Police Deny Skin Colour a Factor in Christmas Arrest


28 year old Brian Gona was arrested on his way home from work Christmas Eve, detained in a cell and interrogated for not being able to show his ID card. The incident has prompted the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police to state that they do not arrest anyone for the sole reason of being Black, Heimildin reports.

Mother describes interrogation

Þórunn Helgadóttir, Brian’s stepmother, described the incident in a Facebook post Tuesday. She said Brian, the son of her Kenyan husband, was heading from work to catch a bus at Hlemmur bus station around 18:00 on Christmas Eve when the police stopped him. She said they accused him of lying to them when he told them his name and personal identification number. Instead of driving him to his home in Breiðholt to look at his ID card, Þórunn said the police drove Brian to the Hlemmur police station, confiscated his phone, yelled at him, and denied him water and bathroom access.

Þórunn added that the officers repeatedly asked Brian for permission to search his home for illegal drugs, which he didn’t grant. She said the only plausible reason for their actions is Brian’s skin colour. Þórunn said that when the police finally brought Brian home and looked at his passport, the officers quickly left when they learned he’d been in the country since 2014 and called Þórunn “mum”.

Police say details don’t fit

Superintendent Ásmundur Rúnar Gylfason told Heimildin that Þórunn’s description of events doesn’t match the experience of the police that night. He said that he couldn’t comment on individual cases, but did confirm that a person had been detained Christmas Eve for refusing to reveal their identity. The person had also not been able to confirm who they were with identification. “This individual was detained by police on the basis of a tip that a person had been asleep at the wheel of a stopped car on the East side,” Ásmundur said.

This case, which doesn’t match Þórunn’s description, was the only case of someone being arrested Christmas Eve for theses causes, Ásmundur said. He added that recordings of all communications exist. “And the police is not worried about what they reveal,” Ásmundur said. “The police doesn’t arrest anyone on the sole basis of them being Black.”

Signs of New Year’s Eve Eruption, Experts Warn

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption

Developments in the Reykjanes peninsula are now similar to the week leading up the the most recent volcanic eruption in Sundhnúkagígar, experts say. The latest data from the Icelandic Meteorological office shows that on Christmas Day, crustal uplift by Svartsengi was at the same level as it was on December 11 and 12, a week before the volcanic eruption began on December 18. These are indications of an eruption around New Year’s Eve, experts told Morgunblaðið.

“It could happen in the first week of January,” Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson said, adding that he expected the eruption, if it happens, to be similar to the last one in scope or possibly smaller. “All things being equal, it should be similar. Maybe not as powerful to begin with, but with a longer duration then,” he said.

50-60 Christmas celebrations

Fannar Jónsson, mayor of Grindavík, said there is much uncertainty about the situation. The town of 3,800 people was evacuated on November 10 due to seismic activity. The inhabitants were allowed to return on December 23 to stay overnight in their houses over the holidays. Businesses reopened and their employees can go to work, but aside from that, no people are permitted to pass the roadblocks into town.

“We expect the situation to be reassessed between Christmas and New Year’s Eve and, depending on what happens, the Suðurnes Police Commissioner will make a statement about where we go from there,” Fannar said.

According to Fannar, people celebrated Christmas in around 50 or 60 homes in Grindavík. Fannar said that he and his wife didn’t celebrate in Grindavík themselves. “We stayed with our daughter and enjoyed her hospitality,” Fannar said. “We’ll be away for New Year’s as well, staying with our other daughter, they both live in the capital area. We had a cozy and festive time and I hope other Grindavík resident also did.”

Christmas Anxiety Rising Among Icelanders

christmas cat

According to Icelandic folklore, the Christmas Cat will eat those who don’t receive new clothes to wear on Christmas Eve. If that’s not enough to worry about, the ogress Grýla snatches mischievous children to cook in her pot, while her 13 sons, the Yule Lads, harass the island’s inhabitants and pull nighttime pranks as the days increasingly get shorter.

“Christmas anxiety” is a well-known concept among Icelanders, who spend the last weeks before the holidays running around buying presents and groceries for the many upcoming family gatherings. The term seems to have a sociological and economic foundation. When asked in a new poll by Maskína, 15.3 percent said they were anxious about Christmas, Heimildin reports. This is a higher percentage than last year, when 13.7 percent responded this way, and almost double compared to 2019 when 7.5 percent reported anxiety. On top of this, the number of people who reported little or no anxiety dropped. The percentage of non-anxious went from 71.3 last year to 64.4 percent this year.

Anxiety in lower income brackets

The anxiety is at its highest among those with the lowest income, the poll suggests. A third of those from homes with less than ISK 400,000 [$2,900, €2,700] in monthly income are anxious. However, only one out of ten of those with ISK 1.2 Million [$8,800, €8,000]  in monthly household income reported anxiety. The current economic situation might play a part, Heimildin argues, as purchasing power has steadily declined over the last year, consumer prices have risen due to inflation, which currently stands at 7.7 percent, while interest rates are high, leading to costly monthly mortgage payments for many homeowners.

