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Christmas Traditions in Iceland

If it wasn’t obviously already, Christmas is my FAVORITE HOLIDAY!

How can you beat twinkling lights, the joy of gift giving (ok, getting is pretty fun too ūüôā and of course those catchy holiday tunes! I can’t get enough.
Like I said in my last post I love traditions, especially Christmas traditions. However, I always have a hard time doing things differently РI want Christmas to be just like it was when I was growing up! What is so hard about that?

This year we are staying in Iceland for Christmas, so I am set on adopting some new Icelandic traditions!While there are things that that are similar than I am used to, there are plenty of things that are different.

Christmas is hands down Iceland’s biggest holiday of the year.¬†Icelanders are firm in their traditions and celebrating with your immediate family is standard.It is common to start preparing at least a month in advance. I’m pretty sure I saw Christmas decorations at IKEA at the end of September. Since there is no Thanksgiving, this is acceptable (and a-ok with me!)

The Icelandic word for Christmas is Jól which has no reference to the church, but comes from a Norse word referring to Yule.

The Christmas holiday is 13 days long, starting on December 24th and ending on January 6th. For the most part, everything is closed from 24th-27th.

Iceland doesn’t have your typical Santa Claus in a big red suit coming down the chimney. Instead, they have 13 Yule Lads that travel across the rough Icelandic landscapes to leave a gift in children’s shoes in the 13 days leading up to Christmas.

Read more: Iceland Santa Claus – The 13 Yule Lads

Weeks before Christmas, families bake lots of cookies which are called smákökur.
They also get together to make Laufabrau√į, which¬†is a traditional Icelandic flat bread that is served with smoked lamb on Christmas night. The reason it is flat is because years ago they were trying to make the bread feed as many people as possible, and in order to make it look nicer, they started carving pretty patterns into the bread. The tools used to carve the patterns are specially made¬†in North Iceland by only a few people who know the craft!

December 23rd

This day is known as √ěorl√°ksmessa¬†and the biggest shopping day of the year. Everyone walks down Laugavegur the main shopping street in downtown. Known as the “peace walk” this is a time to see people you know. That evening, families go home and decorate the Christmas tree.
Similar to Americans, Icelanders do Christmas big. The whole house gets cleaned, everyone gets a new outfit, and there are decorations and lights inside and out. Neighborhoods and apartment buildings will even collaborate to have coordinating themes for their lights!

December 24th

Christmas is celebrated on December 24th starting at 6pm. They state that this is the beginning of a new day. Families will be together for dinner, church or festivities starting at this time. Dinner is traditionally ham, lamb or ptarmigan (a local bird that is hunted) and is prepared with help from members of the family.

READ MORE:   Our Life in Iceland - Month 10

After dinner is the gift opening.

December 25

This day is spent going around to visit extended family members. Decorations are taken down promptly on January 6th. This means the pretty Christmas lights that were brightening up the streets will make the darkness seem even darker! It will be another month before we notice longer daylight hours.

So I think the biggest difference between Iceland and American Christmas is that Christmas has a finite number of days. Although preparations start early in both countries, there seems to be a different approach.¬†Putting the tree up in early December is one of my favorite things about Christmas! And I know plenty of Americans that keep their lights and decorations up past January 6th. Sometimes we just don’t want the holiday to be over!

P.S. I saw this on Facebook and had to share it. Christmas in the 70’s vs. Christmas today – I was dying laughing!

Question:  When do you start preparing for Christmas?
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  • Bjarkey
    December 15, 2015 at 5:54 am

    In my family people said that Jesus had been born at 6 pm on the 24th.
    When I met my husband and his family for the first time they told me that Laufabrauð was an northen Icelandic tradition! Hahah I always thought everyone did Laufabrauð but that is not the case

    • Jeannie
      December 23, 2015 at 8:51 am

      I know you can buy it in the grocery stores because some people don’t want to put all the work into making it! Thanks for stopping by, Bjarkey!