Icelandic Culture
26 November 2020

Two advent Christmas traditions in Iceland

Christmas in Iceland, doesn't it sound magical? Well, it is.

With the dark evenings lit up by Christmas lights, walking around downtown Reykjavík and stopping at a cafe for some hot chocolate and a snack is certain to put you in a holiday mood. 

In Iceland, the Christmas season starts with the advent, four Sundays before Christmas Eve. Like every country, Iceland has some unique traditions surrounding Christmas and the advent. We want to tell you about two of them.

advent candles

Candles are a must on advent

The holiday season is the season for candles and lights. In Iceland, there are three ways you can connect the advent to candles. 

  1. First off, the Christmas countdown candle. Every year households buy a candle with numbers on it ranging from 1-24 and they burn down one number every day until Christmas. It keeps us excited about what is to come later in the month. 
  2. The second way would be the advent wreath. The advent wreath is a wreath with four candles that get lit one by one every Sunday of the advent. Each candle has a name after the nativity story. The prophecy candle, the Bethlehem candle, the shepherd's candle, and the angel candle. 
  3. The third way Icelanders connect candles to the holiday is through the prankster yule lad Candle-Stealer. He’s the last yule lad of 13 brothers to arrive in town. He is known for stealing candles from homes and sometimes leaves a present instead if the kids have been nice. Actually, most kids have outsmarted Candle-stealer and have already picked a candle for him to “steal” and leave it on the windowsill.

Aurora Borealis in winter

Leaf bread - a nice family activity on the advent

No Christmas in Iceland is complete without frying and eating leaf bread or ‘laufabrauð’. The bread is really more of a deep-fried, paper-thin cracker that we enjoy during the season, coated with butter. The real challenge, though, is to cut intricate designs in the bread before frying. Many families gather around sometime during the advent and spend a whole day together making leaf bread. If you decide to spend your advent in Iceland, be sure to taste some leaf bread, you´ll find a commercially baked one in every store. They’re not “quite” like the home-made but pretty close.