Christmas in Iceland

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Have you always wanted to spend Christmas in Iceland? Iceland, a country known for its breathtaking scenery, transforms into a true winter wonderland during the winter months. We tell you what special features Iceland has in store for you at Christmas.

Why celebrate Christmas in Iceland?

Iceland is an incredibly exciting country not only in summer, but especially in winter. Here we show you some highlights that you can do at Christmas time. 

  • Visit ice caves and hike on glaciers
  • Enjoy culinary delights, such as Hangikjöt
  • Take time out in the hot springs
  • Visit the beautiful Christmas markets in Reykjavik 
  • With a little luck see the northern lights
  • Stay over New Year's Eve and admire the impressive fireworks in the capital 

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Special Icelandic Christmas customs and traditions

You may already know that Iceland is a special country. Therefore, it is not surprising that Christmas is also marked by special customs and traditions. In most parts of Iceland the preparations for Christmas start in November, eating and celebrating with the family is very important for Icelanders. Before Christianity was introduced in Iceland, Christmas was a festival of lights, so Christmas lights are still very present today. Almost all houses are decorated with lights and Christmas trees are also set up and decorated, although these usually have to be imported from the mainland.

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Who gives presents to the children in Iceland

In Iceland, neither the Christ Child nor Santa Claus brings the children their presents. Instead, the children are given presents by the so-called "Jólasveinar," translated as "Christmas friends" or "Christmas people," who are often depicted as trolls. Their mother is Grýla, a troll woman with a centuries-old history who almost never lets her 13 sons out of the troll cave. But in December, when it is snowing and really cold outside, Grýla's heart softens and she lets her 13 sons wander one by one from the hill into town. Trolls only come out in the dark, otherwise they turn to stone. But in Iceland in December this is not a problem, after all there are only four hours of sunshine a day. Every 13 nights, children here put their shoes on the window sill in hopes that Santa Claus, who is allowed to enter town that day, will bring them something. But be careful! Those who have not behaved may find an old potato in their shoes. If in doubt, it may be helpful to put a few small items for Santa next to the shoes.

One could describe this custom as a kind of mixture between Santa Claus/Krampus and the Advent calendar. Each Christmas journeyman is named after the food he likes to steal the most. So on December 13 comes the "Gorge Goblin," or "Gildjagaur" in Icelandic, who goes into cow barns and drinks milk froth. On December 16, the "Pottaskefill," or "pot scraper," visits Icelandic households and scrapes leftovers from cooking pots. On 06 January, the day of the Magi, the last troll leaves human settlements and returns to the highlands.

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Christmas dishes

Traditionally, many families have the lamb dish "Hangikjöt" for Christmas dinner. Alternatively, there is smoked pork loin or ptarmigan, which are hunted during Advent. Smoked food plays a big role in the festive season, which is why it is so important in the preparation for Christmas. Everything is smoked, which one likes to eat, from lamb, over pig up to fish. It is noticeable that the Christmas meal in Iceland is very meat-heavy, and beer is often served with the meal as a drink for the adults. During the holidays, innkeepers and bars offer special beers, such as a malt beer with orange soda called "Malt og Appelin". 

Sweet delicacies should not be forgotten here. The traditional "Laufabrauð", also called snowflake bread, is a Christmas pastry that is deep-fried in fat. People also like to nibble ginger cookies and on Christmas Eve the typical dessert is hot rice pudding in which exactly one almond is hidden. The finder of this almond is especially happy because he receives a special gift. Isn't that a great tradition?

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Have we made you curious? Then come and visit Iceland with us and have unforgettable moments.

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