I woke up early on the 24th to have my host mom drive me to Argir to pick up a gift. Specifically, I was picking up a gift I left outside someone’s house; due to a convoluted string of events, I presumed that it was a Faroese tradition to leave gifts outside people’s houses. In the Faroe Islands. Where the climate is 99% rain. Where you can literally just walk into people’s houses unannounced, and they’ll even invite you to stay for a cuppa.
Yeah, I know. I feel plenty dumb.
So I went to Argir to pick up the gift, which was completely ruined from sitting outside for two nights.
…Yeah, I feel really dumb, okay.
At six o’clock that evening, my host-aunt (Rannvá’s sister) and her family came. The nine of us sat down to eat roasted duck, caramelized potatoes, boiled potatoes, and gravy. The kids finished first and disappeared from the room, occasionally reappearing to see if we were done eating yet so they could open presents. (In the Faroes, presents are opened on the 24th.) After we finished eating, we danced and sang around the Christmas tree, me awkwardly trying to join in when I recognized the song. Then the kids dove into the present pile, and as we were in the middle of unwrapping, Santa Clause arrived.
A be-Santa-suited man came up to the house carrying a large bag over his shoulder. I didn’t recognize him, but I figured he was a friend of the family since he knew I didn’t speak Faroese well; he wished me a Merry Christmas in English as he handed me my gift. The gift was a beautifully-crafted silver pendant, shaped like the Faroe Islands on a fine silver chain. It was actually a gift from my host parents, and I’ve worn it pretty much every day since.
After unwrapping gifts, we prepared to eat rís a la mand, which is kind of like rice pudding. Rannvá asked me to stick an almond into one of the plates of pudding, shooing the kids out of the room so they couldn’t watch. After I had carefully hidden the almond, the dishes were placed at random at the seats around the table. Then, everyone was invited to sit down, and we sang a song while passing the plates in a circle around the table. Once the song ended, everyone started to eat, carefully chewing their pudding so they wouldn’t accidentally swallow the almond if they got it. Whosoever got the plate with the almond would receive a special Christmas gift. After everyone cleaned their plates, Rannvá announced she had gotten the almond, and she received her gift, which was a beautiful jigsaw puzzle.
At midnight, I went to the Christmas mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church with my host parents. When I entered the sanctum, I could hear a live violin playing. I looked up into the choir loft and saw a small troupe of violinists, a cellist, and a… lutist? I still don’t know what instrument that was, since the player wasn’t playing loud enough to hear.
The musicians were quite skilled, but they seemed woefully uninformed of what songs are appropriate for a church environment. “Oh, what, did they play ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ or something?” you might be thinking. No, they didn’t. They played the theme from Schindler’s List as both prelude music and the song for communion.
…I’m not kidding.
On Christmas Day, my host aunt, uncle, and cousins were still here relaxing and whiling the day away, but I didn’t get to see them because I pretty much slept until the next day.
On the day after Christmas, it’s generally expected that anyone who’s old enough to drink should go out to a club and party. …and instead of doing that, I slept until I almost died, and then we went to my host-grandparents’ (Egon’s parents’) house. The grandma didn’t seem to speak very much English, but the grandpa was fluent, and he regaled me with stories about his time working on a fishing boat in Iceland, proving to me that grandpas are pretty much the same in every country. (“When I was your age, I was hauling a fishing line for sixty fathoms, all day, every day! And for only two measly fish per cast!”)
On the 27th, we travelled to Runavík (about two and a half hours from Tórshavn) to stay at my host-aunt’s house. The night we arrived, there was a Christmas party with pretty much every family member and friend to the family in attendance. Because there wasn’t enough room at the table, all the kids ate first, and they ate what looked like pasta (I was’t eating with them, ‘CUZ I’M AN ADULT NOW), I guess because younger Faroese people aren’t partial toward the taste of traditional Faroese food: dried sheep, dried whale meat, dried whale blubber, and dried fish, served with cold potatoes, boiled eggs, mini meatballs, cucumbers, onions, red bell peppers, and tomatoes.
After dinner, I Skyped my parents to wish them a Merry Christmas. There were shrieking children in every single available room, so I Skyped them from the laundry room, though children would occasionally burst in for absolutely no reason anyway. We stayed overnight, and on the next day, we went to my host-grandparent’s (Rannvá’s parents this time) house where we ate roasted sheep and potatoes yet again. Are you seeing a theme here?
Of course, it was all delicious. I wore the same pants home from Runavík that I had worn TO Runavík, yet somehow they were much tighter.
But the eating doesn’t stop there!
The days passed quietly, as I was mostly sleeping then waking up to get fat on holiday sweets then going back to sleep, until it was finally December 31st. That night, we had roasted fermented sheep, potatoes, and vegetables. Neither Símun nor Eva seemed too keen on the sheep; Eva actually left the room because she couldn’t stand the smell, and I’ll admit, fermented sheep is reeeeaaaally strong. The smell sticks to your hands and clothes and the flavor sticks to your tongue. So she and Símun ate bread with Nutella while Egon, Rannvá, and I ate the sheep. And it was delicious.
At nine o’clock that night, we walked to a gathering place where all the neighbors were preparing the New Year’s torches. The torches were two-meter-tall, lightweight timbers with one end wrapped in gasoline-soaked cloth. A few men took turns dipping huge armfuls of them into a flaming oil drum, then passed them out to the neighbors. I guess fire safety either isn’t a thing here or is extremely lax, because I saw people letting their six-year-old kids hold torches, which they proceeded to wave around while people hurried to get out of the way.
It was incredibly windy that night, so the torches kept going out. Egon received two torches and took them over to the side of the road where he could hold them over the ledge and shield them from the wind until it was time to march. Someone lit a flare so everyone could see better and not accidentally set someone on fire, and shortly after it expired, the march began. Egon handed me a torch and we followed the procession down the road.
Our little parade had to take regular breaks to huddle together and relight the torches. Mine especially couldn’t seem to keep a flame for more than thirty seconds at a time, but I didn’t particularly mind. It was still pretty when it wasn’t ablaze; when the wind blew against it and ignited the embers, they glowed and flickered like fireflies buzzing in a black, crumbling beehive. Several times I got distracted while looking at it and almost walked into someone’s torch-ignition huddle.
After many breaks, we reached the middle school Símun and Eva attend, where the biggest bonfire I’ve ever seen in person had been constructed, composed of and fenced by wooden pallets and people’s dead Christmas trees. We stood around with our torches for a while, and then at somebody’s call, everyone tossed their torches onto the heap. People kept walking in front of me, preventing me from tossing mine, so I gently stepped forward and stuck it into a gap where nothing was on fire yet.
Behind us, people started setting off fireworks. It lasted for several minutes, and when it was done, I checked the clock on my phone. It was only just past ten.
After watching the bonfire for a bit longer, we walked to a neighbor’s house, where they were serving soup out of their garage. I stood there and chatted with the neighbors for a while, but after a short time it got seriously cold, so I walked home. My host family came home one by one a short while later, and then, just before midnight, we went back to the neighbors house with our own fireworks in tow.
Right at midnight, all of Tórshavn was illuminated by fireworks. Hoyvík is on a mountain, so you have a pretty good view of the city. It was amazing to see fireworks in the distance that were almost at eye-level. I stared out over Tórshavn for a long time, and with every ear-splitting bang and blinding flash of light, I felt an increasing sense of peace. Last year was a good year. This is going to be a good year too.