Lights on the Christmas Tree
in Reykjavik, Iceland
In almost half a century it has been tradition in Reykjavik to celebrate when the lights are turned on for the first time each December on the Christmas tree in the center of Reykjavik. This tree is from Norway - the country that the settlers of Iceland came from 1125 years ago. It is a gift from the City of Oslo to the City of Reykjavik. The Christmas tree from Oslo is always in the square Austurvollur. The Dom is to the left and the Parliament House to the right.
Big Deserts and no Trees
Iceland has since around 1200 been almost treeless country and is the country in Europe with the largest deserts. No evergreen tree is native to Iceland but Icelanders used to make a kind of a substitute trees for the big evergreens that did not exist in the Icelandic nature. These were made from a central pole on which branches were nailed, long at the bottom and tapering as they neared the top. On these branches the candles were fastened. The Christmas tree was usually painted green, and native foliage was used to decorate it. Such trees were still in use in some farms in Iceland in the eighties. In this century, locally grown evergreens as well imported trees have replaced the home-made ones. The pictures are of the traditional Icelandic Christmas tree.
Iceland was settled 1125 years ago by Vikings, who brought in domestic animals. It is well established that a large portion of the Icelandic deserts was vegetated at the time of settlement. Forests in Iceland consist mainly of small areas of birch woodlands or plantations of native or exotic species, covering only 1.4% of the total land area. At the time of settlement (AD 876), forests covered about 30% of Iceland, which means that 95% of the original forest cover has been lost. Glaciers currently cover about 10% of the country. Iceland Forest Service has information about combating deforestation and the Agricultural Research Institute has information about the deserts in Iceland. Vigdis Finnbogadottir former president of Iceland wrote preface to the book Rangeland Decertification.
Just seconds before the light is turned on the tree from Oslo.
Waiting for Gryla and the Christmas Lads to appear.
Some faces appeared to be a bit worried, well Gryla can be scary!
After the lights had been turned on the tree from Oslo, the very welcomed guests from the Icelandic highlands performed. Gryla and her sons, the Christmas lads planned the journey from their cave in the mountains to the populated areas of Iceland and how they will drill and tease the people of Iceland.
The Christmas Lads appeared to be a bit stupid and very much oppressed by their dominant mother Gryla. They talked about giving gifts to children, sneaking to the houses at night and looking into the windows for shoes to put gifts in but their mother Gryla had other plans... She does not seem to be in the giving business at all. hmmmmm.....
The children in Reykjavik watching Gryla and the Christmas lads, the Christmas tree with lights on in the background.
Pictures by Salvor Gissurardottir from Reykjavik 10. December 2000
Pictures of old-fashioned Christmas trees are taken by Salvor Gissurardottir at the Arbaejarsafn folk museum and the Dalvik folk museum in 1999.