Icelandic Culture
4 December 2019

How does Iceland celebrate Christmas?

Icelandic Christmas tradition can possibly be described as, well, traditional. It is a family festival where you eat, drink and be merry.
 
So how is Christmas celebrated in Iceland? Icelanders celebrate Christmas, or to be pedantic Yule, on the 24th of December. It starts at 6 o’clock and nearly everyone tunes in to Radio 1 to listen to the Church bells ring in Christmas. 
 
Advent candles

Advent

Technically, the Yuletide begins four Sundays before the 24th. Most people have an advent wreath with four candles which are lit on Sundays. On the first Sunday, only one candle is lit, on the second two candles and so on.
 
The tradition of the wreath comes from the Western church and is mostly associated with the Lutheran practice. But Icelanders are not an overly religious nation. For most this is just a part of Christmas.
 
Many Icelanders also put so-called Advent lights out into their window, which is a lamp comprising of 7 individual electric candles. This has been a tradition since the mid-20th century and comes from Sweden. It is worth noting that the lights themselves didn’t become a tradition in Sweden until the 1980s. 
 
Reykjavik in winter

Yule Lads

On the night of the 12th of December, the first of the 13 Yule Lads, or jólasveinar, comes to town and puts a small treat in the shoe children have put out in their window. Then the Yule Lads come one by one until the last one comes on the night of the 24th. Then they leave one by one until the last one goes on the 6th of January which marks the end of Christmas.
 
Nicholas boots

Christmas holiday

Christmas is a family holiday and Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and “Second Day of Christmas” or Boxing Day are used to attend family dinner parties. Many people have all three days off and Boxing Day is a red day just like Christmas Day and Christmas Eve (after 12:00pm). New Year’s Eve is also a holiday (from 12:00pm) and then New Year’s Day as well.
 
Want to take part in the Icelandic Christmas tradition? Try to put your shoe out in the window of your hotel and a Yule Lad might come and give you a treat. Unfortunately, it is not likely to get something if you put a show in the window of your rental car.