Christmas is popularly referred to as the most wonderful time of the year. And certainly, so many Christmas traditions in Iceland add to that!
In Iceland, Christmas is called Jól (Yule). Jól origins are based in ancient Winter Solstice celebrations, and the season extends into the New Year. Like many Nordic nations, Iceland still honors Yule season traditions.
If you’re travelling to Iceland for Christmas this year, here are the top Christmas traditions you can expect to enjoy:
1. Start Saying “Gleðileg jól!” ASAP
“Gleðileg jól!” translates to “Merry Christmas!” Yule officially begins four weeks before December 25th, and in Iceland people start sharing warm Christmas greetings from the first Sunday of Advent. So if you’re in Iceland during this time say “Gleðileg jól!” as much and as often as you like!
2. Baking & Decorating
Icelanders typically decorate their trees just a few days before December 25th. And the days of Advent are filled with songs, stories, and baking! Most families will keep an Advent wreath, and may even sing songs as they light a candle each week. Popular baked treats during Christmas in Iceland include gingerbread cookies, chocolate cookies, and Laufabrauð (Leaf Bread). Even though Laufabrauð is technically fried – it’s a big part of Iceland’s Christmas traditions.
3. Gryla, Yule Cat, & Yule Lads
Traditional Icelandic Folklore around Yule dates back to historic poetry, which over the years turned into tales for children. At the center of these Christmas time tales are Gryla, an old woman who eats naughty children. She lives in the countryside with her husband and their thirteen sons (the Yule Lads), and their Yule Cat. During the season children put their shoes beside a window to receive presents from the Yule Lads – if they’re good. As the story goes, misbehaved children get potatoes in their shoes!
4. Attending Church
In Iceland, Christmas is traditionally celebrated on December 24th. Church bells will ring at 6:00pm and many families attend mass.
5. Roasted Lamb Christmas Dinner
One of the most well-known Christmas traditions in Iceland is Hangikjöt, the Roasted Lamb Dinner. Families enjoy Hangikjöt together on December 25th. The meal is comprised of smoked leg of lamb served with green peas and potatoes.
Bonus: Christmas Activities In Iceland
If you’re in Iceland for the Yule holiday season there’s no shortage of fun and memorable activities to fill your trip! From ice skating to horseback riding and even bonfires, there’s plenty of excitement and wonder to behold during Christmas in Iceland.
During Yule there are countless local Christmas markets in Iceland. They feature food, books, live music, ice skating and more!
Icelandic Horse Riding
Icelandic horses are much smaller than horses elsewhere, but they can still carry weight. Their size makes them great for beginner rides. Enjoy a brisk trot in the fresh air over the lava fields!
New Year’s Eve Bonfire & Fireworks
A New Year’s Even Bonfire is an annual tradition that Icelanders and tourists love! Known as Áramótabrenna (“where two years meet”), numerous bonfires burn on New Year’s Eve as friends and neighbors gather together before the fireworks display starts.