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Celebrate the Holidays the Icelandic Way

by Aoife O’Riordan

Dec 5, 2022

© Visit North Iceland

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Head to Iceland this winter season and engage in some fun and unique Icelandic traditions. From hearty meals to interesting gift-giving traditions, try one of these celebrations and start your own tradition.

 

Christmas Celebrations and Feast on Aðfangadagur

On Christmas Eve, Icelanders enjoy dinner and celebrate with immediate family by eating hangikjöt. Translating to “hung meat,” this lamb meat hangs in a smokehouse for two or three weeks to create intense flavors. The savory, smoked lamb can be served raw, sliced or tartare, with potatoes in bechamel sauce, green peas, pickled red cabbage or beetroot accompanying the dish. Icelandic Christmas bread also makes an appearance at this meal — the thin, circular fried bread is a crowd favorite. For drinks, try a glass of Jólaöl, a Christmas ale made with malt and Appelsín orange soda.

Iceland

© Visit North Iceland

 

13 Yule Lads

Also known as “Icelandic Santas,” these pranksters, with fun names like Spoon Licker, Door Slammer and Sausage Stealer, fill the 13 days leading up to Christmas Day with fun. Each day, one of the Yule Lads comes to town and gifts well-behaved children who placed a shoe or stocking on their windowsill. The gifts range from small toys to candy. The naughty children receive a rotten potato.

 

Christmas Garden in Akureyri

Take a trip to the North Pole with a visit to the Christmas Garden in Akureyri. The garden features festive items and decorations from around the world, with Icelandic Christmas traditions at the forefront. Visitors can walk under legs of smoked lamb hanging from the ceiling beams and meet some of the Yule Lands. Admire decorative “leaf bread” in various patterns and browse for last-minute, handmade gifts made by artisans and craftsmen.

Yule Lads

© Visit North Iceland

 

Ring in the New Year at Hallgrimskirkja Square

Celebrate 2023 at this square with a firework display. The square, situated in the center of Reykjavik, sees an hour-long celebration of fireworks and lights from the neighboring Hallgrimskirkja Church. Another popular Icelandic tradition for New Year’s Eve includes setting bonfires at various locations around the country. Called Áramótabrenna, this celebration sees loved ones and friends gather around the bonfires while holding sparklers.

If you prefer a quieter night in on New Year’s Eve, many Icelanders gather around the television at midnight to watch the Áramótaskaup comedy special on RUV. An honored Icelandic tradition, everything goes silent during its broadcast time of 10:30–11:30 p.m. The comedy show features many of Iceland’s favorite actors, in which they act out parodies of the previous year’s events in songs and sketches.

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