Holiday Feasting and Dysfunctional Families

My parents had 3 daughters together, all of us born in Iceland, but raised most of our lives by our mother in Canada. Though we kept many of our Icelandic traditions and some Icelandic culture, we lost the language and became more Canadian. My mother is Guyanese, and imparted much of her British Guyanese influence onto us as well, so we grew up in quite the international, multi-cultural home. She dated an Italian, a Brit, most recently a Chinese guy, and married and divorced an Indian Guyanese guy during the time we lived in Canada. But we never really had a man around the house, since my grandmother helped raise us and we were barely allowed to keep male company without being chastised.

I went through a tomboy phase in my teenage hood, had only male friends, dreamed of having a brother, and wished I had a father. When I graduated university, I decided to move back to Iceland and be with my dad back home. Since then, I had the dilemma every year to decide whether I should spend the holiday season in Canada or Iceland, and always hoped the family could have just one more Christmas together.

my family feast on Christmas Eve

This Christmas and New Years was the first I spent in Iceland together with my entire family since 1992. My mom, dad, sisters and I had Christmas together in Canada in 1994, but it didnt turn out so great since my parents had just recently divorced and my mom had emigrated us all to Canada without telling my dad. I guess time does heal all, so 17 years later, they talked about things other than custody or money, and us sisters all grown up appreciated having both our parents in the same room to contribute to another happy family memory.

It was quite the dysfunctional occasion though. My parents get a long okay when we’re around, but they couldn’t be left alone since my dad has no patience for my mom and my mom didn’t think it was appropriate to stay at his house. They both know they’re excellent cooks and want to parent us, but now we’re all grown up and scolded them more than they scolded us. My youngest sister is engaged to be married and somehow acts like she can’t wait to start her own (more normal) family. My eldest sister wanted everything to go smoothly but is an unspoken, passive aggressivist, and I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to keep everyone busy and entertained… which wasn´t easy with record snow falls keeping us on the verge of getting stuck every time we had to go anywhere or park the car. But we only had a week and couldn´t let weather get in the way of or plans, so I was still the 24/7 driver, tourist guide, daily planner and phone secretary. However, I never minded since I was royally awarded with food feasts centered around family time every day they were here.

the first seconds of 2012

My mom has a sister in Iceland who married an Icelandic man and started a family here. My mom stayed with her and we visited our Aunty and cousins often for breakfasts, lunches and dinners prepared large enough for an entire army. We ate traditional smoked lamb with fixings, grilled leg of lamb with Icelandic mushroom gravy, lamb saddle and sheep head. On Christmas night we had lamb curry and roti, and Christmas morning we had Pepperpot, a delicious Guyanese dish made of oxtail and lamb

adding oxtail to the pepperpot

neck that takes days to cook. My friend Þráinn, one of the top chefs in Europe, came over and cooked some fine-dining langoustine for us one night. We tried every Christmas beer brewed in Iceland, and stuffed our bellies full of cookies and chocolate after every meal.

We visited our half brother, our old neighbours, and met many of my friends, including 3 hunters who fed us reindeer steak and reindeer carpaccio. We made it through the days with coffee and tea, leftover dinners, and hot dogs from hot dog stands. We rang in the new year with sparkling wine and almost got blown up by a wayward firecracker my cousin Svanur lit up too close to the balcony. We tried to make it to Vestmann Islands to visit our relatives from Dad´s side, but the weather wouldn´t allow it, or else we would have gotten to try some puffin and dried sea weed.

After a week of stuffing our faces and functioning like a family unit once again, we all had a great time secured by hundreds of photos to keep every moment of the holiday  memorable. I like watching Modern Family to remind myself we´re just one of many dysfunctional families, with an ever-evolving definition of family unit. I appeciate how unique my family is – growing up apart, getting divorced, getting engaged, living in different countries – and learnt that it doesn´t affect our family ties, since these are just the things that make us normal. I guess all families have some dirt under the carpet, with some weird element going on, so we’d be abnormal if we weren’t a little dysfunctional.

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