Icelandic Christmas Fun and Traditions

Posted on Categories Christmas, Culture, Food, Holidays, Iceland, TraditionTags ,

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?

Posted on Categories Christmas, Culture, Food, Holidays, Iceland, ReykjavikTags , , , ,

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

A weekend of patriotism

Posted on Categories Events, Football, history, Holidays, IcelandTags , , , ,

There is a lot to feel patriotic about this upcoming weekend..well for us Icelander at least.
On Saturday, June 16th, Iceland breaks history by playing their first world cup match ever against Argentina in the World Cup 2018 in Russia. CenterHotel Plaza and CenterHotel Miðgarður will create a true World Cup atmosphere by broadcasting the match along with all other matches in the tournament. See more on our World Cup events here.

After Saturday’s World Cup celebrations, Icelanders will celebrate their Independence Day on Sunday, June 17th.
The day will be celebrated all over the country with customary parades led by marching bands and other family festivities and ceremonies. Ceremonies often include a poetry reading by a woman dressed as ‘fjallkonan’ (‘The Lady of the Mountain’). Fjallkonan is considered to be the female incarnation of Iceland and every year a young female figure (often actress) is chosen to read for the crowd in the national costume.

In Reykjavík the June 17th parade will start at 13:00 on the corner of Laugavegur shopping street and Snorrabraut (walking distance to all CenterHotels) and will end downtown at Hljómskálagarður. The parade will be lead by a pick up truck loaded with a popular local band playing fun tunes for participants.

At Hljómskálagarður there will be variety of entertainment throughout the day. The Icelandic circus will perform for the children, there will also be a puppet show for the youngest once and variety of live music on the big stage. So something for everyone. Enjoy!

Gleðilegan 17. Júní! Happy June 17th!

What we do for Easter

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5 days of Easter vacation, so what do we do…?

WE ROCK OUT..

The Reykjavik Blues Festival started yesterday so if you are a blues lover you should check it out. Big blues concerts will be hosted at the Hilton Nordica tonight and tomorrow night with both local and international blues acts performing into the wee hours of the night.

If you prefer Jazz then be sure to visit CenterHotel Plaza on Monday night April 2, as there will be a live Jazz band playing in the Plaza lounge at 9pm.

Also taking place this weekend is the music festival ‘Aldrei fór ég suður’ held in the town of Ísafjörður located in the West Fjords. It’s a great family fun and it’s free. The festival also coincides with the official Ísafjörður ski week, another reason families flock to this remote town in the West Fjords for Easter weekend.

WE SKI..

Ísafjörður isn’t the only popular ski destination this weekend because many Icelandic families travel up north to Akureyri for Easter. Akureyri, the capital of the north, is not only a beautiful town worth visiting but it has a fun little ski mountain very close and accessible from town. And on Easter weekend Akureyri hosts a big family festival called ‘Hello Easter’ with art exhibitions, concerts and loads of fun for the whole family.

For those who wish to ski but not leave Reykjavík city, Bláfjöll ski mountain is only 30 minute drive from Reykjavík and it is a very popular ski area for Reykjavík locals. At Bláfjöll you can rent skiing equipment, but make sure to dress warm.

WE EAT..

And the most important part of Icelandic Easter (for kids at least)…THE Easter Egg. THE Easter Egg is not only a large chocolate egg, that comes in various sizes and is filled with candy and other goodies. It is so much more. Read our last years blog dedicated to THE Easter Egg.

Although we adults also greatly enjoy THE Easter Egg, because how can we not; we are also excited for the Roasted leg of lamb that is traditionally served in Icelandic homes on Easter Sunday.

Don’t have access to an Icelandic family or a kitchen? Don’t worry, all three of our hotel restaurants SKÝ Restaurant & Bar, Ísafold Restaurant and Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar will be open for Easter and you can find delicious lamb dishes on their menus.

Happy Easter!

A week of three bizarre Icelandic holidays

Posted on Categories Events, Food, heritage, Holidays, Tradition, WinterTags , , , , , , ,

This week is a busy one in Iceland with international events and holidays like Valentines Day but today we’re going to focus on three quirky Icelandic holidays filled with indulgence and innocent fun.

 

Bolludagur – Bun Day

Bolludagur or Bun day is the first and yes we have a day named after a delicious chocolate glazed cream puff. Bolludagur always falls on a Monday six weeks prior to Easter and the tradition came to Iceland from Norway and Denmark and marks the start of Lent.

