From Iceland — Celebrating December

Celebrating December

Published December 6, 2011

Celebrating December

For those of you visiting Reykjavík over the holidays who want to attend a Christmas mass, there are a couple options available to you.
When thinking of witnessing a Lutheran Christmas mass in town, probably the first place that springs to mind is Hallgrímskirkja. They’ll be holding two masses on Christmas Eve, at 18:00 and then a midnight mass at 23:30. On Christmas Day, there’s a mass at 14:00. Boxing Day features masses in Icelandic and English, at 14:00 and 16:00 respectively. If you’re still in town, you can also attend mass on New Year’s Eve at 18:00 and on New Year’s Day at 14:00.
For a national church setting that’s a little more cosy, you can also attend Christmas services at the Dómskirkjan cathedral, located right next to parliament, and they have foreigners in mind for some of these times. On December 18, they’ll be holding Christmas masses in Danish at 11:00, in German at 13:30, and in Icelandic at 20:00. You can catch Danish mass again on December 24 at 18:00, with a midnight mass in Icelandic starting at 23:30. On Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Icelandic masses are both at 11:00. If you’re still in town after the New Year, the bishop leads a mass on January 1 at 11:00. As this will be his last New Year’s Day mass, it might be worth checking out.
Not all Lutheran churches in Iceland belong to the national church—Fríkirkjan (located Fríkirkjuvegur 5, right across the street from the Tjörnin pond) is an independent Lutheran church, and they’ll be having Christmas masses of their own. On Christmas Eve, there’s a mass at 18:00, but at 23:30 they’ll be holding a midnight mass, where Páll Óskar will perform. Their Christmas Day mass is held at 14:00, and they’ll also be having a New Year’s Eve mass at 18:00.
The Catholics are also approaching the holidays multiculturally. On St. Þorlákur’s Day—December 23—they have masses at 8:00 and 16:00. They’ll also be having their midnight mass, at midnight on Christmas Eve, with a children’s version at 16:30. On Christmas Day, they will hold Christmas mass in English at 10:30, with Icelandic mass at 18:00. Boxing Day mass will be held at 10:30. The Catholic church is located at Landakot, at the corner of Túngata and Ægisgata.
Did you know the English word “yule” stems from a celebration that predates the arrival of Christianity to northern Europe? It’s also where the Icelandic word for Christmas, jól, comes from. There are people who still celebrate this old faith, the Ásatrú, and their Yuletide celebration—the jólablót—is open to the general public. You can witness this old and frankly moving ceremony at Öskjuhlíð on December 22 at 18:00. At 19:00, they move the celebrations over to Mörkin 6, for food, drinks and music. The general public is also welcome to attend this dinner, but you need to book in advance. This can be done through their website,
While the Baha’i in Iceland do not celebrate Christmas (except with family members), they do have a comparable holiday called the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, which is held on November 12. This festival celebrates the founder of the Baha’i faith. This is a day for communities and families to come together, and gift giving is involved.
Although there are no synagogues in Iceland and Judaism is not one of the State-recognized religions, Rabbi Berel Pewzner told Vísir that he has a list of more than ninety Jewish people living in Iceland.
However, Sigal Harmeshi says the Jewish community in Iceland is very small and there is nothing organized for Hanukkah, but they will likely be have a celebration one of the nights. Jewish visitors to Reykjavík can contact:
Muslims have a holiday later in the year, too, called Ashura. Again, not related to Christmas or Yule, this is a day of fasting of special importance to Shia Muslims as the peak day of the Remembrance of Muharram. However, Sunnis also celebrate this holiday through fasting, only they do so in remembrance of the day Moses fasted to give thanks to God for freeing the Israelites from Egypt. While its date changes every year, it is held this year on December 5.
All around, the winter holidays can be rung in a number of ways in Iceland, catering to many faiths and languages.

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