The Icelandic Christmas is an intriguing mix of folklore and tradition. Like most countries, Iceland celebrates Christmas with an abundance of food and gifts, yet it is laden with Icelandic traditions which makes it that little bit more special. Here is all you need to know about the festive season in Iceland, and how they celebrate Christmas.
How they celebrate
When it comes to Christmas, Iceland knows how to do it right! Christmas in Iceland lasts for 26 days (11th December – 6th January), with 13 Santa Clauses. On the first day of Christmas, each home typically sets up a Christmas tree indoors in the living room with most decorating it on December 11. Presents are laid under the tree for family and friends throughout the 13 days leading up to Christmas Day.
Iceland observes a very different gift-giving tradition than in the UK. The most common gift to receive in Iceland is a book! Icelander’s love of books has earned them a global reputation of being a country of bookaholics. On Christmas Eve, Icelanders exchange books as gifts and then spend the night reading them. Each year, every Icelander receives at least one book under the tree.
It is no mystery that Icelanders love their food, especially meat! Today, smoked meat is considered the nations favourite and is an essential part of the Christmas table. Ham, smoked lamb and ptarmigan (a medium-sized gamebird) are typically served with peas, cabbage, corn, beans, gravy etc.
Another Christmas favourite is laufabrauð (Leaf Bread). Leaf bread is a thin bread which is cut in a circular shape, with festive designs carved into it with a special gadget. This tradition originates in northern Iceland.
Icelanders also typically drink a spirit called Brennivin, or more commonly known as ‘The Black Death’. The drink is made from fermented potato mash and is flavoured with caraway. It can be considered Iceland’s signature distilled spirit, which is heavily consumed over the Christmas period.
For dessert, Icelanders favour Rice pudding. This delicious Icelandic food is made of rice porridge, whipped cream and chopped almonds. As a Christmas tradition, sometimes a whole almond is put in the rice pudding and everyone must guess who has the almond. Whoever gets the almond receives a Christmas gift!
Traditions and culture
Thirteen days before December 24, the children in Iceland leave their shoes by the window so that the Yule Lads can leave gifts in their shoes, or if they haven’t been good, a rotting potato will be gifted instead. Every night until Christmas, a new Yule Lad will visit the window, and each Yule Lad has a specific behaviour, which will reflect on how the Yule Lad will act. For example, Sausage Swiper absolutely loves to steal sausages. For the children in Iceland, the Yule Lads is the best part leading up to Christmas Day.
During the Icelandic holiday season, it is traditional for families to bake small cookies together. The most common type is thin gingerbread cookies, which can be decorated beautifully with coloured glaze and icing.