something more charming than the direct Icelandic translation. David assures me these Yule Lads aren’t as bad or as creepy as they sound. I guess I’ll just have to see this tradition play out in person over another Christmas season. In any case, the men are mischievous and visit the homes of Icelandic children from the 12th until the 24th. Children leave a shoe in the window to get a present from the Yule Lad or, if they’ve been bad, they’ll get a potato. Way better than coal in my opinion.

Tonight is December 18th, the night of the door-slammer. While we haven’t been leaving out shoes in the hopes of a Yule Lad finding us in Croatia, we’re going to start up our COVID Christmas celebrating by baking some pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) and, as David hasn’t seen any American Christmas movie aside from Elf, we’ll watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Tomorrow, we will stock up on all the necessary Christmas provisions.

An Icelandic Christmas in Croatia

Christmas dinner in America isn’t a set menu from household to household, versus the standard Thanksgiving dinner. My family usually had a turkey or ham for Christmas day with similar sides to Thanksgiving, such as dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, and spinach casserole. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve preferred to make a duck as the main meat and glogg over eggnog.

Icelandic Christmas is a more set dinner menu: herring and asparagus soup on Christmas Eve, then smoked lamb, ham, and clementines on Christmas day. I’m happy to try something new for Christmas, especially since we celebrated Thanksgiving in Croatia with the same old recipes that I’m used to. But I’m suspicious of a couple of food items he wants me to try… particularly Maltöl and orange soda. Maltöl and orange soda is a traditional Icelandic drink, a combination of malt beer and, you guessed it, orange soda. It came about back when, just a few decades ago, malt beer and other things Americans and most Europeans take for granted were extremely expensive. Combining it with orange soda made the malt last longer… the combination sounds horrible but we’ll see. I’ll be making kuhano vino aka Croatian glögg as a backup.

To read up about the mischievous Yule lads, check out this article from Arctic Adventures. Wondering which Yule Lad you might be? I mean, why not, right? Check out this quiz from Iceland Naturally. I got Gully Gawk, or Giljagaur… the one that slurps the foam off the milk in the buckets. So… there’s that!