Icelandic Christmas Fun and Traditions

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We LOVE our Christmas traditions in Iceland and most families hold onto them very tightly. 

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. If you’re a well behaved CenterHotel’s guest; you may even receive a little surprise 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 1.190 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 market in Heiðmörk, a  woodland located on the outskirts of Reykjavík.  You will find vendors selling handcrafted Icelandic goods, you can grab coffee or hot chocolate and of course Santa has been seen walking around greeting visitors. The Christmas village is open every Saturday and Sunday in December until Christmas. Get directions here. 

Harpa concert hall has many Christmas concerts during this time of year and the theatres around town are busy with performances of all sorts every day.

There will also be fun happenings and Christmas related music events at CenterHotels in the month of December so you can be sure to get in the Christmas spirit if staying with us. See our Centertainment schedule here. 

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.

Have fun in Reykjavik in December!

Will you be spending the holidays in Reykjavik?

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Spending Christmas in Reykjavík?

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.

If you are so lucky to be 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 that are open for these nights offer a set holiday menu which 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 and make your reservations here below:

SKÝ Restaurant & Bar

SKÝ Restaurant & Bar is located on the top floor of CenterHotel Arnarhvoll and offers a spectacular view over down town Reykjavík and the mountain range beyond the Faxaflói bay.SKÝ Holiday Menus

Ísafold Restaurant

Ísafold Restaurant is located at CenterHotel Thingholt and offers delicious food and fine drinks. Ísafold takes pride in offering guests tentative service and quality food which is locally sourced. The suppliers are handpicked by the head chef.Ísafold Holiday Menus

Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar

Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar is a casual dining Nordic fusion restaurant located in Centerhotel Midgardur. Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar specializes in offering a taste of traditional Icelandic cooking mixed up with modern and international flair. The outcome is delightful.Jörgensen Holiday Menus

Þrettándinn – The last day of Christmas

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Þrettándinn-The Thirteenth

 

January 6th, or the Thirteenth as Icelanders call it, is considered the last day of the epic Christmas season in Iceland.  This is the day when Christmas decorations are taken down and when the last of the 13 Yule Lads, Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar), returns back to his home in the mountains.

Many Christmas lovers get the blues on this particular day, but on a brighter side, this is also a day that people celebrate in Iceland.  Like on New Years Eve many families come together around big elf themed bonfires and sing and dance with elves and Yule lads.
According to Icelandic folklore mystical, supernatural events are connected with New Years and the Thirteenth as well as Christmas Eve and Midsummer night.  These dates in a way border two worlds, our world and the world of the hidden people and the supernatural.
Various things gain special powers on these nights for example seals become human, cows gain the ability to speak in human tongue and the hidden people including elves become visible and some walk and dance amongst us.

There will be several bonfires in the greater Reykjavík area and the one closest to downtown is at Ægissíða by the seaside in the Western part of Reykjavík.

Oh and last but not least, get ready for more fireworks! Icelanders do like to make the most out of their holidays after all. 😉

Happy Þrettándinn!

Spend Christmas in Iceland like a local

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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!