A favorite tradition is the annual Christmas buffet or “jólahlaðborð.” Starting now, many restaurants and hotels will offer Christmas buffets that include seasonal dishes like smoked lamb, paté and pickled herring. Just be sure to make a reservation!
To kick off Christmas, Icelanders gather in Reykjavik to see the annual lighting of the Oslo Christmas Tree. Families gather in Austurvöllur Square to see the beautiful tree light up the area. The Oslo Christmas tree is a yearly donation from the city of Oslo, Norway to the city of Reykjavik as a token of friendship.
Icelanders love spending time with family during the holidays, some extended family may even be flying back to Iceland for the Christmas season!
Ljósin (lights) help Icelanders signify the start of the Christmas season. Advent lights are lit around the end of November and are staples in most Icelandic homes. Icelanders have two main types of Advent lights: the Advent wreath, which has four candles, and the triangle-shaped, seven-candle electric candelabra, which is placed on windowsills to shine out into the winter darkness.
One of the most popular traditions in Iceland is the Christmas Advent calendar that counts down the days until the holiday, just like the one you’re viewing now! Each day, Icelandic children can open up one day of the calendar to reveal a tasty piece of chocolate!
Óskalisti is an Icelandic wishlist. Just like in North America, Icelanders keep a list of all of the gifts they’d like to receive for Christmas in order to help friends and family with their holiday shopping!
During the holiday season, Iceland sells more books per capita than any other nation in the world. This is known as Bókaflóð, or the Christmas “book flood”. Because of the Christmas Eve tradition of taking a book to bed, hundreds of books are published and sold just in time for the holiday season to ensure everyone has a book they enjoy.
Jólakötturinn, or yule cat, is an animal from Icelandic folklore. It is said the yule cat walks around the snowy countryside during Christmas time and eats people who did not get any new clothes to wear before Christmas. Yikes!
Konfektkassi, or box of chocolates, is a popular Icelandic gift during the holidays. Many guests will bring chocolates to holiday parties, and hosts will offer them as well.
Laufabrauð, also known as Leaf Bread, is a popular Icelandic snack during the holidays! Families gather to bake the bread as a great way to spend quality time together. These deep fried wafers are a great holiday dessert and are always decorated with beautiful carvings.
Did you know Icelanders categorize their Christmas gifts? In Iceland, “hard gifts” are gifts such as toys, and “soft gifts” or “mjúkur pakki” are gifts such as clothes.
Starting today, 13 days before Christmas, kids take one of their best shoes and leave it near an open window before they go to sleep. Then, the Icelandic Yule Lads start coming to town, one per night. Come morning, good children will have a gift in their shoe from the Yule Lad. Bad children will only receive a potato. Find out which Yule Lad you are by taking our quiz!
Þrettán means thirteen in Icelandic. This represents the thirteen Yule Lads that come down from the mountains leading up to Christmas to bring children gifts or candy - and sometimes to play pranks. Be sure to take our quiz to find out which Yule Lad you are most like!
If you visit Iceland during the Christmas season, you will hear many Icelanders discussing whether it will be a white Christmas or a red Christmas (Rauð Jól). A red Christmas is the Icelandic way of saying there will be no snow on Christmas Day.
Christmas dances are very popular with Icelandic children during the holidays season. Children dance around a Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols. To make the dance even more exciting, each dance one of the Yule Lads joins the celebration and usually gives them a goody bag before he leaves. You can find out which Yule Lad you are by taking our quiz here!
Elda means “to cook” in Icelandic. Each Christmas, Icelanders cook a variety of traditional recipes to celebrate the holiday season. Popular recipes include Icelandic Dark Rye Bread (Dökkt Rúgbrauð), Venison Terrine (Dádýrakæfa) and Creamy Langoustine Soup (Humarsúpa). Try out some of these delicious recipes here. (Photo Credit: Ingalls Photography/Ariana Lindquist)
Baking cookies is an important Icelandic tradition. Each year, Icelanders love to bake and decorate gingerbread cookies, also called piparkökur, or pepper cakes.
During the holiday season, Icelanders take part in making a non-alcoholic blend of malt extracts and orange soda known as “Christmas Ale.” This was started long ago by poor locals as a way to make Christmas even more special! (Photo Credit: mbl.is/Sigurður Bogi Sævarsson)
Grýla is a mythical giant who lives in the highest mountains of Iceland. Grýla used to capture naughty children but is now mainly known as the mother of the Icelandic Yule Lads.
Iceland’s capital city has so many holiday activities to enjoy! From the Laugardalur Christmas Valley to the Holmsheidi Christmas Tree Forest where visitors can cut down their own tree, Icelanders love to visit Reykjavik during this time of year to celebrate Christmas and spend time together.
Hangikjöt, or smoked lamb, is a traditional Icelandic Christmas meal. Hangikjöt is typically served thinly sliced with both regular bread and flatbread.
As we approach Christmas Eve, Icelanders prepare to gather around the radio to tune into the national radio station, or Útvarp, to listen to Christmas greetings from all over the world and hear the church bells officially ring in Christmas Day.
Today, Icelanders will begin to decorate their trees and get ready for Christmas Day. Some Icelanders will even wait until Christmas Eve day to do this! Most of the homes will use real trees grown right in Iceland.
Aðfangadagur, also known as Christmas Eve, is celebrated on December 24. Icelanders spend the day with family eating delicious Icelandic foods like Leaf Bread (Laufabrauð). At bedtime, everyone must receive at least one book to take to bed along with some chocolates. Merry Christmas!
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