Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Calendar


Let's start this Monday morning off in Iceland.  

"On the night before December 12th it is customary for Icelandic children to put one of their shoes in the window, as that night the first Yule Lad “Stekkjarstaur” – or Sheep-Cote Clod – comes to town.

(Image courtesy of National Museum of Iceland
The shoe stays on the window sill until Christmas, and the children hope that the Yule Lads, who come into town from the mountains one by one on the nights leading up to Christmas, will leave a little something for them in the shoe. 

The children must earn these small gifts by being well behaved, or else they run the risk of finding a potato in their shoe. Even though this custom is well entrenched now, this has not always been the case, and in its early days there was some confusion as to how many nights before Christmas the shoe should be in the window, as well as about how large or small the gifts should be.

The reason for this confusion was that when this custom was first brought to Iceland, it was only common within small groups of people and, did not spread much outside of those groups. Those who first got to know this custom were Icelandic seamen who sailed in the North Sea, but in Holland and other regions by the North Sea it was customary for children to put their shoe in the window on the eve of December 6th, which is the day of the Mass of St. Nicholas, the protector of Children and Seafarers in Catholicism. 

(Image via IcelandAir)
The children hoped St. Nicholas would leave them a little gift in their shoe. The Icelandic sailors learnt about this custom, and brought it home with them and introduced it to their own children. The first known instances of Icelandic children putting their shoe in the window date back to the 1930s. 

However, as the custom spread slowly in the beginning it wasn't until around the middle of the Century that it became common for all Icelandic children to put their shoe in the window" (National Museum of Iceland).

That may be more than you ever wanted to know about Icelandic pre-Christmas traditions, but I'm left with questions.

For example: "Sheep-Cote Clod?" Is that a clod wearing a coat made out of a sheep? What kind of a present would he give? Also, do they use their actual shoes, or special shoes just for when the Yule Lads come?

 I'm on an Iceland kick at present, ever since I began and finished Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir in one night. The book is a thriller that has nothing to do with Christmas, but I highly recommend it. 

If you're looking for a book that actually relates to Iceland and Christmas, check out Yule Lads, pictured at right.

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