Travel Tidbits – Christmas in Iceland

Gleðileg jól!

Apparently Christmas celebrations in Iceland start on December 24th. Jól is the word for Christmas of Norse origin while Yule is old English. The pre-Christian Yuletide tradition of recognizing the winter solstice and lengthening of the days is observed in Iceland though the season is celebrated for 13 days rather than 12 as per Yuletide. Today decorated trees, feasting with family and friends and the exchanging of presents are practiced in Iceland. Celebrations last from December 24th to January 6th.

A distinct Icleandic tradition is Jolabokaflod, or the “Christmas Book Flood.” The tradition of giving books for Christmas means big revenue for the publishing companies. Iceland is said to publish more books per capita than other countries around the world.

Another Icelandic tradition that also includes the number 13 is the coming of the Yule lads or Jólasveinn. They are descendants of trolls and were originally meant to scare children. Shoes are left on the windowsill in the hopes that these Yule lads will leave something nice. Apparently naughty children get potatoes. I guess that’s more useful than coal! They come from December 12 -23 and their current names are as follows:

  1. Stekkjastaur (Sheepfold Stick)
  2. Giljagaur (Gilly Oaf)
  3. Stúfur (Shorty)
  4. Þvörusleikir (Spoon-licker)
  5. Pottasleikir (Pot-licker)
  6. Askasleikir (Bowl-licker)
  7. Hurðaskellir (Door-slammer)
  8. Skyrgámur (Skyr-glutton)
  9. Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-pilfer)
  10. Gluggagægir (Peeper)
  11. Gáttaþefur (Sniffer)
  12. Ketkrókur (Meat-hook)
  13. Kertasníkir (Candle-begger)

Like many holiday traditions around the globe food is a necessary feature. From smoked lamb to fermented fish, animal protein figures heavily on the menu but there are some sweet treats and an intricate lace bread for the vegetarians. Check out the Top Ten Icelandic Christmas Foods and Drinks from the Reykjavik Food Walk.

A clean home and new clothes are a must for Icelanders at Christmas time too. Supposedly those without a new item of clothing may be eaten by the Christmas cat! To learn more about Christmas in Iceland, see the following link:




Categories: Destinations, Iceland, Tidbits, Travel

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