Yrsa Sigurdardottir is the author of some of the most enthralling and chilling thrillers available to readers. She is also the author of the following post for the Murder Is Everywhere blog (www.murderiseverywhere.blogspot.com). It is best not to read this while drinking coffee.
Another Icelandic tradition, unrelated to religion, does nothing to make the 23rd of December less hectic. It involves eating putrefied starry ray (kæst skata, a fish), a dish only the bravest dare cook at home so in most cases it involves going to a jam-packed restaurant and lining up with your plate to access a buffet overflowing with this “delicacy” in various editions, from mild to unbearable. The mild version leaves your sinuses clear until approximately mid-February and the unbearable burns the skin off the roof of your mouth. I cannot explain the taste in any detail but think ammonia and you are halfway there. As the name of the dish, putrefied ray implies, the smell is obnoxious and after going to one of these buffets your clothes stink to high heaven until they have been washed at least twice. Not exactly a smell one associates with Christmas which is why few choose to cook this at home and those who do usually do it on their balconies or in their garages when the weather is really, really bad. My husband and I went and had some for lunch today and our coats are still banished to the outdoors, left hanging outside our front door as they are not washing machine proof. The rest of the clothes we wore are drying after their second spin through the laundry process.
I am not 100% sure what the idea is behind this tradition although I know it originates from the Icelandic Western Fjords. I have read two theories that sound semi-reasonable, one is that this horrid meal was meant to make people look even more forward to the Christmas meal the following evening and the second that the workers and servants were provided this on the 23rd as it meant that they would not have anything to eat that could constitute as worse for a whole year – I am however a bit unsure of the logic in the latter explanation. Maybe it simply had something to do with clearing out you sinuses until mid-February. That would actually rhyme with another tradition that I will tell you about when the season draws closer, or the Þorrablót season (loosely translated: Feast of Disgusting Food) when fermented shark cleans out the nasal passages again until spring.
Be sure to click on the picture of the Christmas tree. It is magnificent.