Supporters of ruling parties in Christmas spirits

People from the higher income brackets were also more likely to say that they “look forward to Christmas”. Over half of the overall population, 52.3 percent, responded this way, but 63.5 percent of the highest earners conveyed their excitement. Political affiliations also seem to have an effect, as supporters of the Left-Green Movement and the Independence Party, both of whom are now in power at the national level, have a more positive outlook for Christmas. The supporters of the Pirate Party, the People’s Party and the Socialist Party are more pessimistic when it comes to the upcoming “holiday of light and peace” as Icelanders call it.

Merry Christmas from the Iceland Review Team!

Icelanders have several Christmas traditions that may seem unique or peculiar to outsiders. They include welcoming the 13 Yule Lads throughout December, listening to the Christmas Eve mass on the radio, and making laufabrauð with the whole family. Still, like elsewhere across the world, the heart of Icelandic Christmas is gathering with loved ones and making time to make bright memories to light up the dark winter nights. Wherever you are this holiday season and however and whatever you celebrate, we hope you can spend time with your nearest and dearest, and perhaps also with a good book – or magazine.
The Iceland Review team would like to wish our readers and their loved ones happy holidays and gleðileg jól. Merry Christmas and thanks for reading!

Iceland’s Christmas Book Flood Tradition Goes Global

Iceland Publishers' Association 2023 book fair

The Icelandic tradition of jólabókaflóðið, or the Christmas Book Flood, seems to have achieved global popularity. Heiðar Ingi Svansson, Chair of the Association of Icelandic Publishers, has told Morgunblaðið that while he has long sensed interest in the phenomenon among international publishers, the enthusiasm among the general public has been surprising.

“Thousands of posts” on social media

As noted in an article published in the newspaper Morgunblaðið this morning, reading enthusiasts around the world have increasingly shown interest in the phenomenon of the Christmas book flood (i.e. jólabókaflóðið, referring to the Icelandic tradition of gifting books for Christmas and spending the holiday reading in cosy surroundings, often with a cup of hot cocoa or chocolate in hand). Morgunblaðið claimed that thousands of posts celebrating this tradition can be observed on social media.

To substantiate this claim, the news outlet pointed to a post from Junía Lin Jónsdóttir, sister of Icelandic musician Laufey, who recently introduced her followers on TikTok to the Christmas book flood. Likewise, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who boasts approximately 10 million followers, shared an Instagram post about the phenomenon.

The origins of the Christmas Book Flood can be attributed to Iceland’s deep-rooted literary history and, during World War II, stringent currency restrictions. These restrictions curtailed the import of various gifts, but with more relaxed rules on importing paper, books emerged as the go-to Christmas present.

Surprising popularity

Morgunblaðið spoke to Heiðar Ingi Svansson, Chairman of the Association of Icelandic Publishers, who agreed that the Christmas Book Flood appeared to have attracted global attention: “I’m on the board of an international publishers association, and I am often asked about this phenomenon. But it’s surprising to see how widespread it has become among the general public. It travels through some channels on social media, and you see people all over the world celebrating the tradition,” Heiðar Ingi stated.

Morgunblaðið noted that determining the exact origins of this trend was challenging. The Christmas Book Flood may have gained international attention in 2012 with coverage on NPR’s website, possibly marking a sort of inception point. Whatever the case,  media attention has steadily grown annually, contributing to the widespread popularity of the phenomenon. “A quick online search reveals that the Christmas Book Flood has now reached audiences in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the UK, and various European countries,” Morgunblaðið noted.

Eschewing the phones, embracing the books

“This romantic idea of us cuddling in log cabins with hot cocoa, in a land of fire and ice, is appealing. Many people may also want to encourage more family time during the holidays, with people uniting over books instead of spending time on their phones,” Heiðar Ingi stated.

Morgunblaðið also noted that there are instances where bookstores offer specially assembled packages for people to enjoy the Christmas Book Flood. One such package, advertised for sale on Instagram, includes three books, cosy socks, a festive candle, and chocolate. Customers being offered free gift-wrapping and chocolate with every book purchase is also common. Publishers and bloggers have also seized upon the Christmas book flood for marketing purposes.

Heiðar Ingi told Morgunblaðið that he has often been interviewed by foreign media about this phenomenon. Next week, for instance, he has been invited for a live interview on CNN. “It will be fun. I had to send them an audio clip because they wanted to prepare for the pronunciation of jólabókaflóð.”

