Confessions of a Christmas Nerd (BJ)


Benedikt Jóhannesson's picture

I have always been a bit of a Christmas nerd. Well, OK, I’ll admit it but ask you to keep it to yourselves: I am really hooked on Christmas, always have been and hopefully always will be. What does that mean? How can you detect if you or someone around you is turning into a Christmas nerd?

  • I really like to buy Christmas decorations. Something for the Christmas tree, a nativity scene or a Santa – in Iceland we call them Yule Lads. Officially we have 13 Yule Lads in Iceland, but we must have 50. I still have the Christmas tree (15 cm high) that I got when I was five years old. We could decorate five Christmas Trees with all the ornaments we have. Even when we lived in Tallahassee, Florida, we would go out in early December and buy something beautiful.
  • Christmas decorations
  • I write Christmas cards by hand. Almost 100. I don’t get 100 back, but I am careful not to talk to any of the people who don’t sent cards to me. Not for the full year. I wouldn’t say I hate cards sent by e-mail, but I don’t like them. How does sending one card to a million people show the Christmas Spirit? And not even a real card. Usually something stolen from the internet or a very bad photo of the family. – So I take it back. I do hate electronic cards, especially the ones that start singing once you open them (Jingle Bells, sounding as they were recorded in a tin can.) Nope. Hand written cards are it.
  • In my Christmas cards I write a personal greeting to all. Sometimes so personal that many people don’t talk to me for the longest time. Sometimes I really get flying, so that people think I am on something when I write, but I am not. I have to concentrate, either on drinking or writing. Like Gerald Ford I can’t do two things at the time.
  • I recite the names of all 13 Yule Lads (Jólasveinar). Of course I know their names, but I also have to practice the order in which they come to town. The first comes on December 12 and then every day until Christmas Eve. When I was young we also had 13 but one of them has been sidelined: Skirt Blower (Faldafeykir). He used to blow up the skirts of women, but in the name of political correctness I suspect, we now have replaced him with Door Slammer (Hurðaskellir).
  • Christmas Lads
  • I go to Christmas Concerts as often as I can. Usually a Christmas concert is just a concert held in December. However, I don’t go to the concerts that play the same old songs for the millionth time (Jingle Bells with five choirs and actual sleigh bells). This time I went to only two. One was at Hallgrímskirkja, our mammoth church, a German organist who plays classical music – a great concert. The other one was Megas, an Icelandic musician playing his own music (and some stolen), sort of an anti-Christmas concert. I don’t go particularly for the message, but the concert was great, especially the song about Grýla (more on her later).
  • Earlier this year my son Jóhannes and I published a collection of Icelandic folk tales based on our selection of stories from Jón Árnason, who was the Grimm’s collector of Iceland. This meant that we got to read stories from the collection in about ten different places in December. We even got on the radio to discuss old Christmas customs in Iceland. Grýla is the mother of the 13 Yule Lads, a very nasty troll who collects children in her bag, but only those who don’t behave. Before Christmas I studied old stories and rhymes on Grýla and wrote an article on my findings. Among the rhymes was one written in 1650 by Stefán Ólafsson, a pastor, but the point is that Megas used the beginning for his song. So when he started singing I could inform Vigdís, my wife, that this was a 350 years old text. Only a Christmas nerd would know that.
  • Grýla
  • Every Christmas I publish a Christmas edition of my economics magazine Vísbending. Rather than having something on the economy I get people to write something interesting; on history, short stories, photos, etc.
  • Since 2006 I have written and published a Christmas song. Since 2009 I have even written the words too. Of course the subject is rather limited, so I am running out of themes. The previous editor of Vísbending did the same, so now we have a collection of 15 Christmas songs. A CD would be in the making, except that format might be obsolete once we get to doing it. The past few years I have even made a Christmas video too.
  • I take photos on Christmas themes. - Here in Iceland we have had a rather funny argument on how unfair it is that children go to church before Christmas. It is not that all children are obliged to go to church. No, now the anti-religious sect complains that the church has “stolen Christmas” and the custom of going to church is unfair to the children being left behind (because their parents say they can’t go). – I don’t mind the church being part of Christmas, we often go to church on Christmas Eve, and churches can be in my Christmas photos.
  • Hallgrímskirkja
  • I don’t drink on Christmas. To quote Jethro Tull: “That Christmas Spirit is not what you drink”.

I give Christmas presents, of course, but everyone does that. To qualify as a nerd you must do at least eight of the ten above.

I wish a Merry Christmas to all our readers.

Benedikt Jóhannesson

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.