Friday, December 17, 2010

Of More Christmases Past

It's been a whole week since I promised you stories about Christmas in Iceland. I got a bit distracted due to the fact that my office/computer room has been torn apart for the last week. We tore all the old carpet out (Phew) and replaced it with laminate flooring. What a job. And isn't it amazing when you get all the furniture out of a room how dirty the walls look? Well, I just couldn't put the furniture back without having clean walls too - so that meant tearing the wallpaper border off and putting two coats of paint on. I worked so hard on tearing that wallpaper border off - did a section of about 6 feet in a couple of hours because, you know, it never comes off as easy as it goes on. So Ole took pity on me and took over the ugly job. That man can make difficult things look so easy it's just amazing. He had the other three walls done in the time it took me to do that six foot section. I guess I'll keep him around for awhile longer!

So then we come to the point of getting things back into the room. I had promised myself that not everything that came out was going back in so I've spent hours going through everything and sorting and throwing and throwing and sorting. But the job is coming to the end - I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.

One of the things I'm most proud of is that rat's nest of wires and cables that are always associated with a computer. I do a lot of video and graphic work on my computer and have a lot of different kinds of hardware hooked up - thus the rat's nest behind the desk. Well, Ole took it upon himself to do what he calls "dressing the cables" - no - not putting little clothes on them, but sorting them all out and making them neat and then wiretying them in place so you can actually tell what belongs where now. No more cables laying all over the floor getting tangled and making a mess.

But - on to what I promised you.

Our next two Christmases (see previous entry) were spent in Iceland in a town called Keflavik, located on the far southwestern peninsula of the country, just outside the gates of the NATO Base that's located there. We were 30 miles from the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik, and between the two cities ran the only paved road in the entire country. All the other roads were surfaced with ash from volcanoes. Iceland is extremely volcanic, and had two "pop their tops" in the short time we were there. To my knowledge there have been about a half dozen erruptions within the last 20 years - kind of scary, but extremely impressive.

Anyway, back to Christmas: One of the things difficult to get used to in Iceland was the fact that there were NO trees. That meant no Christmas trees either. So all the Christmas trees had to be ordered in June for shipment into the country in November. Thanksgiving came, the trees arrived and Ole went to pick up our little four footer. Understandably, it was so dry by this point it went snap, crackle, pop and every time it was touched about a thousand needles fell off - and we hadn't even set it up yet. We soaked it in water and did everything else we thought would help, but the poor little tree was so far gone by this time it was hopeless. BUT - we had no more to pick from as all the trees were spoken for so we had to make do with what we had. Now being a fairly new bride and new to the country, I of course wanted Christmas to be "perfect." Ole was one of the few enlisted men who had his wife in-country - most of the guys his rank were there alone and not able to go home for the holidays, so we invited a number of them to our house to spend Christmas.

The morning of Christmas Eve I was busy cleaning in preparation for our company, when I bumped the tree stand with the vacuum cleaner. That was the last straw for that little tree. It was already pretty bare but this bump knocked every last needle off. I had a Charlie Brown tree with glass balls and lights. NOW what was I to do. Our tree was bare, we had company coming that I wanted to have a nice Christmas for, and there was not another real tree to be had in the entire country. I made a tearful phonecall to Ole at work and he advised me to run downtown and check on the artificial trees we had seen in the hardware store window. At this point there were three left in the window, one all white, one aluminum and one beautiful green, ferny, lacy one about 5 feet tall that cost $40. It was made in Denmark and was gorgeous. Now mind you, at this point we didn't have a pot to pee in financially, and we certainly could not afford $40 for an artificial tree, but I just knew if I brought home the silver one or the white one I could just as well pack my bags and fly back home. Ole would never stand for that - it was quite an accomplishment just for him to allow an artificial tree at all!! But home it went - I would deal with his wrath later.

By the time he got home I had the tree set up and decorated and even he had to admit it was wonderful - until he found out how much it cost. BUT - we used that tree until 1999 when we donated it to Lovely Daughter and her husband and the tree moved to Quantico, VA and celebrated Christmas with them for several years. We purchased the tree in 1969 and finally retired it to the thrift store in the year 2001, so if you pro-rate it out, we certainly got our money's worth, don't you think? I wish we would have kept it just for nostalgic purposes.

