Christmas In Iceland

By: Mrs. Fessler

Merry Christmas in Icelandic is Gleðileg jól.

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Christmas Traditions in Iceland

Two reasons Christmas is so important in Iceland are the birth of Christ and the other one is the celebration of more daylight hours. It is dark in Iceland most of the day and all night during the Yule (Christmas) season. This is why people in Iceland decorate with a lot of light during the Yule Season. They decorate their homes inside and out. The main focus of the living room is a very bright Yule tree.


Christmas in Iceland has many similarities to our traditions in the United states. We both traditionally put up Christmas trees, send Christmas cards and buy gifts for family and friends. One of the most popular Christmas gifts year after year in Iceland is a book. They even refer to this time of year as the “book flood”.


One tradition in Iceland that is very different than the United States is that they have 13 different Santas in Iceland. They don’t call them Santa they call them Yule Lads. The Yule Lads do not live at the North Pole. They live in the mountains around Iceland and take turns walking to town to deliver gifts. The gifts start arriving on December 12th. The gifts are left in shoes that the children have placed on the window seal. If you are bad the Lad will leave a rotten potato instead of a gift. All of the gifts are delivered before Christmas. The lad's parents are trolls that live in the mountains. Their purpose was to frighten children. The lads have become friendlier over the years.


Christmas celebrations in Iceland start December 23 and last until the Epiphany. The Epiphany is January 6th. During this time celebrations include: lots of food, parties, lights and fireworks.

Christmas history in Iceland is based on two sources. Preparation for Christmas starts four weeks before December 23rd. The house must be cleaned and decorated as well as traditional food prepared.

Christmas Celebrations in Iceland

Christmas in Iceland has many similarities to our traditions in the United states. We both traditionally put up Christmas trees, send Christmas cards and buy gifts for family and friends. One of the most popular Christmas gifts year after year in Iceland is a book. They even refer to this time of year as the “book flood”.


The Christmas cat is a unique tradition in Iceland. Everyone in the family must wear a new piece of clothing on Christmas day. If they don’t wear a new piece of clothing, then the Christmas cat will eat them. The original tradition was that the employer would give their employees a new outfit and shoes to wear on Christmas. This was to thank the employee for all their hard work.



December 23 is St. Thorlakur Day. This is the day that St. Thorlakur died. To celebrate this day the people of Iceland typically put up and decorate their “Yule tree” on December 23rd. They also do a lot of shopping on this day. The stores stay open late for all the last minute shoppers. The food they enjoy on St. Thorlakur day is skate. Skate is a fish that has a terrible odor. The fish is flat and has a long tail.


Christmas Eve is called Yule eve in Iceland. The celebration starts at 6:00 pm on Yule eve. It is tradition to eat a family meal on this day and then open presents.


Yule day (Christmas Day) is when the extended family gets together to celebrate. The traditional meal includes a roasted leg of Lamb, a sea bird called rock ptarmigan, red cabbage, potatoes, peas and leaf bread. The leaf bread is a fried dough. The leaf bread is cut out in a pattern. One family tradition is to cut the bread into a design based on a family pattern. The dough is round, about the size of a plate.

On Christmas day families enjoy several types of homemade cookies and candies.

The second Christmas is celebrated on December 26th.

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