Christmas in Iceland

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Gryla from IcelandJason and his parents spend Christmas in Iceland – a wonderful country where ice and snow are guaranteed, and there are volcanoes too. But Jason is not happy. He’s heard that Santa doesn’t visit Iceland – and what use is Christmas without Santa? And it’s true, they don’t have Santa there – but they do have 13 Christmas Imps who bring presents. Well that’s what their Icelandic friend says – but Jason doesn’t believe a silly story like that – even when presents start arriving.

Bertie’s story is based on the Icelandic tradition of Gryla and “The Christmas Boys”.

Picture of Gryla by Salvor Gissurardottir (creative Commons).

Story by Bertie.

Read by Natasha. Duration 22.51.

Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.

It was December. Jason and his family were in the Airport. The loud speaker announced:

“Last call for Flight IC 377 to Reykjavik. All passengers due to board this flight, please make your way to departure gate 42.”

And Dad said: “Bags of time yet. I still need some duty-frees.”

And Mum said: “Just wait here while I pop to the loo.”

And Jason waited. And when Mum and Dad both finally got back, they all had to run to catch the plane. They were the last on board – “as usual” – thought Jason.

When eventually they were in the air above the grey clouds of London, Mum said to him:

“What a sad face you have? Aren’t you excited to be spending Christmas in Iceland? Why there’s ice and snow guaranteed – and volcanos too…. ”

“Well yes,” said Jason, “but..”

“But what?” asked Dad

“But Santa doesn’t go to Iceland does he?” said Jason. “What’s the point of spending Christmas in the one country where Santa doesn’t visit. Even if there’s ice and snow and volcanoes, Christmas isn’t any use without Santa.”

Mum and Dad both laughed.

“Why of course he visits iceland,” said Dad. “It’s practically next door to where he lives. It’s his very first stop on his round-the-world tour every Christmas.”

Jason tried to look cheerful:

“Is that all right then?” asked Dad, “because you don’t look completely convinced.”

And Jason said:

”Molly at school told me that Santa doesn’t like Iceland and he never goes there.”

“Ha! Don’t believe every bit of idle gossip you hear in the playground. Why would Santa not want to go to Iceland? His reindeer love ice and snow. It’s hot places like Australia that they find difficult.”

And even though Jason knew that Dad wasn’t always right about everything, he decided to believe him this time, because what he said sounded like it was true. And by the time they landed, he was feeling excited about Christmas in Iceland.

And it was true that Iceland was an amazing place. They stayed with Dad’s old University friend – whose name was Magnus. He lived on his own in Reykjavik, which is the capital, and he even though he was Dad’s age, he seemed quite young and friendly, and he quite often said funny or interesting things.

He told them that by law, all Icelandic houses must be built strong enough to withstand earthquakes. And all the hot water in Icelandic homes came straight out the ground, already hot. And sometimes farmers would dig up potatoes in the fields that were already cooked.

And Magnus and his girlfriend took Jason and his family out for drives and walks to see frozen lakes, icy glaziers, and bright red streams of boiling lava from the volcanos.

At that time of year, the sun only rose at 11am in the morning – and it set by 4pm in the afternoon. But sometimes when they were really lucky, they saw great beams of green, yellow and blue light that curved round the sky like giant flames – and those were the famous Northern Lights. They were fantastic – 100 times better than fireworks on bonfire night.

But it was only after they had been there a couple of days, that Jason remembered to ask Magnus if it was true that Santa really did visit Iceland.

They were just finishing dinner, and Jason’s mum laughed: “He’s been ever so worried because somebody told him at school that Santa doesn’t come here.”

And Magnus looked very grave and said:

“That’s right. He doesn’t.”

And Jason felt the blood run cold out of his cheeks and he thought he might be sick.

“Oh, don’t joke about Santa,” said Mum. “Jason’s deadly serious about him.”

“I’m not joking,” said Magnus, “but don’t worry Jason, because we are very lucky here. We have thirteen little Imps who do Santa’s work for him – and if you are interested, I’ll tell you the story.”