The Icelandics are very big on Christmas. Because of the island's global position, days are very short, and by Christmas time there's only about four hours of daylight, but the Northern Lights are spectacular. The long hours of darkness probably explain why the Icelandics are so big into lighting at Christmastime. EVERYTHING is lit up - even the cemeteries. Their houses have beautiful displays and every apartment balcony has lights strung in various configurations. And what you DON'T see (or didn't at the time we were there) were the garish displays of blow up santas and snowmen and moving things all over everyone's yard and rooftop, etc. Things always seemed to be tastefully done.

Reykjavik is situated along a fjord. As you enter the city in the darkness, coming over the mountain overlooking this city of 100,000 people spread along the ocean, it's quite a fabulous sight. All of the fishing boats and trawlers and large ocean-going vessels are lit with Christmas lights, and it almost makes your heart stop.

All over the countryside and on the edges of the city and the towns the Icelandics build huge bonfires that are burned on a nightly basis between Christmas and New Years, with the biggest set on New Year's Eve, along with huge displays of fireworks.

One way to keep your children in line in Iceland is to tell them about all the trolls that live in the countryside. Santa Claus doesn't have elves for helpers in Iceland - the local trolls watch you all year long to make sure you're being good. And if you could see the rough terrain of the countryside - all huge rocks in weird shapes and forms - and imagine driving those roads at night with headlights flashing - you soon can imagine you truly see trolls dashing from one rock to another, "watching" you. Especially if you've had a drop or two of aquavit!!

One of our dreariest Christmases was spent in Florida, Ole's last year in the Navy. Being natives of the Far North, we certainly weren't used to temperatures of 90 degrees and high humidity at Christmastime. We both had a difficult time trying to develop any Christmas spirit, just wishing we were home back in Minnesota with our families and some cold temperatures and snow. I remember we spent Christmas Eve afternoon walking around the mall for lack of anything better to do and then went home and shut all the drapes, turned the air conditioner on high and played Christmas music trying to get into the spirit of things. The only thing that kept us going was knowing that Ole would be out of the Navy and we would be going home within a couple of months.

Christmas Eve of 1974 was an exciting time for us. We had just completed our new house and spent December 24th moving in. Our families brought dinner in, we set up the tree in our new living room and all celebrated that night. What a wonderful year that was, the culmination of a lot of hard work. Ole and I built our own house, with the help of my father, from the basement up. What a learning experience - but it's still standing, so we must have done something right. I'll tell you about those experiences some day too.

Another memorable Christmas was spent in Quantico, VA, when Lovely Daughter and her Marine husband lived there. It was quite exciting to be in the DC area at that time of year, seeing all the old historic places all prepped for the holidays - Mount Vernon, the White House, the National Christmas Tree, all the memorials and monuments. And we really had to laugh - during the time we were there, the area received an inch of snow in a nice, straight-down snowfall. The poor people went bezerk and all the traffic stopped on the Potomac bridge. People just stopped their cars and got out and walked away!! Schools closed!! Oh, if they could only see what we drive through here.

Five years ago found us in our motorhome camped on the beach just outside of Puerto Penasco on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. Ole and I, and Big Brother spent two weeks there and it was wonderful. Lovely Daughter and Sven were able to fly down and spend the week between Christmas and New Years with us, so that made it even more special. I would not have agreed to spending Christmas away from home if she couldn't have joined us. That made it complete.

I've put together a little montage of Christmases Past - hope you enjoy it. The pictures aren't anything spectacular as many of them were taken 30+ years ago when we didn't have the camera gear we have now, but hopefully you'll get the idea. One side point: interspersed throughout the montage are a collection of antique postcards that I have. When my mother was a little girl, sending postcards to your friends was a big thing. She kept them all and put them in a scrapbook which she kept all those years. I now have that collection, and have chosen to share some of the beautiful Christmas postcards with you. They are all dated in the 1910-1915 range.

I guess it really doesn't matter WHERE you spend Christmas, as long as you're surrounded by loved ones, that's what's most important. Enjoy.

Love Lena

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