The holidays can be hard, starting in October when the red and green decorations begin muscling in on the Halloween aisle.
Most Wonderful Time of the Year, you say? Oh, go stuff a stocking in it, Andy Williams!
The majority of us have more in common with the Grinch, Scrooge, and/or the Little Match Girl.
Still, it’s hard to resist the preternaturally mature 11-year-old Björk reading the nativity story in her native Icelandic, backed by unsmiling older kids from the Children’s Music School in Reykjavík.
Particularly since I myself do not speak Icelandic.
The fact that it’s in black and white is merely the blueberries on the spiced cabbage.
It speaks highly of the Icelandic approach to education that a principal’s office regular who reportedly chafed at her school’s “retro, constant Beethoven and Bach bollocks” curriculum was awarded the plum part in this 1976 Christmas special for the National Broadcasting Service.
It would also appear that little Björk, the fiercely self-reliant latchkey kid of a Bohemian single mother, was far and away the most charismatic kid enrolled in the Barnamúsikskóli.
(Less than a year later her self-titled first album sold 7000 copies in Iceland—a modest amount compared to Adele’s debut, maybe, but c’mon, the kid was 11! And Iceland’s population at the time was a couple hundred thousand and change.)
As to the above performance’s religious slant, it wasn’t a reflection of her personal beliefs. As she told the UK music webzine Drowned in Sound in 2011:
…nature is my religion, in a way… I think everybody has their own private religion. I guess what bothers me is when millions have the same one. It just can’t be true. It’s just…what?
Still, it probably wasn’t too controversial that the programmers elected to cleave to the reason in the season. Icelandic church attendance may be low-key, but the overwhelming majority of its citizens identify as Lutheran, or some other Christian denomination.
(They also believe in elves and 13 formerly fearsome Yule Lads, descendants of the ogres Grýla and Leppalúði. By the time Björk appeared on earth, they had long since evolved, through a combination of foreign influence and public decree, into the kinder, gentler, not quite Santa-esque version, addressing the studio audience at the top of the act.)
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.
Hear the Album Björk Recorded as an 11-Year-Old: Features Cover Art Provided By Her Mom (1977)
A Young Björk Deconstructs (Physically & Theoretically) a Television in a Delightful Retro Video
Björk Presents Groundbreaking Experimental Musicians on the BBC’s Modern Minimalists (1997)
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She is proud to originated the role of Santa’s mortal consort, Mary, in her Jewish husband Greg Kotis’ Nordic-themed holiday fantasia, The Truth About Santa. Follow her @AyunHalliday