And Jason was very interested, because he thought Magnus was good at telling stories. And this is what Magnus told them:

“A long time ago, when Santa first got into the toy business, he set up his factory in the mountains of Iceland. He married an Icelandic girl called Gryla, and they had thirteen sons – all Impish boys – who used to help them in the factory. And they also had a black cat, who grew and grew until he was simply enormous. For a while Santa was very happy. Every Christmas, children would make their way up to his special toy shop, and Santa and Gryla would hand out presents.

But one Christmas Day, when Santa finished work, he went to look in the kitchen cupboard for something warming to drink. And to his surprise, he found that the door to the cupboard was locked. And as he shook and rattled the door, he heard a sound from within, – something like children crying. Santa always had a hammer and chisel in his belt for making toys – and he took those out and broke the lock on the door. And inside the cupboard, he found six little children, who shrank back in terror from him.

“Yo, ho ho,” he said. “Don’t be frightened. It’s only me, Santa, and I like little children.”

“You like us for dinner, you mean,” said one little girl.

“Perish the thought! No, no no. I like to make toys and bring them to children as presents,” he said. “Even naughty children get a present from Santa – and don’t believe anyone who tells you different.”

And gradually the children came out of the cupboard, and explained that they had come to the factory for their christmas presents, – but they had been caught like mice by a giant black cat, who had picked them up by their collars brought them to this cupboard. Then Santa’s wife, Gryla,  had locked the door and said that they would be served for Christmas dinner because they had been naughty children.

And when Santa heard this story, at first he didn’t believe them because it was so terrible – but then Gryla came into the kitchen and was furious with him for sneaking into the cupboard and letting their Christmas dinner escape before she had a chance to cook it.”

And that was how Santa learned that his wife had turned into a child-eating troll. So of course he had to leave her. He moved to Lapland, and took his reindeer with him. But his thirteen Impish boys stayed behind in Iceland and carried on making toys in the factory. Children didn’t come to the factory anymore, because it was too dangerous, and so every christmas the Imps came to all the houses of Iceland with presents.

Only they didn’t always bring nice presents. If a child had been naughty, they left a potato instead.

And because they were Imps, they also liked to steal things from the house, especially food.

And Magnus said that as it was December the 12th, the first Imp, whose name was Gully, was due to visit that very night, and what he liked best was sheep’s milk, so they had better leave some out for him. And if Jason left his shoes on the window sill, he might find a present inside them the next morning.

So they left out some sheep’s milk, and Jason’s shoes, and in the morning the milk was gone.

And inside Jason’s shoe there was - A potato.

“Too bad,” said Dad. “You should have done your homework better. Now you’re getting potatoes for Christmas.”

“That’s Rubbish!” said Jason. “I don’t believe in those Imps. It’s just your idea of a joke. You told Magnus to make up that silly story.”

But Magnus swore that it was a true story. And he said that that night, they would be visited by Stubby, who liked to drink warm milk. So they left some warm milk out for Stubby, and Jason again put his shoes on the window sill.

And in the morning, the warm milk was gone and inside his shoe Jason found

– A bar of chocolate.

And Jason ate the chocolate. But it he still didn’t believe the story about the 13 Christmas Imps. He thought it was just Dad and Magnus playing a trick on him.

And the following night, Magnus said that they would be visited by Itty Bitty,and that he was very small and would sneak into the kitchen like a mouse and steal any crumb that he could find.

And in the morning, Magnus said he was sure that Itty Bitty had been and had nibbled some cheese and biscuits.

And in his shoe, Jason found – a toy car.

He liked the car. But he still didn’t believe in the 13 Christmas Imps.

And the following night, Magnus said that they would be visited by Pot Scraper, who was extremely thin, and was so hungry that he would steal any left-overs or scraps. And instead of clearing away his plate after dinner, Magnus left it on the table, and in the morning it was licked clean.

And next to his shoe, Jason found a book about famous footballers – he read the book, – but still he didn’t believe in the 13 Christmas Imps.

And the following night, Magnus said that they would be followed by Bowl Licker. And he left out a red wooden bowl that his girlfriend had used to make a chocolate cake. And in the morning it was licked clean.

And next to his shoes, Jason found a little wooden helicopter with blades that went round by solar power. He had seen one of those when he had been out shopping with Mum in London – and he remembered how Mum had said what a great idea it was to learn about renewable energy – and he reckoned that she had brought it with her to Iceland.

And although he thought the solar-powered helicopter was interesting, he still didn’t believe in the 13 Christmas Imps.

