I started this series of posts after reading about a Santa Claus-like figure found in Tajikistan, and discovered that the tradition of mysterious Christmas visitors is quite widespread. Some are animals, most bring gifts, but some are just out to cause trouble. For instance, tonight homes in Iceland are due to be visited by Bjúgnakrækir, the Sausage Swiper, who hides in the rafters of homes and steals sausages hung for smoking over the next 13 nights.
Bjúgnakrækir is one of the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir), who leave their rocky mountain home from the 13th of December and creep down into the towns and villages. Each night a new lad arrives, playing pranks and causing trouble for homeowners, until they return to the mountains. Icelandic children put a shoe on their bedroom window-ledge for each of the 13days leading up to Christmas day, hoping for a treat. Depending on their behaviour through the year, they might be rewarded with sweets and cakes or tricked with a rotten potato.
Apparently the Yule Lads were once a lot less benign, but they have been mellowed over the years to become harmless tricksters. Each Lad has his own distinctive character, inspired by the types of pranks he likes to play. The Sausage Swiper is my favourite, and there is also Hurðaskellir, the Door Slammer, who wakes people on 18th December with slamming doors and stomping feet, and Þvörusleikir, the Spoon Licker, who pinches food from mixing bowls.
Yesterday I baked my Christmas cake; a dark, rich cake full of rum-soaked dried fruits. A traditional type of cake. Today I poked a few holes in it, and fed it some more rum, then covered it in a thick layer of marzipan. Tomorrow I’ll ice and decorate it. I haven’t really considered decorating ideas yet, but it will not be a complicated design. I might have to browse through Pinterest for some inspiration first.
Making special cakes, pastries, cookies and breads is a Christmas tradition shared by many cultures. Well-known treats include panettone from Italy, lebkuchen and stollen from Germany, Yule logs (bûche de Noël) from France and St. Lucia buns from Sweden. But I’ve also discovered that Japan has it’s own version of a Christmas cake, using very different ingredients to the traditional fruit and spice flavours common in European baking.
Japanese Christmas cake (Kurisumasu keki) is a light vanilla flavoured sponge cake smothered in fresh, whipped cream and decorated with fresh strawberries. Traditionally these are bought and eaten on Christmas Eve. It sounds delicious, however for us here in the UK, strawberries and cream are flavours that will always be associated with the summer (in particular, watching the tennis at Wimbledon).
Christmas cake also has another meaning for the Japanese. The freshness of the cake’s ingredients means that they don’t keep very well, and are no good after the 25th. Leftover cakes are unwanted, and this analogy has often been applied to women that remain unmarried after their 25th birthday. Basically, the Japanese term “Christmas cake” means spinster or old maid!
This summer I spent several weeks as a crew member onboard Draken Harald Hårfagre, a Viking longship, that is the largest ever built in modern times. You can read more about my adventures starting here, but now meet the crew that were the dragon tamers.
Alexander and Alexander
Karl-Emil demonstrates knots
Hmmm, what now?
Taking the tiller
Gunnvar, Tore and Kjetil
At the end of a long day
Just hold this please…
Hiding from squalls in the head
Gregors and Lars
Breakfast on board
Testing safety equipment
Viking-style cookery class.
Nis, Carsten and Espen
Hendrik and his Hardangerfele
Jöel learning Norwegian
Vicky the Viking
The crew members were a diverse group of people, from professional sailors who’d spent a lifetime at sea to others that had only been on one sailing holiday before, from some of the most experienced Viking ship crew to dingy sailors, rowers and kayakers. We came from all corners of the world, Scandianavia and Scotland, Estonia and England, New Zealand and the USA, France and Canada, Malta and Spain (and I’ve probably missed someone out… sorry!), speaking several languages between us (and only a few able to say døde røde rådne røgede ørreder).
The theme of the weekly photo challenge is community.
What is a symbol? It can be a word, a sound, an image or a gesture. A shorthand for an idea or belief. It can be an object or it can be a person. Indeed, over the past week it is a term that has been used extensively in tribute to the Nelson Mandela; a symbol of unity and reconciliation, of human rights and equality, hope and freedom. Continue reading →
There’s a documentary film I’m going to watch on TV tonight. It’s called Blackfish, and it discusses the story surrounding an orca kept in a SeaWorld theme park that gained notoriety from his involvement in the deaths of three individuals. It’s showing tonight at 9pm (GMT) on BBC4 in the UK, or you can watch the trailer here and download the rest of the film from various sources.
As dolphin encounters are an item that often features highly on “bucket lists” and “things to do before you…” lists, I think its quite important for participants to be fully informed and aware of the wider impacts of their choices. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the film and the issues it raises, or whether you’ve visited a SeaWorld theme park or had an encounter with cetaceans in a captive environment. Don’t miss it!
… from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
I’m in Iceland right now, enjoying a beer on the deck outside the pub in the late evening light with a cosy blanket tucked round my shoulders. It doesn’t get more rock-and-roll that this. Continue reading →