Christmas or Yule in Iceland is a time for observing religious traditions and spending time in the company of loved ones. The country celebrates Christmas for 26 days, starting from 11th December and continuing to the 6th of January next year. But Iceland’s Christmas is steeped in its indigenous folklore and its unique food traditions. Your chances of experiencing a White Christmas is quite high as most of the country experiences snowfall during the holiday season. Celebrating this merry festival in Reykjavik can give you the time of your life.
The Icelandic Folktales Associated with Christmas
Santa Claus is perhaps the most recognized figure related to Christmas. But, did you know that Iceland has 13 different alternative versions of this iconic Christmas figure? They are known as the Yule Lads or Jólasveinar and are benevolent characters who leave gifts for children. According to folklore, these trolls visit children for 13 days before Christmas. The 13 trolls who come in succession on the nights leading to Christmas are the sons of an ogress named Grýla. Grýla is notorious for eating naughty children. The famous (or infamous) Yule Lads folklore adds quite a unique essence to the festival of Christmas. These characters are projected on buildings and used in decorations around Iceland during the holiday season.
Another interesting folklore has to do with the Christmas Cat. This creature is described as a gigantic black cat that preys on some people during Christmas Eve. According to the folklore, individuals who do not receive at least one new clothing item on the occasion of Christmas are attacked by the Cat at night.
Those visiting Reykjavik during the Christmas period can find many books related to these folklores and holiday traditions of Iceland. These can be the perfect gift items for tourists to take back home for their loved ones.
How Icelanders Celebrate the Festival of Christmas
Christmas is a major festival in Iceland is celebrated both as a sacred festival and an occasion for united celebration. Many Icelanders are devout Christians who attend mass during Christmas as the church bells start ringing in the evening. Those who have less preference for visiting the church do not hold back in their celebrations. Many modern-minded Icelanders enjoy hearty home-cooked meals with their loved ones. As the evening rolls on, it is time for everyone to sit around the Christmas tree and unpack their presents.
The main celebrations of Christmas usually start at 6:00 PM on Christmas Eve, when the church bells chime to indicate the commencement of festivities. This is in accordance with the Catholic traditions followed by the country’s religious institutions. Many Icelanders tune into their radios and televisions to witness the ringing of bells at the sacred Lutheran Cathedral of Reykjavik. Everyone starts greeting their friends and families as the bells chime. It is then time to have a grand Christmas feast to revel in the festive spirit.
During the holidays, every member of a typical Icelandic family works together to create bite-size baked cookies. This includes the famous gingerbread cookies and others in various sizes and shapes. Laufabrauð or leaf-bread is a special type of holiday season bread baked in many Icelandic homes on the days leading up to Christmas Day. Every delicacy is accompanied by generous servings of Christmas Ale, the most popular malt-based drink in Iceland. It is a must no matter where Christmas is being celebrated across the country’s cities, towns and villages.
Another joyous traditional activity performed by Icelanders during Christmas is a merry dance around the Christmas tree. Family members join hands to form a circle that moves around the tree, as everyone sings Christmas carols. This is generally done only within homes and is something that tourists are unlikely to witness.
The festival is quite special for children in Iceland as they anticipate the company of the Yule Lads, who are popular Christmas characters. The Yule Lads can be considered as the Father Christmas or Santa Claus equivalent of Iceland. From the evening of 12th December, children leave out their shoes outside their homes, anticipating gifts from the Yule Lads. If a child has been naughty, would result in receiving potato from the parents. Although the grim tales of the Yule Lads were earlier used to scare children, the popular culture now portrays them in a friendly but mischievous light.
Spending Christmas in Reykjavik
Any discussion of Christmas in Iceland is incomplete without the mention of the capital during the holiday season, as it is where most Icelanders reside. During the festive period, Reykjavik witnesses a sharp increase in tourist footfall. People from all corners of the world come to this city to join in the celebrations and also explore the attractions in and around the city. The spirit of celebration is quite evident in the city right from the start of December. The vibrant capital comes alive with the multicolor hues of Christmas lights and decorations.
Locals and tourists alike spend their time out in the town or go on Christmas shopping sprees across the various malls and markets of Reykjavik. The holiday season is the best time to view the Icelandic capital in its full glory. The Christmas markets of Reykjavik draw countless residents and visitors, who spread out in search of gifts, souvenirs, and special holiday items. The Flea Market Kolaportið, Hafnarfjörður Christmas Town, Heiðmörk Christmas Market, and the Árbær Open Air Museum market. You can shop to your heart’s content and snack on some delicious street food in the capital.
