In Iceland trolls sleep through a chocolate feast

Iceland has been a Christian country since the year 1000, when lawmakers at the parliament, Althing, decided it was better to become Christian and…

Iceland has been a Christian country since the year 1000, when lawmakers at the parliament, Althing, decided it was better to become Christian and keep their heads, rather than to stay faithful to the old Norse gods, and loose living.

You see, the Norwegian king, who then ruled over Iceland, had become Christian, and his ways of convincing his subjects to convert were not very subtle.

So Icelanders began celebrating the Christian Easter in the year 1001.

But the chocolate feast that occurs on Easter now has little to do with Christianity.

Easter is the longest holiday in Iceland, with a five-day weekend for most and a two-week break for school kids.

The official holidays are Maundy Thursday (Skírdagur), Long Friday (Föstudagurinn langi), Easter Sunday (Páskadagur) and the following Monday (Annar í páskum).

Yet there are fewer Easter traditions than Christmas traditions.

Many Icelanders enjoy the holiday in one of the many union-run country cabins scattered around the country, go visit relatives in other parts of the country (often where there is snow for skiing — something that is surprisingly hard to count on in this northern country), or go abroad for a short vacation.

Easter egg hunts are not practised in Iceland, partly since the ground is often covered with snow at Easter-time, and it is usually too cold.

Furthermore, there are few Easter food traditions.

In olden times when fresh food was scarce, it was traditional to serve a kind of porridge on Easter Sunday, usually made from barley, though flour, oats and rye were also used if available.

It was sometimes made with rice, which was considered the height of luxury.

Beginning in the 18th century, this porridge was also served on Maundy Thursday as a special treat.

In concession to the holiness of Easter, the porridge would be unusually thick and rich, not like the gruel usually served.

Though nowadays, this feast food may appear lacking in holiness, one has to remember how scarce any grain was in Iceland prior to the 20th century.

None of that tradition remains, though, as that porridge is as un-festive today in Icelanders’ eyes as it appears to Canadians.

Easter was the time to start eating meat again after Lent, and so meat, especially hangikjöt or smoked meat, would also be served on Easter Sunday.

Though the most common Easter Sunday dinner is a leg of lamb, served with potatoes browned in white sugar and rhubarb jam, the lamb has no religious meaning like it has in some countries — it’s simply the traditional Sunday roast made a wee bit fancier.

But one fairly new food-related tradition keeps getting stronger, and this is really the only true Easter tradition in Iceland today.

About three weeks to a month before Easter, chocolate eggs of all sizes begin to appear in supermarkets, sometimes lining whole aisles, and often causing headaches for family shopping trips.

This tradition emerged in the 20th century, of children and adults alike stuffing themselves with chocolate over Easter.

These are nowhere near the Easter eggs Canadian are used to.

No, these are wholly Icelandic, made of thick cream chocolate, come in sizes from a normal chicken egg and up to the size of a basketball, though the most common ones are about the size of small American footballs.

Usually, they’re decorated with a yellow chick, and the chocolate shell is filled with various kinds of little candies.

But the most important element of all is the traditional saying or proverb on the inside.

These are reminiscent of a fortune cookie saying, and their wisdom comes in the form of some 400 proverbs based on folklore, history, the Sagas and homilies.

Children of all ages look forward to reading their Easter proverbs, which range from warnings against gluttony and greed to sayings such as: “Early morning gives gold to one’s mind.”

Others are more light-headed or even straight-out contradictory, as these two prove: “Small wits within a small head” and “A stupid person usually has a large head.”

These bring smiles to people’s faces — if they can smile by that point of Easter morning, for all the gorging that’s been going on until they reached the saying.

As for other traditions: Apparently, Easter Morning is one of the best times of the year to find a wishing stone, a little pebble that can fulfill all your wishes.

And you don’t have to be worried of being interrupted by trolls or other evil beings while you search for your stone. You see, they sleep through such a holy day.

Happy Easter!

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