Exams are over and it’s almost time for us to fly back to the US for what promises to be an absurdly (but not at all unexpectedly) warm Christmas. Like, 70F and sunny, guys. It’s going to be great. In the meantime, here is your weekly moment of Icelandic Christmas zen.
“Svona eru jólin”
Björgvin Halldórsson, Eyjólfur Kristjánsson, and the Öldutún School Choir
To set the scene as you’re listening, I refer to the description posted by YouTuber Strange-o-Rama on the video above:
I remember hearing this song as a little kid, sitting down on the Living room sofa and staring at the tree with all the presents under it and looking into the kitchen, where my dad was hard at work, preparing the Christmas Turkey. I looked out the window and all I saw was black. It was pitch black outside even though It was only about 17:20 in the evening. As I looked out the window…It suddenly began to snow. Little puffs of white slowly drifted down to the ground behind the window. What I felt at that moment, I can only describe as the spirit of Christmas itself. The complete and utter happiness, calmness and all around love I felt was overwhelming. I felt incredible. I hope you will find this feeling this year too. Have a merry christmas everyone.
You feel a little teary and totally pumped, right? Me, too. Listening to this song once always makes me want to listen to this song twice. While fist-pumping and slowly swaying. In preparing to write this post, I have already listened to it four times. It. Is. Epic. I love the na-na-nas, I love the key changes. I love the echoey chant-singing. I love that the guest singer on this song also competed in the 1987 Icelandic TV Song Competition with this equally amazing gem of a song. (The outfits! the spinning RÚV logo! Wow!)
Basically, the title means “So this is Christmas.” Although it could probably be translated as “Christmas is like this,” too, since the word “svona” is basically a catch-all kind of word for ‘like this.’ It’s great for pointing at something you don’t know the word for, or can be used as a stand-in for a whole slew of directions that you can’t easily say in Icelandic. I want svona pastry [point]. Kids, cut out your paper snowflake svona [demonstrate complicated crafty cutting].
The title and chorus line also makes for a great pronunciation/language exercise. For one, you’ll notice (or you’ll believe me) that the word ‘jólin’ is not only a plural, it’s also got a definite article attached. (So, very, very literally, but not at all accurately, the title is “So this are the Christmases.”) Christmas is always pluralized in Icelandic. If there is a reason for this, I do not know it. The word often has an article attached, too. Why? I’m not sure, but I assume that it is, as one of my teachers used to say last year, Af því bara. Just because.
Pronunciation-wise, you may hear that they are actually singing Svon-eru instead of pronouncing the ‘a’ at the end of svona and saying Svo-na er-u. That’s because—fun fact—unstressed vowels at the end of words are generally dropped when they precede words that also start with vowels.
Now that you’ve had your little Icelandic lesson and listened to the song once, I encourage you to turn right back around and listen again. Or else, you can check out this spoof version that was done by comedian duo Auddi & Sveppi, guest starring a bunch of other TV/Icelandic personalities (many of which I am not super familiar with myself) at popular locations around Reykjavík.