Volunteer Organisation Throws Christmas Ball for Ukrainian Children

Ukrainian families living in Iceland were treated to a Christmas Ball on Saturday. The party was the culmination of a year of events and relief efforts led by the volunteer-run organization Flottafólk and included a banquet and a visit from Iceland’s Yule Lads. Iceland Review spoke to one of the event organisers, Markús Már Efraim, about the festive event.

Also known as the Ukrainian Refugee Center in Iceland, Flottafólk (whose name in Icelandic, Great People, is a pun on the word flóttafólk, which means refugee), “was founded by likeminded volunteers at the start of the war to provide relief for the Ukrainian refugees coming to Iceland,” says Markús. Saturday’s Christmas Ball was the organization’s biggest event of the year and was made possible thanks to volunteers, “both local and Ukrainian, and the goodwill of the local community,” individuals and businesses alike, who donated gifts for the children.

The ball treated 400 guests—mostly Ukrainian children and their families—to a delicious holiday banquet including everything from traditional Icelandic Christmas fare such as hangikjöt to pizza, laughs Markús, “for those whose tastebuds are not made for smoked lamb.”

After eating their fill, the children got to dance around a giant Christmas tree with some visiting Yule Lads, who then handed out gifts. Members of the Ukrainian community also staged a dance performance.

A home away from home

“Our hearts are full of pure gratitude to those who have been taking care of us for many months already!” wrote attendee and teacher Tanya Korolenko in the Facebook group “Ísland fyrir Úkraínu” (‘Iceland for Ukraine’). “The spirit of Christmas is everywhere now. It’s beautiful…And all Ukrainians here, in Reykjavik, are thanking you heartily for allowing us to feel it, to enjoy it ourselves! It means a lot!”

“Thanks to Flottafolk and its keen volunteers Ukrainians get a HOME to meet every Tuesday, they have plenty of help with practical issues like clothes and hygiene,” continued Tanya. “But what touches me the most is when people take care of other people’s feelings. Like you did today.”

Indeed, Flottafólk has been providing relief to the Ukrainian refugee community in Iceland since the beginning of the war, Markús explains. “Relief has been in the form of food, clothing, jobs, events and field trips for kids, educational programs, psychological support, childcare and basically everything necessary. This winter our biggest focus has been on the distribution of clothes and necessities,” he continues, noting that these distributions take place twice a week at Neskirkja and the community centre in the Grandi neighbourhood on the west side of Reykjavík.

“During the open houses we often get visits from local educators and speakers or do something special like concerts, and traditional gingerbread-making and decoration.”

Plans to expand in the New Year

Invigorated as the volunteers are by their joyful celebration on Saturday, Flottafólk has even bigger plans for the new year, says Markús. “We would like to expand the educational programs, including various art workshops, but need more space as the community centre we have access to has its own extensive programming.”

“One of the things we have planned for the new year is a writing workshop for kids,” says Markús, which would be co-taught by himself and Tanya Korolenko. “This would hopefully culminate in a bilingual book with the children’s writing and illustrated by Ukrainian artists.”

It seems clear that Flottafólk and its ongoing, collaborative efforts have helped to create a strong sense of kinship between local volunteers and members of the newly arrived Ukrainian community, something that Markús Már is quick to affirm. “I had no connections to Ukraine before the war, but as a volunteer and now, project manager for the community centre and educational programs, I feel strong kinship with the Ukrainian people. The refugee community has shown great gratitude to all of us volunteers and given back in so many ways.”

Photos by Alesia Kovalova (Алеся Ковальова)

Merry Christmas from Iceland Review!

jól Christmas

Christmas in Iceland has always been an occasion for families to come together. To fight the winter darkness, Icelanders pull out no shortage of candles and festive lights, both indoors and out. This year, though celebrations will be different, the light and spirit of the holiday will still bring a dose of much-needed warmth to many.

The Iceland Review team would like to thank our readers for their continued support throughout this year. However you are able to celebrate, we wish you happy holidays and gleðileg jól!

More Icelanders Put Up Christmas Tree This Year

It might be the influence of the pandemic that is leading more Icelanders to set up Christmas trees this year than last year. In a recent survey conducted by MMR, 86% of respondents stated they would put up a Christmas tree in their home this year, up from 83% last year. Artificial trees continue to grow in popularity: 58% of respondents say they will opt for one this Christmas rather than a real tree, a proportion that has been steadily rising from 50% in 2010.

The proportion of those who plan to install live trees has decreased by 14 percentage points since 2010 from 42% to 28%. A total of 14% stated they will not have a Christmas tree this year, a decrease of three percentage points between years.

More Women Prefer Artificial Trees, More Men Prefer None

More female respondents chose artificial trees than male respondents (61% versus 54%). Men are more likely not to put up trees than women, however (18% versus 11%). More rural residents than capital area residents choose artificial Christmas trees for their homes, though the difference is small (61% to 58%).

Respondents 68 years and older are more likely than those in other age groups to not have a Christmas tree in their home: a total of 24% of that age group stated they would not do so this year. Those between the ages of 30-49 were most likely to say they would set up a Christmas tree, or 90%, and 60% of them chose artificial trees.

Pirates Avoid Trees

MMR’s yearly tree survey also compares Christmas tree preferences to political leanings. Supporters of the Left-Green Movement, the Progressive Party, and the Social Democratic Alliance are most likely to choose a genuine Christmas tree, while supporters of the Centre Party and the Reform Party are most likely to choose an artificial tree. A total of 31% of those who support the Pirate Party do not plan to install Christmas trees in their homes this year, the highest percentage among all parties in the poll.

Merry Christmas from the Iceland Review Team!

downtown Reykjavík

At this time of year, every inhabited corner of Iceland glows with the brightness of Christmas decorations: candles in windows, string lights in front yards, tinsel on trees. In Reykjavík, despite the darkness and no matter the weather, a spirit of warmth and togetherness unmistakeably pervades the town. Above it all, the clock tower of Hallgrímskirkja overlooks the city, like a bright star on top of a Christmas tree.

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!

Dentists Warn of Crackling, Nuts, and Pellets

ptarmigan hunter in snow

Elín Sigurgeirsdóttir, head of the Dentist Association of Iceland, has warned people to bite carefully when feasting on delicacies this Christmas, mbl.is reports. It’s not uncommon this time of year for people to seek the help of dentists as they break their teeth chomping on nuts as well as particularly crisp crackling. Cracklings are crisp pork fat surrounding roasted pork, a favoured festive delicacy in Iceland.

“Us dentists become particularly aware of this problem around this time of year. Really, it happens as soon as Christmas parties start.”, Elín said. “People break their teeth by crunching the crackling on pork roast. The culprit can sometimes be nut shells which haven’t been removed appropriately and are stuck to the nut, which is put into the sauce or some dish, so the shell isn’t visible and people chomp on it.”

Elín states that the most severe of the cases involve pellets still found in rock ptarmigans, a favoured Christmas delicacy of many Icelanders.