Spend Christmas in Iceland like a local

Christmas is only few days away so the Christmas frenzy is at its peak in Reykjavík. After all Christmas is the most celebrated holiday in Iceland and many families tend to go all out when it comes to preparation.
We did cover a lot about the Christmas season in Iceland in our prior Christmas post but here’s some more insider information on how majority of Icelandic locals like to spend their holiest of holidays.


The celebration starts on December 23rd (Þorláksmessa) which is the biggest shopping day in Iceland.  Locals flock downtown to do their last minute Christmas shopping in the evening so downtown Reykjavík becomes very lively with stores and cafés open as late as midnight. Taking a stroll down Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s main shopping street on December 23rd is quite an experience and sort of a must if you’re visiting. Checking out the holiday lights, sitting at a cafe and grabbing hot chocolate or Christmas beer while listening to Icelandic Christmas carols and even possibly running into a yule lad or two.

Another Icelandic tradition on this particular day is to gather with friends or family and eat fermented skate (the fish). Why this tradition is so popular is bizarre because the stench of the fermented fish is so strong that it takes days getting the smell out of your house or your clothes. Then again, Icelanders do love holding onto their Christmas traditions. 

A lot of Icelanders also wait to put up and decorate their Christmas tree until December 23rd.  However that tradition seems to be changing as people like enjoying their Christmas tree a bit longer during the dark December month.

On December 24th Christmas officially starts for Icelanders. At 18:00 precisely the churches ring their bells which symbolizes that Christmas is here.  At that time Icelandic families sit down for their elaborate Christmas meal, followed with present openings. Yes, we don’t wait until Christmas morning to open presents. You may ask why and the answer is: why wait!?

Many spend the rest of the evening playing board games, some go to midnight mass and then end the night reading a book that they received for Christmas. It is a tradition in Iceland that everyone must receive at least one book for Christmas to read on Christmas eve, of course with some chocolate or cookies.

Christmas day is often spent home relaxing and/or at a family gathering. On December 26th, the second day of Christmas as we Icelanders call it, is the same as Christmas day just a bit more casual. For example many like to go out and hit the bars in the evening as bars stay open late.


Now you should have enough information to go and celebrate Christmas like an Icelandic local.


Gleðileg Jól/Merry Christmas!