The Creators of the 2021 Advent Calendar | The Girl Who (Almost) Ruined Christmas

The competition for the 2021 Reykjavík City Library and Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature Advent Calendar received 20 submissions. The winning submission is “The Girl Who (Almost) Ruined Christmas,” written by Heiða Vigdís Sigfúsdóttir and illustrated by Joav Gomez Valdez.

Let’s get to know Heiða and Joav a little bit better.

Who are Heiða and Joav?

Heiða Vigdís is a master’s student in creative writing at the University of Iceland. When she was little, she wanted to become a dentist, economist, writer, and president. That’s why she completed a bachelor’s degree in economics with a minor in history at UI. Then she changed her mind and decided to let her pen take over her life through creative writing.

She enjoys writing for the youngest of readers, who inspire her a lot. Heiða loves hanging out with kids and has, for example, worked in education in Fellaskóli and in Mexico City where she worked at a community centre for homeless boys.

Joav is a tattoo artist and illustrator living in Reykjavík. He was born and raised in Mexico City and moved to Iceland in 2019. Joav completed a law degree in his homeland but set aside his law books early on to begin studying graphic design in Veracruz. That’s exactly where the gulf stream that keeps Icelanders alive originates, and the sun in Veracruz is so hot that sneakers almost melt when they touch the pavement (Joav finds it a bit cold in Iceland, especially at this time of year).

Joav has worked as a tattoo artist for eight years. In his illustrations, he draws inspiration from the occult, tarot, and the beliefs of Indigenous people in Central America, such as the Aztecs and Maya. For the Advent Calendar, he also drew inspiration from Tryggvi Magnússon’s drawings in the classic poetry book Jólin koma (e. Christmas is Coming) by Jóhannes úr Kötlum.

Where did you meet?

Heiða: I moved into a huge commune at Cerrada Torreón 19 in Mexico City with my friend Helga. There were young people from all over the world living there and also a housekeeper who lived in the basement. Everyone was deathly afraid of the housekeeper, who tried to run the house with an iron fist, a bit like the woman in the basement in the Advent Calendar. I lived in room number 12 and Joav lived in room six.

Joav: I was planning to move into another apartment with a hot tub on the roof in Mexico City’s fanciest neighbourhood. But after I paid the landlord a deposit, he disappeared off the surface of the earth and shut off his phone number. I hope that he didn’t lose his phone, I happen to remember that it was a very nice one. I never got the deposit back and crawled back to the housekeeper with my tail between my legs and asked if I could rent room number six at Cerrada Torreón 19. That’s where I met Heiða.

What’s the moral of “The Girl Who (Almost) Ruined Christmas”?

Heiða: I think children are usually better at understanding stories than adults so I look forward to hearing what they think the moral is. The story is about a curious, eight-year-old girl who sets off unexpectedly on a perilous journey just because she badly wants a cute, little kitten. Instead, she meets various characters, who most Icelanders thought didn’t live in the human world. Of course, the story is also about the true spirit of Christmas, or about what really matters during Christmas. “The Girl Who (Almost) Ruined Christmas” is also about cats in apartment buildings and how odd grown-ups can be.

Joav: Maybe the moral is about encouraging children to be curious and ask questions. Maybe it’s about following your dreams, or maybe the moral is just about how awesome cats are! Another fun thing about the story is that it aims to revive old stories and give them a brand-new moral. You could interpret it as saying that it’s always possible to rewrite stories, including your own story.

Do you use libraries a lot in Iceland or in Mexico? What do you think about when you hear the word library?

Heiða: I find libraries a bit mysterious, with countless words, gossip, truths, and secrets that I long to discover. In any case, I’ve shared a lot of secrets at libraries through the years, and sometimes truths.

I also love to get lost in libraries, both in Mexico and in Iceland. My favourite library memory is when I went to a pajama party at the old City Library on Þingholtsstræti. I remember that we used the book lift to send our teddy bears between floors, made forts out of bedsheets, and slid down the wooden railing on the staircase. I also have a good memory from Mexico City, where I once participated in an Icelandic poetry event at the biggest and coolest library that I’ve ever seen: Biblioteca Vasconcelos.

Joav: I love to go to libraries and browse through old books, where I mostly look at the illustrations. My favourite library is Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City. The books there float inside a huge hall, like at Hogwarts. There are also huge windows with a view over the entire city. In the library garden the are countless species of plants and benches where you can sit down in the middle of the daily bustle and read a good book or just close your eyes and relax.

In Mexico City, like in Iceland, there is a great storytelling tradition. Countless folk tale characters are passed down through the generations and I imagine them gathering in the Vasconcelos Library at night and coming to life. That’s exactly how libraries are: packed with adventure. And that’s also true of the Advent Calendar “The Girl Who (Almost) Ruined Christmas”. All sorts of old folk tale characters are revived in the story and are given a new life in present-day Reykjavík.

What’s your favourite thing to do?

Heiða: I think my favourite thing to do is write. I also really like to hang out, daydream, and chat. When I was in primary school, the teachers sometimes scolded me for hanging out, daydreaming, and chatting but I never really managed to obey them. Now I’m 29 years old and haven’t really changed much. I also find it incredibly fun to walk back and forth, go to Mexico, swim at the swimming pool, and improvise with my improv group Eldklárar og eftirsóttar (e. Whip Smart and In Demand). I also like hanging in my hammock.

Joav: I like drawing, listening to music, and doing yoga. But most of all I love hanging out with my cats: I have one cat in Iceland and another one in Mexico. I spend most of my time drawing and study both tarot and psychology according to the artist and therapist Jodorowsky.

Is it scary to get caught by the Christmas Cat?

Joav: Yes, it’s horrible to be eaten by a cat. But you don’t need to worry, I happen to know that the Christmas Cat doesn’t eat people anymore because he gets a lot of wet food (the woman at the Reykjavík Cat Café told me that). So you don’t have to buy new clothes before Christmas, you just have to be cozy and maybe have some hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies – or mandarins. It’s also possible to buy second-hand clothing at lots of places in Iceland.

Heiða: I still think that Icelanders are awfully afraid of the Christmas Cat. Anyway, I heard that the residents of Akureyri were so scared that they don’t even want to see a single cat on the town streets! But I can understand that, Akureyri is so close to the mountains and that’s where the Christmas Cat lives. I still called Akureyri Town Hall his morning to tell them that the Christmas Cat only eats wet food now but I only got the answering machine…

We thank Heiða and Joav for a fun interview and look forward to showing you their story every day in December until Christmas.

You can look at Advent Calendars from previous years here.