Storytelling evolved out of the Icelandic oral tradition that dates back to the period of settlement of Iceland in the 9th and 10th centuries. A local storyteller, Iris Torfason has been reciting poetry since childhood when she won awards for her recitations. Today, she is well known in the Calgary Icelandic club as a local storyteller who can either read or recite stories in both English and Icelandic. Some stories that she tells are personal stories; others are stories from the sagas. Yet others that she tells speak to the history of the Icelanders in Alberta. One story that has been a favourite Icelandic story for centuries is that of the 13 j6lasveinar , the Christmas lads, who are a cross between trolls and elves. Their parents, an unsavory pair, send their sons, one by one, from their home in the mountains down into the villages to play tricks on people and scare little children beginning on the night before the 1th of December. Each lad is accompanied by the family’s evil cat that is on the lookout for naughty children to eat. Eachj6lasveinar has a name and a particular trick that he tries to play on people. For example, one lad is a sausage stealer. He climbs up to the rafters of a home where he sits in the smoke and eats the family’s sausage. Parents recite this story to their children even today to encourage good behavior before Christmas. Torfason can encourage audience children to act out the roles of the 13 j6lasveinar. The story takes 15 – 30 minutes to act out.
Iris Torfason has taught school for 52 years including classes in creative writing when she lived in Las Vegas 1991- 1997. She is quite comfortable speaking and interacting with groups of people. In addition to her storytelling, Torfason can also recite in either English or Icelandic some of Stephan G. Stephansson’s poetry and speak to the Icelandic oral traditions. If she were to include the jólasveinar story she uses props such as a window, a cane, a toque and scarf, an Icelandic sweater, ragged socks, a bowl with a wooden spoon, a sausage and candles as well as beards that the participating audience children would wear.