Christmas in Iceland
Christmas in Iceland is normally celebrated among family and friends. Most people start preparing Christmas on the first day of Advent, so about 4 Sundays before Christmas. Christmas in Iceland is a lot about eating and being around family. Christmas traditions and celebration can vary between people, we all celebrate differently but I‘ll try my best to tell you about my experience and traditions, without generalizing.
Normally Icelanders start preparing for Christmas at the beginning of December, people will start to put up Christmas lights and decorate. Believe me, Icelanders go all in when it comes to decorating. Around that time we also start baking and preparing food for Christmas. The season for hunting the Ptarmigan are normally only a few days in December, therefore people will be out hunting for the Christmas dinner at this time. The first Yule Lad will come to town on the 11th of December. Learn all about our Christmas traditions and what we eat here.
We celebrate few days over Christmas in Iceland, the main days are the 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 26th of December.
Before these dates we will enjoy the Advent, people will go and enjoy Christmas concerts and meet family and friends for all kinds of gathering. Restaurants and hotels throw Christmas buffets all over town, the Christmas buffets are for people to come and enjoy traditional Icelandic Christmas food, companies, friends, families and others often go in groups to enjoy these buffets together.
On the 23rd of December, we celebrate Þorláksmessa
We celebrate St. Þorlákur‘s mass, it‘s the day before Christmas. It‘s generally the day people finish the last Christmas gift, some people even have a tradition of leaving one gift for that day. Every store will be open until late and people will be running all over town to get the last present and things before Christmas. It’s the biggest shopping day in Iceland.
On this day we also come together to eat skate. Skate is a type of fish, which taste and smell quite badly in my opinion, so on this day, you can expect to smell people out on the street if they ate skate earlier.
Christmas Eve is when the main celebration happens for Icelanders, on this day everyone will put on their best clothes and families celebrate together. Throughout the day someone is cooking in the kitchen, in my family we eat Ptarmigan which my dad hunts and my mom and grandma cook. They normally start preparing everything around midday and we always eat at 6 o‘clock which is an old tradition, back then a new day started at 6 pm, not midnight. People eat all kinds of things for Christmas you can read more about that here. At 6 o‘clock there is a live stream of a mess on the radio so when the church bell rings at 6 pm it‘s Christmas time. After dinner which normally only takes about 1 hour to finish (at least if you have children in your home), then everyone gathers and open their present. All the kids are so excited to open their presents that all the work that is put in the preparation and food, is normally not given much time to enjoy.
Christmas day is usually the day where everyone stays in pajamas and enjoy their present until the afternoon, then extended families come together to eat Hangikjöt (smoked lamb meet). With that, we will have Laufabrauð or leaf bread to accompany it.
Annar í Jólum
Boxing day, yet another day to go enjoy the holiday with friends and family. On this day families do come together to eat once again. On Christmas Eve and Christmas day public entertainment is forbidden, on Boxing day partying and dancing is allowed again, therefore a lot of people go out to party on this day.
New Year‘s Eve is one of the most celebrated days of the year in Iceland. This is the time to celebrate what the year has brought us and to welcome a New Year. On this night many people come together and eat good food and drink champagne. Around 10 pm everyone in Iceland that has a TV will sit down and watch the annual comedy show called Áramótaskaup. Every year someone gets the honor to create this comedy show, most often some Icelandic actors or comedians. This show is normally the show that gets the most critic and if the show is bad people will talk about it for years. After the show it‘s getting closer to midnight, then people will go outside to blow up the Old Year and welcome the New Year, as Icelander say, most Icelanders will go outside to blow up fireworks and when I say fireworks it‘s not just small crackers we are talking huge fireworks and all sorts of exploding things full of powder. The whole sky normally lights up with fireworks for an hour or so. After that Icelanders will go out and party until early morning and celebrate the New Year.
Christmas in Iceland is a lot about food and family. If you got family, friends, and food you will have good Christmas that’s for sure.