Tourists should keep an eye out for special events that are held around Christmas in Reykjavik. Do as the locals do and enjoy the company of your loved ones, with generous accompaniments of food and beverages. December is a great month to travel to Iceland and seeing its capital in its illuminated glory. Some of the holiday season attractions in Reykjavik include lavish Christmas buffets, countless small pop-up markets, and Christmas-themed performances at different venues. There will rarely be a dull moment, as the city and its residents assign great importance to celebrating Christmas.
Christmas celebrations in the Icelandic capital city has intensified over the last decade, due to the sharp rise in tourism. Locals welcome tourists with open arms during the holiday season as they have more people to celebrate with. The city streets are busy with large crowds of people celebrating at its cafes, markets, concert venues, and entertainment locations. Tourism can be credited with making Christmas a grander affair in Reykjavik. You can plan a trip with your family and friends and have your best Christmas yet.
How You Can Celebrate Christmas in Iceland
Most tourists tend to travel to Reykjavik during the holiday season to witness the city’s festive spirit. You can watch the magnificent play of fireworks in the night sky, go click-happy in the sea of amazing lights and decorations and interact with the locals. There is a lot to do and a lot to see and many great ways to make the most of your time. Although most people choose Reykjavik for obvious reasons, you can have fun both in the city and away from it. Take a look at the list below to plan your Christmas itinerary.
Go on a Christmas walking tour - Reykjavik offers a great number of walking tour options to tourists. You can book a Christmas walk or walking tour if you are there during the holiday season. Experienced local guides will take you on a trip between the most important locations of the city. You will learn a lot about the history, culture, traditions and food traditions of Icelanders from the guides. They will also show you the city’s key architectural marvels, and lead you to the best street food destinations. On average, a walking tour during Christmas lasts anywhere between 2 to 3 hours. It is the best way to explore the city if you are traveling with your family members.
Taste the festive flavors of Iceland - Whether you are in Reykjavik or any other Icelandic town during Christmas, make it a point to gorge on the country’s favorite holiday delicacies. The must-try item is fermented skate, which most Icelanders love eating on 23rd December. You can sample skate on a street food hunt or book reservations at Reykjavik restaurants. Make sure to book in advance to prevent unavailability issues. You should also try to sample some famous Christmas ale to make your evenings even merrier. Some other famous Christmas foods to enjoy in Iceland include Laufabrauð, Piparkökur, ptarmigan, and Hangikjöt. You can choose from a vast array of dining options offering traditional Icelandic fare, and also attend special buffet locations across Reykjavik.
Do some sightseeing - Countless tourists visit Iceland during the holiday season and most of them prefer to do some sightseeing. While some are content with exploring the towns surrounding Reykjavik, others seek out adventures in the diverse landscape. An excellent option is availing the Golden Circle Tour that covers various southern Iceland destinations. You can hop onto a bus and visit some of the most iconic Icelandic attractions including the Geysir geysers, Gullfoss waterfalls, and the Þingvellir national park. There are usually many available tour options that cover other key destinations near Reykjavik. Local guides will take you between these locations and show you their best features. Some tours from Reykjavik take you to the southern coast and southwest to the Blue Lagoon. You could avail these options and be back in Reykjavik by Christmas Eve.
Seek out some adventure - You can make your Christmas holidays memorable with daytime adventure activities in Iceland. Some of the best options include taking horse riding tours through the snowy wilderness, venturing out on a hiking expedition, or gliding on a glacier with a buggy vehicle. All of these options can be availed as daytime tours from Reykjavik, as the city is surrounded by some amazing natural attractions. Horse riding tours will take you across many farms, lava fields, meadows and highlands. Hiking options are plenty and you can opt for either short-distance day trips or longer ones that stretch over many days. Buggy tours from Reykjavik can be availed for 1 or 2 hours during the daytime. These are some excellent adventure tourism options to make your Christmas trip memorable in Iceland.
Go on a fascinating bonfire tour - Opting for a bonfire tour is one of the best things you can do to keep up your Christmas spirit while in Reykjavik. Many huge bonfires are lit on New Year’s Eve across various points of the city. New Year’s Eve in the capital (and all of Iceland) is marked by skies full of amazing fireworks displays and bonfires on the ground. You can avail a bonfire tour on the last day of the year, and welcome the New Year in the company of thousands. Standing in front of a huge bonfire as you watch the sky light up in many hues is a truly unbelievable experience. This is something you should do to get the best holiday season experience in Reykjavik.
Christmas in Iceland is a time of great enjoyment, excitement and social harmony. The country does not celebrate western festivals like Thanksgiving or Halloween, but starts preparation for Christmas from September. Tourism sees a surge during the holiday season as many tourists dream of experiencing a perfect White Christmas in Iceland. It is a great time for you to visit the country. Whether you want to celebrate in the Capital Region or pack in some sightseeing, there are ample options. Be sure to book accommodations and tour slots early as they are in great demand.
Enjoy your best Christmas experience of your life in Iceland.