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 ( It is best not to read this while drinking coffee.

Aquired  Taste

Christmas Eve is the pinnacle of the Christmas holidays  in Iceland, the evening when families come together to dine and open  presents. It is therefore unfortunate that my blog this time around  lands on what must be called Christmas Eve Eve, i.e. the evening before,  the evening before, Christmas Day. This particular day is one of the  busiest of all, as you only have until noon tomorrow to wrap, decorate,  pick up stuff from the cleaners, figure out if you forgot someone and  last but not least, buy all of the groceries you need for the next three  days as everything is closed until Sunday.

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.

So, before logging off and starting to wrap and wrap and  wrap, I am going to share with you my one and only obsession and claim  to being a member of the loony tunes. This is my Christmas tree which is  adorned with 3600 bulbs, all fastened to a branch, not just thrown on.  It probably takes about two to three full working days to accomplish but  as I do it in the evenings the work is spread over a about ten days.  The photo at the top shows the outcome and it is the first actual photo  successfully taken of a Christmas tree in our house as the mass of light  is too much for an ordinary camera. This one was taken by a  professional photographer sent over by one of the local newspapers that  is going to publish a brief article about it tomorrow. As proof of how  proud I am of this tree I am placing the photo on the internet despite  how awfully fat I look in it which has something to do with my clothes  being the same colour as the stereo I am standing up against. If you  zoom in you will see I am not lying about this.

Be sure to click on the picture of the Christmas tree.  It is magnificent.

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  1. As a big Yrsa fan, I love this post, the tree, the dogs… : )

    • Beth says:

      Yrsa is posts something rich, engaging, and, frequently, very funny on Murder Is Everywhere ( It is a wonderful blog.

  2. Maxine says:

    I remember reading this post at the time – lovely! (not!)

  3. Beth says:

    I can’t wait to put this up every Christmas. New readers are coming on boards all the time (thank you) and the story of a fish that drives people out of their homes is laugh-out-loud funny. Amazing what a hold tradition plays in life.

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