What makes Icelandic Christmas special

We LOVE our Christmas traditions in Iceland and most families hold onto them very tightly.  As a matter of fact Iceland is so full of Holiday traditions that it’s not easy covering them all in just one blog post. We did our best but keep in mind that December has just started so there is more to come. 

 

Advent and the Christmas spirit

It will certainly not go unnoticed when Christmas season in Iceland begins as it becomes a 6 week party for all of your senses.
The season starts for most when Advent begins which is the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas. This is when you see Christmas lights and decorations pop up everywhere, you will hear the sound of Christmas music and get a whiff of gingerbread cookies and mandarins wherever you go. The stores become busier and public places generally more lively.  So in other words this is when you start to see, smell, hear and feel the spirit of Christmas everywhere around you.

 

The 13 Santa Clauses or Yule lads

Originating from Old Icelandic folklore there are 13 mischievous pranksters that live in a cave in the mountains and in modern days these lads have somehow become the Icelandic version of Santa Claus. Each Yule lad has their specific idiosyncrasy and will behave in a particular manner. For example Pot Licker steals leftovers out of pots, Door slammer likes to slam doors, especially during the night, and Skyrgámur has an affinity for skyr (Icelandic version of Greek yogurt).

But they’re not just bad, because starting 13 days before Christmas they come to town, one each night, and leave a treat in children’s shoes (or a rotten potato, depending on how the child behaved the preceding day). This is why children place their favourite shoe in their bedroom windowsill each evening starting 13 days before Christmas and of course try to be on their best behaviour in order to get a nice treat from Santa.

 

Fun time for the whole family

This is the season for kids after all so what really sets the Christmas tone in Reykjavík is the Christmas ice skating plaza, located at Ingólfstorg square, across from CenterHotel Plaza. You can rent ice skates for 990 ISK and enjoy food, drinks and other goods while getting into the Christmas spirit.  The ice rink is open every day until December 24 from 12:00-22:00.

Another fun Christmas activity for the whole family would be to visit the Christmas village located in downtown Hafnafjörður (aprox 15-20 minute drive from Reykjavík).  It offers live entertainment and you can walk through little Christmas houses with all sorts of handcrafted Icelandic designs and yummy home baked goodies for sale and of course Santa and elves will be around greeting the children. The Christmas village is open every Saturday and Sunday in December until Christmas.

 

White Christmas and Northern Lights

Who doesn’t wish for white Christmas?  Well if you’re in Iceland you’re in luck because your chances of getting white Christmas here are a lot better than in many other places.
Your chances of seeing the northern Lights are also a reality since December is the darkest month of the year in Iceland. To view the Northern Lights in all their glory it’s best to be slightly away from the city lights so you might want to consider joining a guided tour.

 

Food & Drinks 

Again, most Icelanders hold tightly onto their Christmas traditions and certainly no less when it comes to food, with recipes being handed down generations. The Christmas meal is the most special meal of the year so we go ALL OUT.  Most families stick to the same meal every Christmas although this has changed in the last few decades.

The most common and traditional Christmas meal is smoked lamb or ‘Hangikjöt’ served with bechamel sauce, potatoes, peas and pickled red cabbage. This has been a Christmas classic for centuries.
Other popular Icelandic Christmas foods are Glazed rack of ham or ‘Hamborgarhryggur‘ which is traditionally a Danish meal or Ptarmigan ‘Rjúpa‘ which is a member of the grouse family and most people will serve it with caramelised potatoes, and of course pickled red cabbage.

Baking is also a big part of Icelandic Christmas like in many other cultures and most families will bake few sorts of cookies but one baking tradition is especially important to Icelanders and sticks out from other cultures and that is the baking of Leaf Bread or ‘Laufabrauð‘. Sometimes called ‘snowflake bread’ Leaf bread is a crispy thin cake, decorated with leaf-like geometric patterns and fried briefly in hot oil or fat and served with Christmas dinner.

We also have our traditional Christmas drinks, like Jólaöl which is a mixture of local non alcoholic Malt drink and orange soda and Jólaglögg or Mulled Wine, a spiced and usually alcoholic drink that is served warm and then of course we have a variety of Icelandic Christmas beer that are brewed only for the holiday season. Going Christmas beer tasting has become a fun part of the Icelandic holiday tradition in recent years. We suggest you visit the hotel bar and try some delicious Christmas beers.


If you are visiting Reykjavík for the holidays, we recommend booking a table at a restaurant in advance for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve as not nearly all restaurants are open those days and the once that are open book up quickly.  Most restaurants also offer a set holiday menu that are usually a more festive version of their normal menu.
All our three hotel Restaurants will be open those days and you can view our holiday menus here: SKÝ Restaurant & Bar, Ísafold Restaurant and Jörgensen Kitchen.