And the following night Magnus said that they would be visited by Door Slammer. And while Jason lay in bed. he heard all the doors in the house slamming, one by one – and it was really creepy. But he thought it was just Dad and Magnus playing a trick.

And in the morning, beside his shoe, he found a DVD of Kung Fu Panda. And he watched the DVD, but still he didn’t believe in the 13 Christmas Imps.

And the following Night Magnus said that they would be visited by Skyr Gobbler. He explained that Skry liked yoghurt. And so he left some out for the Imp. And in the morning it was gone.

And beside his shoe, Jason found – a racing car set, with tracks, and electric stunt cars that could loop the loop in mid air.

And Jason though that the present was really cool. But still he didn’t believe in the 13 Christmas Imps.

And that night, Magnus said that they would be visited by Sausage Snatcher, who was really old and wrinkly, and whose face was dirty and sooty. He was good at climbing into the rafters of the house where in the old days they used to hang sausages. And so Magnus left a sausage up in the loft for him.

And in the morning, the sausage was gone. And in his shoe, Jason found - A tangerine.

And Jason ate the tangerine. But he still didn’t believe in the 13 Christmas Imps.

And that night, Magnus said that they would be visited by Window Peeper. He said that he would be looking through the windows to see what he could steal. So he left out some chocolates on the table.

And that night, as he lay in bed, Jason heard a noise at the window. And he got up and drew the curtain, and expected to see Dad or Magnus.

But instead he saw a huge black cat. It’s green eyes stared at him, and then it disappeared into the shadows. Jason thought that was rather creepy.

And in the morning, the chocolates were gone, and by his shoes, Jason found -

Two tickets to a West-End show. And Dad said that the Imp must have left them for Mum. So Jason gave them to her and she was really pleased.

But still Jason’ didn’t believe in the 13 Christmas Imps – because how would they know that Mum wanted to see “Love-Story on Ice?”

And that night, Magnus said that they would be visited by Doorway Sniffer. He liked to hang around by the kitchen door, sniffing for the smell of fresh bread. So he left a loaf of crusty bread on the table. And in the morning it was gone.

And by his shoe Jason found -

A large deer-stalker hat, and Dad said that the Imp must have left it for him, and he was really pleased.

But still Jason did not believe in the 13 Christmas Imps, because how would they know that Dad had terrible taste in clothes?

And that night Magnus said that they would be visited by Meat Hooker, who liked to dangle a hook down the chimney and catch any ham or fish that was smoking there. Magnus didn’t have a chimney, but he left a lamb chop out on the kitchen table for him, and in the morning it was gone.

And in his left shoe, Jason found -

A 16 Gigabyte Mp3 player – and he thought that was pretty cool. But still he wasn’t sure about the Christmas Imps – because how would they know that he had asked Santa for an MP3 player?

And that night would be Christmas Eve. And Magnus said that they would be visited by the last of the Imps, whose name was Candle Snatcher, and he liked to steal light bulbs, and so he left a 50 watt bulb on the kitchen table for him.

And Jason thought that he would finally prove that the 13 Imps didn’t exist. He would get up in the night, hide by the kitchen door, and catch Dad or Magnus red-handed as they stole the light bulb off the table.

And so that night he stayed awake. And when it was really, really late he reached over to turn on the lamp by his bed – but it didn’t switch on. “That’s strange,” he thought. The bulb must have broken. He crept onto the landing, and down the stairs, and as he was next to the kitchen door, he heard a noise from within.

“I bet that’s one of them stealing the light bulb,” he said. And so he jumped through the door and shouted “Caught you!” as he flicked the switch of the kitchen light.

But no light came on.

And it was dark inside the kitchen.

“Dad? Magnus? Is that you?” he asked.

But there was no reply. Just then the sky through the kitchen window turned pale green and the room filled with an eery light.

And by the kitchen table, he saw a little figure. It had a strange, yellow face, with bright cat-like eyes- and pointy ears. In its hand it held a light bulb. The figure started to float upwards and backwards without moving its feet, and in a moment or two it had vanished through the glass of the window – even though it was tripple-glazed and firmly shut.

And in the morning there was nothing by Jason’s shoe.

But he did believe in the 13 Christmas Imps.