Lent being the time of self denial; what makes more sense than to stuff your face with puff pastry buns filled with jam and whipped cream, topped with chocolate glaze two days prior?

Traditionally local families will bake their own buns but you will find all sorts of buns in bakeries and grocery stores with variety of fillings and toppings.

Another interesting tradition associated with Bolludagur is that children in kindergarten make wooden decorated paddles which they use to spank their parents with in the morning of Bolludagur while yelling ‘Bolla, bolla, bolla’ in order to get a bun in return. A quite lovely tradition for us parents.. say no more. 

 

Sprengidagur

Sprengidagur is the day before Lent and day 2 of overindulgence.  
On Sprengidagur it is custom to eat a Lentil Soup or stew accompanied with salted lamb meat, potatoes and other root vegetables, a dish called ‘Saltkjöt og Baunir’. This meal is very savory and filling and although Icelanders don’t celebrate Lent by fasting anymore, the tradition of overeating Saltkjöt og Baunir on Sprengidagur is still very much alive.

 

Öskudagur – Ash Wednesday

The Icelandic tradition associated with this day is a bit strange. Young women would try and pin small pouches filled with ash onto the boy they fancied without them noticing.

Today however, Ash Wednesday has turned into more of a Halloween where children will dress up in costumes and walk between stores or houses and sing in hopes of receiving candy in return.

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So now you know why you’ll see children run between stores in costumes singing and the rest of the population may seem a bit dazed as most of us will be experiencing a mild case of food coma.

But don’t forget that Wednesday is not only Ashday but it’s also VALENTINES DAY and believe me when I say that we at CenterHotels are getting geared up for the day of loooove. Stay tuned on our Facebook sites.

Þrettándinn – The last day of Christmas

Posted on Categories Christmas, Holidays, Iceland, TraditionTags , , , ,

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!

Banging New Years

Posted on Categories Culture, Holidays, Iceland, Reykjavik, TraditionTags , ,

If you’re celebrating New Years in Reykjavík, you are in for a treat. Icelanders sure know how to welcome in the new year.

In the early evening families gather for a feast. New Years Eve dinner is usually not as traditional as the Christmas meal. Some always stick to the same but most families mix things up a bit for New Years.

After dinner some families like to gather around neighbourhood bonfires and sing songs about (and with) the elves and hidden people that according to old Icelandic folklore are most prominent at this time of year and actually walk amongst us on New Years Eve some in disguises. The bonfires are more for the children and there are 17 bonfires in the greater Reykjavík area and the largest one is at Ægissíða by the seaside in the Western part of Reykjavík.
Reykjavik Excursions offers a great Bonfire Tour which allows you to experience this tradition with the locals.  Also if you are interested in learning more about the strange Icelandic folklore connected to the magical New Year’s Eve, join the Magic & Mystery tour at New Year

At 22:30 everyone gathers around the TV (literally everyone) to watch Áramótaskaupið which is a sarcastic comedy show that covers the highlights of the passing years events.  You will notice the whole city shutting down during the show as everyone and their mother is inside watching it.

At 23:30, as soon as the Áramótaskaup ends, you will start to see and hear fireworks light up the sky which peak at midnight with fireworks covering the whole sky.  Icelanders blow up about 600 tonnes of fireworks on NYE so get ready for a show, it is quite breathtaking.

Keep in mind that if you are planning on enjoying the fireworks from outside, safety googles are strongly recommended and due to the pollution caused by the excess amount of fireworks; it is wise for those who suffer from asthma to rather enjoy the show from inside.

Popular locations in Reykjavík to view the fireworks from are Hallgrímskirkja church and Perlan (The Pearl). Just make sure to dress warm as it’s going to be a chilly one and of course bring something bubbly and welcome the new year with a bang!

Lastly,  like for Christmas, not all restaurants are open for New Years and the once that are open do book up fast so make sure to make a table reservation ahead of time.  Most restaurants also offer a set New Years menu that are usually a more festive version of their normal menu.
All our three hotel Restaurants will be open for New Years Eve and New Years Day and you can view our New Years menus here: SKÝ Restaurant & Bar, Ísafold Restaurant and Jörgensen Kitchen.

Have a banging New Years in Reykjavík!

Spend Christmas in Iceland like a local

Posted on Categories Christmas, Culture, Holidays, Iceland, TraditionTags , , ,

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!