Christmas Traditions in Iceland

Christmas is almost there!! Today will mark the last post of "The World from A to Z - Christmas Edition" and I'm so glad to have Kaelene over here. I discovered her blog earlier this year and we've been Travel Tuesday co-hosts together. I absolutely love all her posts about Iceland and definitely want to head over there myself one day!

Hi everyone! I am Kaelene from Unlocking Kiki, just your typical American living in Iceland and blogging about the adventures life abroad throws my way. Iceland, random right? Don’t worry I have a perfectly good reason for moving up to almost the north pole. I fell for a Viking named H and followed him to his homeland. End of story.

I have been living in Iceland for over a year now and I must say, Christmas time in Iceland is magical! Last year was my first Christmas abroad and while Christmas in Iceland is completely different than what I am used to in America I loved experiencing all the Icelandic traditions. Thanks to Van for letting me take over her blog today so I can share with you all a few of my favorite Icelandic Christmas traditions!

Christmas in Iceland

Icelandic Yule Lads The Icelandic Yule Lads, known as “Jólasveinar”, begin making their appearance 13 days before Christmas arriving one by one each night and leaving small gifts for the children. 13 days of gifts as well as more Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, sounds like a great idea to me!

The Yule Lads originated from Icelandic folklore and were portrayed as mischievous trolls that would steal food and livestock and harass and scare the children. They are the 13 sons of a terrifying ogress named Grýla who is said to live in the Icelandic mountains and comes down at Christmas time to capture naughty children, her favorite snack.

Iceland Yule Lads


The early stories of the Yule Lads and Grýla were used to scare children into behaving. However in 1746 a public decree was issued prohibiting parents from using these stories to frighten their children into behaving. They have since left their life of petty crime and harassing behind, but are still known to pull a prank or two:)

Today the Yule Lads enjoy bringing joy to the children instead of scaring them. Starting 13 days before Christmas Eve one of the Yule Lads will visit the children each night and leave a gift in a shoe the children put in the window. The good children receive small gifts such as small toys, books or a piece of fruit, and the naughty children, well they get a potato in their shoe.

Yule Lads

via Giljagaur “Gully Imp”, a Yule Lad who likes to steal milk.

Walking around Reykjavik you will see different Yule Lads projected onto buildings, appearing and reappearing as if they are hopping around town hiding out. The bookstores are filled with different Christmas books all about the Yule Lads and their mischievous ways. Seeing the whole city participate in the Yule Lad’s tradition has been so fun, even if I am an adult and don’t get presents in my shoe.

Laufabrauð Laufabrauð is a dish that is traditionally ate during Christmas time and I absolutely love it! As soon as I see Laufabrauð in the stores around the end of November I start asking H's mom when we are going to make a batch. I can't get enough of this tasty Christmas time treat!

Laufabrauð, Iceland

Laufabrauð originates from Northern Iceland and is a very thin flat bread that is decorated with leaf-like, geometric patterns that you make by hand or with a brass roller. Once you have cut out your design you then fry the Laufabrauð briefly in hot fat or oil.


It took me a few tries to get the hang of making the patterns in the dough but I think I finally mastered the art of making Laufabrauð.

Laufabrauð, Iceland

We just made a batch of Laufabrauð before I headed to the states and I can't wait to share them with my family. I hope they love them as much as me, okay not really I hope they don't like them so I can eat them all myself!

Þorláksmessa - December 23rd This day traditionally marked the last day of the Christmas fast and no one was supposed to eat meat. To make up for the meatless meal they instead decided that fermented skate (a type of fish) would become the dish of the day. This dish has a strong smell of ammonia, I mean strong, and is still very popular today. Just walking past the stuff in the grocery store was enough for me to never want to try it and thankfully H and his family don't participate in this tradition.

The decorating of the Christmas tree is often done on the 23rd as well. Instead of digging into the fermented skate we opt to participate in this tradition and decorate our tree.

Icelandic Christmas tree
Christmas in Iceland

After everyone has enjoyed their meal of fermented skate and decorated their trees many flock downtown to finish up some last minute shopping, meet up with friends, or just wander the streets and see what is going on.

Christmas in Iceland

A very packed downtown Reykjavik

I think I will always just stick with the decorating the Christmas tree and shopping on this day.

Christmas Eve This is the main day of the Christmas celebration in Iceland with celebrations typically starting around 6pm. Starting the celebrations at 6pm is said to have come from an old Icelandic tradition where a new day started at 6pm and not midnight. The Christmas celebrations usually start with a delicious Christmas meal with your close family members.

Christmas in Iceland
Christmas in Iceland

After Christmas dinner gifts are opened with a new book being a popular present. Nearly everyone gets a new book on Christmas so they end their night reading before bed.

Christmas Day This day is all about relaxing and enjoying quality family time. Many families will meet with their extend family for an early dinner but for the most part the day is spent at home just enjoying each other. This was completely different from what I am use to on the 25th but I will say it was very relaxing having the whole day just to lounge around and eat leftovers.

Second Christmas Also known as boxing day, the 26th is yet another day for relaxing and eating more tasty food. I find this so nice compared to what I am use to in America, it is always so exhausting having to go back to work the day after Christmas so it is great having these extra days to just lounge around and try and come out of my food coma!

My favorite thing to do over this long Christmas holiday, take lots of winter walks. Not only do we have to work off all the food we are eating but Reykjavik is truly a winter wonderland this time of year.

Christmas in Iceland

I hope you enjoyed learning all about Christmas in Iceland. There are so many wonderful things to do in Iceland this time of the year, read more about fun Christmas time events over at Unlocking Kiki!

Thank you Van for having me on your blog today!

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13 little presents before Christmas? Best tradition I ever heard of!

What's your favourite Christmas tradition of all times?