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Lögberg-Heimskringla

						LÖGBERG-HEIMSKRINGLA, FIMMTUDAGINN 21. DESEMBER 1972
Högberg* Jtömsíkmsía      SfeUa tt m íEtwUöli

I read in the paper some
years ago that housewives
were being advised, among
other things, to decorate their
dustpans with sequins and
pine cones for Christmas!
That is to say, if they had
any dustpans in this age of
push-button c 1 e a n i n g . We
have gone so far overboard in
acquiring gadgets that we
hardly move at all, and now
we have to buy machines to
exercise our bodies!
There is not very much of
a spectacular nature that í
can tell you about Christmas
in Icéland, as the main thing
that characterized it was its
simplicity, its tender religious
aspect, and its feeling of love
closely enfolding all the fam-
ily and all the household.
This was in the long ago you
understand, for you may be-
lieve that today Iceland has
been infested with the fren-
zied fever of commerically
exploited Christmas, although
not to the extent we find in
America.
I can téll you of this sim-
plicity at first hand for I was
brought up in an Icelandic
pioneer settlement in Mani-
toba, and the pioneers adher-
ed closely to the customs and
traditions as observed in the
old land. Indeed, I have some-
times thought that the pio-
neers had stronger attach-
ments to many cherished cus-
toms than their kinsmen who
stayed behind in the old land.
This is not surprising, for the
stream of progress that swept
over them here, was some-
thing extra, something outside
of themselves, and in the
midst of it they clung to some
cherished customs brought
with them, while the people
in the old land went along
more fluidly with innovated
customs brought from abroad.
Perhaps you do not know
about the type of houses the
people of Iceland lived in a
hundred years ago (and later
than that). The whole coun-
try was devoid of forests, aíl-
though it had been wooded
to some extent when the first
settlers came in 1874. So the
houses were built of turf and
stone walls, with turf roofs.
The front gable of the house
and wall were made of some
sort of timber, often drift-
wood, from some stranded
shlps. The thing about the
houses which added so much
to the delicious, dreadful be-
lief in the supernatural, was
the fact that they were built
in a row, three, four or five
gabled houses standing side
by side, which necessitated
traversing long dark corridors
before you could get to the
main rooms. During the short
winter days when the hours
(Eljrtöímajs tn Irrlanit
By HOLMFRIDUR DANIELSON
(This address has been given io various non-Icelandic Clubs
in Winnipeg as well as over the radio last December in a
special Christmas program prepared in the series of Ice-
landic cultural programs presented over station CFRW/FM.
and co-ordinated by Mrs. Danielson. Ed.)
of darkness were long and
black, these damp, dreary cor-
ridors were indeed fearsome
and fascinating places, espe-
cially for the children.
All old countries, at least
in Europe abound in tales of
the supernatural. In Iceland
we had trolls, ghosts, and
elves, particularly elves, or
the hidden people, who lived
right in the rocks of this
mountainous country. They
were not all bad, but they
were at best antagonists to the
earth people, for they were
not Christians. But often these
people needed the aid of hu-
mans, and then maybe a fairy
mother would come to a good
housew'ife in a dream and beg
for a little milk for her dying
child, telling her where to
place it. This the housewife
would do faithfully and each
morning the pan of milk
would be gone. In return the
fairy would perhaps befriend
this household in the most
spectacular m a n n e r when
great need arose. There are
hundreds of stories of fairies
and elves as well as stories
of ghosts and trolls, — but
no witches, exactly, although
the "Grýla" that was used to
scare the children could per-
haps be designated as a witch,
but she was actually a female
troll,   and  she  had   thirteen
sons, very ugly and horrible.
She was much in evidence in
the minds of children before
Christmas, for if they were
not good, Grýla might come
and get them, or one of her
ugly sons. They would sneak
around trying to steal food,
and do untold damage in other
ways too, as their names indi-
cated: Candle beggar, Candle
licker, Door Peeper, Window
Peeper, Gate smeller, Meat
hooker, Pot licker, Sheepfold
Ghost, Ravine Ghost, The
Short One, Bowl Licker, Skirt
Blower, and Cheese Glutton.
As we all know óur Christ-
mas customs and rites are
derived from pagan times as
well as through our Chris-
tian religion, for December 25
falls between the two ancient
winter festivals — the Yule
of Celtic countries which cele-
brated the return of the sun
after the shortest, darkest
day, and the Saturnalia of the
Romans, that paid tribute to
Saturn, God of the sun. In
both these festivals greenery
of some kind was much in
evidence, resulting in our use
of the Christmas tree. This
wás not introduced in Eng-
land, however until about
1840, shortly after Queen Vic-
toria came to the throne, for
s'he had witnessed this custom
among   her  cousins   in   Ger-
many.
In Iceland, of course there
was no tree, — indeed there
were no TREES. And the
festivities did not consist so
much in decoration as in
cleanliness. Every nook and
cranny had to be scrubbed
and scoured. All the bare
boards, and inner panel lin-
ings of the rooms, where such
there were, had to be polished
to a subtle glow. AU clothes
had to be brushed, aired or
washed. It was not an easy
