25 Nov 2019
Spending Christmas in Iceland can be intriguing, as you’ll very likely experience a white Christmas and enjoy many familiar traditions along with a few that are very unique to Iceland.
If you love Christmas festivities, then Iceland might just be the perfect place to visit. In Iceland, Christmas begins on December 11th when Icelandic children put a shoe in the window to prepare for the first Santa Claus which arrives with small gifts and treats the following morning (more on that later) and ends January 6th. However, December 24th is the highlight of Christmas when most businesses close by noon and families gather together to enjoy special food, making memories, and opening gifts.
On Christmas Day, everyone spends the day enjoying the gifts received, relaxing and savoring tasty baked goods and fresh coffee with friends and family. Then there’s more of the same rejuvenation time on Second Christmas, or December 26th.
During Christmas, Icelanders go all out with food, decorations, and traditions. Practically every home will be decked out with outdoor lights and an illuminated Christmas tree indoors that is covered with ornaments and garland. While that is a familiar site to most everyone around the world, in Iceland, the graveyards are adorned with colorful lights during the winter as well. Popular Icelandic Christmas foods include smoked lamb with caramel potatoes; marinated herring on rye bread, home baked cookies, and more.
Iceland’s Santa Clauses are quite different than the ever so popular one and only Santa, dressed in red that arrives joyfully in a sleigh on Christmas Eve, leaving gifts for good little boys and girls.
In Iceland, children learn of the story about Grýla and her 13 rascally sons that visit town during Christmas. On December 11th, Grýla, who is an evil ogress searches for disobedient children, while the 13 boys, known as Yule Lads or Icelandic Troll Santa Clauses busy themselves observing the children and visiting their homes at night. The Icelandic children leave a shoe in the window where a Yule Lad will reward the good children with a tasty treat or small gift, or the naughty children with a rotting potato.
As you may have guessed, Christmas is an important holiday in Iceland, as is New Year’s Day. Most businesses will be closed all day on December 25th and January 1st and by noon on December 24th and 31st. The few exceptions are generally convenience stores and restaurants, so if you plan to do shopping or prefer to dine out for the holidays, verify hours of operation and reserve that dining table well in advance.
During the month of December, it doesn’t get light until close to noon and by 4pm, it’s dark again. However, this is no hindrance for Icelanders because by 9am, it’s business as usual as residents go about their day as though it’s like any other. For visitors, this can seem a bit strange, as you take a morning walk or drive through the city in pure darkness. It takes some getting use to for sure.
If you’re yearning for a white Christmas, Iceland just might deliver, especially if you head north to Akureyri during your visit. Around Christmas, Iceland is at the peak of its winter season, so along with potential snow and ice, be prepared to experience high winds and harsh, cold temperatures (as low as -2 degrees C/28 degrees F).
Brace yourself for slippery walkways and roads, and whether traveling in a group or venturing out in your rental car dress appropriately, take your time, and embrace the beauty that will surround you.
Reykjavik offers Christmas concerts, ice-skating, shopping, and an array of special events throughout the month long merriment. In addition to traditional Christmas activities, as is tradition in many places, Iceland enjoys celebrating New Year’s Eve with parties and fireworks. The fireworks symbolize blowing up the past year and welcoming in the new one with happiness. The night is filled with parties, music, and cheer, and if you want to join in the ongoing merriment, downtown Reykjavik is the place to be.
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