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Mum's Gone to Iceland, Because It's Crap Over Here

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Icelandic Christmases stand out like a good deed in a naughty world and ever since I've returned from there, I'm droopy with the realisation that Blighty's is anaemic, commercial and sucky in comparison.

Over here, Stacey Solomon orders us to buy the other Iceland's prawn rings, with all the delicacy of an army drill sergeant; a multiple ADD John Lewis sprog prods your tear ducts with his box; people paste on rictus grins and jauntily-angled paper hats at the office party as if Baby Jesus has a gun pressed into the smalls of their backs, forcing them to be jolly; and we wade through a sea of dry turkey and cackling old harridans waving their Boots cards aloft like Olympic torches and humping a mound of three-for-two body shimmer and loofahs.

But in Iceland, it's as if the people have been bred specifically for the purpose of Christmas merriment and the landscape has been hewn by Saint Nicholas himself. At the risk of coming over all Cliff Richard, it's genuinely magical.

For a start, most Icelanders genuinely believe in elves, pixies and light fairies. Our Reykjavik Excursions tour guides warned us to be careful not to disturb any rocks on our Golden Circle tour, for fear of miffing the Little People, who are fiercely protective of their craggy nests. They employ elf communicators to gain permission from the elves before ploughing down any earth or rock for building works. And a roadway has even been averted to avoid bothering an elvish habitat.

And we only have one, measly Santa. What massive losers. We should beat ourselves with rubber hoses in disgust immediately, if not sooner...for they have 13. 

They're called Jólasveinar - or Yule Lads - and are the bearded children of the trolls Leppaludi and his arse of a wife, Gryla. These aren't saccharine, fatty OAPs in Coca Cola colours, these are naughty imps used to frighten sprogs into not being tools. 

They all come on different days in the run-up to Chrimbob. The first is a disabled Yule Lad called Barn-Clod, who suckles sheep, but has bother due to a gammy leg. The second is Gully Guy, who nabs the foam off the maid's milk, followed by Pot Licker, who predictably, licks other people's pots; then Ladle Licker, who continues where his predecessor left off; Pot Scraper; Bowl Licker; Door Slammer, who the Icelanders describe as "a pretty mean dude," Skyr Gobbler, who eats stranger's Skyr (strained yoghurt) until he falls unconscious, Sausage Snatcher, Window Peeper (the sauciest Yule Lad) and Sniffer, who has a giant nose and whiffs up curious things, followed by Meat Hook and finally Candle Beggar, who follows the kids around when they march with candles on Christmas Eve.

Instead of flatulent old relatives trumping at the bang of a cracker, they have the otherworldly geysers - huge craters of bubbling water, which explode into the air like a nuclear mushroom cloud, leaving behind a bracing smell of egg. We visited the geyser Strokkur as the sun was rising - at 11am, because there are only four hours of bright sunlight in the winter - and the salmon sky shining through the exploding balls of smoke and reflecting on the glittering snow is one of the most exquisitely beautiful things I've ever seen.

Even their graveyards are festive. Electricians install pretty little lights on the crosses and illuminate them in bright colours for the whole of December - replacing the Catholic tradition of lighting candles for them over Christmas.

This creates a disco effect in the cemetery, which looked deeply jazzy as we padded about during the sunrise, as the Icelandic mist and smoke gathered around the snow at our feet and bijou Wise Men and angels rehearsed a Nativity in Skalholt church.

My internal bells jingled in bum-clenching merriment when we visited the legendary Blue Lagoon - a geothermal spa of steamy sea water, which glows among the snowy mountains and volcanos. With nipples like bullets, you brace the snow in your swimming clobber and jump into the milky, turquoise water, where you swim around caves, grab a hot chocolate from the swim-up bar and slather the white mud from the sea floor onto your mush, to smooth your skin and resemble a game porn star. And if you lift your noggin above the steam, little icicles form on your barnet. 

I blushed at the tedium of our Christmas nosh preparations beneath our kitchen strobe lights, when we met an eccentric Doc Brown-alike, who dragged us from the open air baths at the Laugarvatn Fontana Spa and onto the blue-lit, misty beach outside.

With no explanation, he grabbed a shovel and started digging into the snow and grey sand. And the full moon above added a Tim Burton-esque mood to the the experience, leaving us wondering whether we were to be buried in the hole, which was emitting giant clouds of steam. Instead, he placed a little bag of dough inside, filled it up, and placed a pebble on the top. Then he dug up another hole in this sandy Greggs, and proudly pulled out a bag of freshly baked bread, which he gave us to try in his cosy nest, full of twinkling lights and log fires, along with his home-smoked trout and the ubiquitous Christmas Tuborg Beer. Heston and Delia will be sh*tting themselves if they read this.

And the locals all wear Christmas jumpers, made exclusively from the wool of sheep with no friends - the sort that Dalston types wear joylessly over here. Their nights out should be filmed and used as training videos for office Christmas parties. Women crush their empty beer cans on their foreheads and hurl them over their shoulders, and grinning viking-types surround you at Damon Albarn and Heather Small's Kaffibarinn, filling you in on all the grisly Viking Saga details.

They're big on their folklores and fairytales. At the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura, we were even invited to don striped pyjamas and get under a duvet with a hairy Icelandic man, supping hot chocolate, while he read us traditional Icelandic fairytales.

And this is all before I even touch the cusp of the whiff of a nib about the extraordinary Northern Lights, which dance across the sky in magical greens, blues and reds. 

But don't start me - I'll only end up head-butting your Christmas trees, roundhouse kicking your turkeys and making a dirty protest on your stockings in a fit of Christmas rage.

And if Mariah Carey even dares make eye contact with me this December, I'll kill her with my bare eyes.

Around the Web

iceland.is | The Official Gateway to Iceland

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