matter sometimes to get them
dry, during those short De-
cember days, and naturally
these low small rooms did not
lend themselves to drying
laundry inside. Even if a hard
frost had prevailed the first
part of December, there
was often a thaw later, and
this was reputed to be sent
specifically so that the poor
people could get their wash-
ing outside and dried in good
time.
The men had to go to the
nearest trading post to get pro-
visions. This was often a haz-
ardous journey of three to
four days, especially if this
aforementioned thaw came,
for then the rivers, which had
to be crossed on horseback,
often opened up, and were
dangerous. The men of the
household always tried to
bring something extra for the
Christmas cheer. R a i s i n s ,
dried figs, a little extra sugar,
so that the women could do
their Christmas baking. They
also brought a bit of liquor
to be sparingly mixed with
the Christmas coffee.
As elsewhere, Christmas
was a specially nice time for
the children, though not be-
cause they received so many
Song Wríters of New lceland
Sol Sigurdson, a well
known Interlake songwriter
and performer, recently rec-
orded a new single at Cen-
tury 21 Studios in Winnipeg.
Both songs are original ma-
terial, the first one being
"The New Iceland Saga",
which was written last sum-
mer, for a contest, by Sol and
Rod Palson, a close friend of
his. The song won top honors
by overwhelming odds and is
to be used as the theme song
of Islendingadagurinn in fu-
ture years.
The second number is called
"The New Years Dance" and
was written solely by Sol
only a matter of days before
he made the recordings. The
title explains the content of
the lyrics perfectly, as the
song deals with the fighting
fun and fury of a typical new
years eve in a small town.
The recording of these two
songs however, was by no
means an individual effort.
Sol outlined that he owes
much thanks to four artists
who accompanied him — Wes
Wilson, Fred Oleson, Dick
Johnson and Lorne Martin.
The arrangement used in both
selections is a s n a p p y , up-
beat rythym which worked
hand in hand with the well
chosen lyrics.
Sol gained his fame and
made himself known about
ten years back when he and
a group of friends formed a
singing group c a 11 e d the
Whisky Jacks. Then Sol fur-
thered his popularity with the
local audience when he rec-
orded a long play album cal-
led "The Lake Winnipeg Fish-
ermen". Sol explained that he
was pleased with the way his
first record was accepted, but
said he looked forward to in-
creased popularity in the re-
cent one.
"The New Iceland Saga"
depicts a very true picture of
how the roots of the Icelandic
heritage were planted in Ca-
nadian soil, while "The New
Years Danee" should hit home
with anyone who has ever
enjoyed New Years eve in a
small town.
Probably one of the most
interesting aspects of the
songs in that all artists in-
volved in both the composing
and recording are of Icelandic
origin and all grew up in the
Riverton-Gimli area. So, as
was the case with "The Lake
Winnipeg Fishermen", this
record could easily become a
down home classic and a life-
time member of the record
racks in every Interlake home.
things — toys were unknown
— but they created a wonder-
ful makebelieve world. In an
isolated farm  house,  visitors
were not a daily event, espe-
cially in winter. Careful note
was  taken  of all visitors in
the weeks before Christmas.
The names of all these visi-
tors   were   then   written   on
slips of paper, and the whole
household   drew   lots   among
them,   the   men   getting   the
ladies' names and vice versa.
These    were    designated    as
Christmas youths and Christ-
mas maidens (jólasveinar and
jólameyjar), and anyone who
drew the name of a handsome
young  man  or  charming
young lady was lucky indeed,
for  good  luck would  follow
him  through   the  year.   But
sometimes    there   were   not
enough visitors to go around,
and woe to anyone who did
not draw a name at all, for
his lot would be poor indeed
during the coming season. The
children made up adventure
stories   around  these   Christ-
mas youths and maidens, and
there   was   much   merriment
and   speculation   about   their
affairs.
But there were other inter-
esting things occupying the
children's m i n d s . Mamma
would be ever so busy in the
kitchen and pantry, máking
tallow candles, baking, sew-
ing and knitting. Everyone in
the household had to get a
present — something new to
wear, a pair of fancy mitts,
socks, a lovely new shawl,
new shoes made from sheep-
skin and likely gaily tinted
in green or brown from na-
tural dyes, the borders nicely
bound in colored cloth, and
new insoles, made with a very
fancy knitting stitch. In mak-
ing the candles, the tallow
would be warmed in huge
cauldrons, then put in the
butter churn, to whip it up.
Mamma was expert at design-
ing shapes for candles, and
sometimes there would be a
three-candle shape, or even
five-candle, that was a special
one for Papa. For of course
everyone got their own spe-
cial candle at Christmas time.
The tasty "hangiket" was
a 1 w a y s a special Christmas
treat, and the lamb had been
salt-cured and hung to smoke
long ago, to be ready for the
feast. The jólakaka — a white
loaf cake with raisins and
cardamoms — had been made.
The fancy "laufabrauð" had
been baked and put away. The
homely little presents were
all finished and carefully re-
posing in the wardrobe trunks
to be opened on Christmas
Eve.
Continued on.page 7.
					
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