From Iceland — Icelandic Christmas Traditions

Icelandic Christmas Traditions

Published December 7, 2007

Icelandic Christmas Traditions

The making of laufabrauð, or “leaf-bread,” is usually a family-affair taking place early in December. People gather together to cut intricate patterns into this deep-fried, thin flatbread, which is then enjoyed as a tasty snack to accompany any Christmas event or meal.

Hangikjöt – literally meaning “hung meat” – is smoked Icelandic lamb which takes its name from the old tradition of smoking food in order to preserve it by hanging it from the rafters of a smoking shed. Hangikjöt is a traditional Christmas meat, often served with potatoes in a sweet white sauce and pickled red cabbage. Mmmm…

Church & Churchbells
The main Christmas celebration in Iceland begins promptly at 18:00 on Christmas Eve, December 24, in keeping with an old Catholic custom. The ringing of the church bells of Reykjavík’s Lutheran Cathedral is broadcast on all major television and radio stations throughout the country, at which point everyone wishes each other a Merry Christmas, and sits down to eat.

Malt & Appelsín
The ultimate Christmas drink, “Christmas Ale” is created by mixing an elusive ratio of Malt and Appelsín orange soda. Although you can now buy this drink premixed, but it’s just as fun to mix it yourself, according to taste.

The Yule Lads
Descended from mountain trolls and with a mother who eats children, Iceland’s thirteen Santas are by far our most bad-ass Christmas legend. Every night for thirteen days leading up to Christmas, children put a shoe in the windowsill and the Santas come down from the mountains one by one, bringing treats each night. Naughty children receive a potato.

Walking Around the Christmas Tree
Walking around the Christmas tree is still a widespread fad at Christmas dances in children’s schools around the country, but the tradition is slowly dying out as a practice in homes. It involves holding hands around the tree and walking repeatedly in circles whilst singing Christmas carols. Hours of fun.

The Christmas Cat
To avoid, as the saying goes, “going to the Christmas cat,” children are required to receive at least one piece of new clothing in time for Christmas each year. Otherwise, the cat will eat them.

Illustration by Bobby Breidholt –

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