Hiker Completes 300 km Postal Route for Charity

Hiker Einar Skúlason

Hiker Einar Skúlason finished an 11 day trek along an old northeastern postal route this Friday, raising over ISK 1 Million [$7300, €6600] for The Akureyri Cancer Society. He acted as a real-life postal worker during the trek, delivering Christmas cards along the way, Mbl.is reports.

Einar has previously hiked a number of other old postal routes, which were used before modern roads allowed for safer and quicker travel between rural communities. His latest journey started in the eastern town of Seyðisfjörður on the East Coast on December 4. “I stopped at a few places along the way, as the postal workers used to do back in the day,” Einar told Mbl.is as he concluded the walk in Akureyri. “I visited places like Möðrudalur and Grímsstaður á Fjöllum and got lodging and food like they did in the old days.”

Most of the nights Einar stayed in a tent which he carried on his back along with other supplies, a 30 kg extra weight in total. “I didn’t know if I’d make it in time for Christmas, if there would be any low points, how the weather would be and whether something would happen to me on the way,” he added. “There is always a risk involved carrying such a heavy backpack.”

Freezing cold during the hike

The route is nearly 300 km long, but Einar was able to stop at a number of natural baths along the way to ease his sore muscles and warm himself up. “It was frightfully cold on the way, usually a double digit number below zero, sometimes 15 to 20 degrees freezing,” Einar said. “But the day before yesterday it was 17 below by Mývatn, but then suddenly zero degrees at midnight.”

Einar raised money for The Akureyri Cancer Society from online pledges and fees for the Christmas greetings he delivered on the way. “The Society does great work. So I called them up and asked if I should raise money for them,” he said, adding that promoting the Society’s work is an added benefit, which will hopefully encourage people in need to reach out to them.

Deep North Episode 55: Christmas Craftsman

laufabrauð christmas iceland

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, families and friends in Iceland come together to make the traditional fried and decorated wafer known as laufabrauð (leaf bread). Rolled out thin, decorated, and fried, the preparation of these treats is an event that brings together families, often with multiple generations taking part. But you won’t find Laufabrauðsdagur (Leaf Bread Day) on any official calendar, as each family chooses their own date. Still, for Icelanders, it’s as much a part of the holiday season as Christmas itself.

But unknown even to many Icelanders, much of this tradition now rests in the hands of one craftsman, the last craftsman in Iceland to make the distinctive roller that so many use to make laufabrauð. A stone’s throw from Reykjavík, in the shadow of Esja mountain, his small workshop is keeping a beloved tradition alive.

Read the story here.

The Christmas Craftsman

laufabrauð christmas iceland

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, families and friends in Iceland come together to make the traditional fried and decorated wafer known as laufabrauð (leaf bread). Rolled out thin, decorated, and fried, the preparation of these treats is an event that brings together families, often with multiple generations taking part. But you won’t find […]

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Woman Who Set IKEA Christmas Goat on Fire Regrets Nothing

IKEA Goat Stöð 2

“I maybe wouldn’t do it again. But I wouldn’t take it back either,” the woman who set the infamous IKEA Christmas goat on fire in 2016 told Stöð 2 in an exclusive TV interview. In November 2016, she and two others committed arson by burning down the infamous Christmas monument with the help of a generous dousing of gasoline. Each member of the trio was fined ISK 150,000 [$1,080, €1,025].

The Christmas Goat is based on traditional, albeit much smaller, straw Yule Goat figurines, and originated in Gävle, Sweden in 1966. The IKEA Christmas goat has been a popular target for firebugs in recent years and has been burned down by arsonists three times (in 2010, 2012, and 2016). It seemingly self-immolated in 2015, when it caught fire due to an electrical malfunction. But even in years when it hasn’t burned down, the Christmas Goat hasn’t fared much better: harsh winter winds have knocked it over on more than one occasion.

With her identity and voice disguised, the 2016 arsonist described a “certain adrenaline rush” brought on by the illegal endeavour. Asked why she decided to do it, she responded: “That’s a good question. I think the main reason was that it was really funny.”

Young Woman Died from Cold-Weather Exposure in December

A woman in her forties was found dead not far from her home near Esjumelur in Mosfellsbær on December 20, RÚV reports. The precise time of her death remains unknown.

The storm before Christmas

Following heavy snow in the capital area during the days leading up to Christmas, Reykjanesbraut – the road leading to Keflavík Airport – became impassable. The closure led to numerous flight delays and cancellations, with many travellers expressing their criticism of the Icelandic authorities.

During the time of the storm, a woman in her forties – living in Esjumelur in Mosfellsbær – was on her way home on foot. She was found dead near her residence on December 20. She died from exposure to cold temperatures. The precise time of her death is unknown.

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Chief Inspector of the Capital Area Police, Grímur Grímsson, stated that there was no evidence of foul play.

Death from exposure in Iceland is extremely rare, but the cold snap that has persisted in the country over the past six weeks has been one of the worst in years.