Friday, December 3, 2021

Happy Jólabókaflóðið from Skye by Josh Stallings

Q:  If you could spend whatever winter holiday you celebrate anywhere in the world, where would you be? Close your eyes and describe the scene. 

A: The Isle of Skye. 

I can smell the cold clean brine of the Hebridean Sea. Waves roll more than crash on this part of the Waternish peninsula. The sky is grey, I pull up the hood of my duffle coat. The temperature would be considered cold in Southern California, but I prefer to call it “fresh.” Maybe it’s my Nordic blood. There is a Swedish saying, “There is no bad weather, just the wrong clothing.” Then again my Danish grandmother used to say “Don’t trust the Swedes, they have frogs behind their ears.” And Bel-Ami a Norwegian shield maiden, likes to taunt them with, “A thousand Swedes ran through the weeds, chased by one Norwegian.” As this is Yule or Jul, the time of winter solstice celebrations, perhaps we should throw a Yule log on the fire and leave petty taunts for another day. 

Erika and I are staying in a B & B run by a retired officer from a London Armed Response Team. Whilst recovering from a horrendous attack he learned to throw pots, and has become a rather good potter. His wife is an underwater body recovery expert. For breakfast they serve groaning platters of meats, eggs and oatmeal, with a healthy side dish of stories from their lives.

After a healthy stomp through the heather, and trot up the beach to check out a local artist’s work, we return to our room with its quilts and view of the coast line, for what is the greatest winter celebration ever, Jólabókaflóðið, or Book Flood. Icelandic and only dating to 1944, it is one we can all get behind. It involves giving and receiving books, drinking hot chocolate by a fire, and reading to each other. Perfection. 

2021 has been a difficult year for so many of us. Much time spent helping friends and family members. Erika and I didn’t get nearly enough time to be together.. And that is why I am drawn back to a trip we took to Scotland. We are absolutely boring travelers. We find a good bookstore or two. Buy some local writers. On an earlier trip I discovered Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, finding his work was well worth the cost of plane fare. If you find yourself in Scotland I suggest House. Tree. Person. by Catriona McPherson and The End of the World Running Club, by Adrian J. Walker. Books found, we walk in the mist holding hands and snooping on how the natives live. We lie in bed reading late, nudging one another to share a lovely or powerful passage.


Growing up, my mother believed for Christmas, the only thing excess needed was more. Lacking funds, she made doll’s dresses and pajamas and Robin Hood capes. Every year she would take us to F.A.O. Schwarz in San Francisco, just to look at the beauty and wonder of it all. We were Quakers, but that didn’t stop her from crashing a Catholic midnight mass. Latin let us avoid any spiritual conflicts and simply enjoy the pageantry.

Looking back, I see that as wonderful as this was, it made me feel uncomfortable. No, anxious is how I felt. The pressure to make that one day a year set all wrongs right, prove familial love, finding the right gift to say all this, was too much weight for any holiday to hold. 

On our first Christmas together Erika explained the concept of unplugging the Christmas tree. Dialing back the crazy excesses. Enjoying time together. What an insane thought. But it is what I long for. I want the extravagance of a good book, a log on the fire and beloved friends and family share it with.

Where ever you are my dear readers, I hope the the spirit of Jólabókaflóðið fills your heart and home.   


Susan C Shea said...

First question, Josh: Can you pronounce it? Second: What do they mean by "frogs behind their ears"? Because if it's not nasty, I think I'll add it to my admittedly lusterless lexicon of insults! Have a cozy, snuggly holiday (and say Hi to Erika).

Josh Stallings said...

Jolabokaflod (Yola-boka-flood.) I have often wondered, from behind their ears, is either something from my Grandmothers deep wild brain, or I miss heard her, I can't find refferences to it any where, sadly Grandma is gone. So I say use it.
Hope you also have warm happy holiday.

Brenda Chapman said...

I love your post, Josh. Happy Holidays to you both.

Chand said...
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