Christmas Traditions in Iceland: If it wasn’t obviously already, CHRISTMAS is my FAVORITE HOLIDAY in Christmas History! This year we are staying in Iceland for CHRISTMAS, so I am set on adopting some new Icelandic traditions! While there are things that that are similar than I am used to, there are plenty of things that are different.
Christmas Traditions in Iceland:
CHRISTMAS is hands down Iceland’s biggest holiday of the year. Icelanders are firm in their traditions and celebrating with your immediate family is standard.It is common to start preparing at least a month in advance.
The Icelandic word for CHRISTMAS is Jól which has no reference to the church, but comes from a Norse word referring to Yule.The CHRISTMAS holiday is 13 days long, starting on December 24th and ending on January 6th. For the most part, everything is closed from 24th-27th.
Iceland doesn’t have your typical Santa Claus in a big red suit coming down the chimney. Instead, they have 13 Yule Lads that travel across the rough Icelandic landscapes to leave a gift in children’s shoes in the 13 days leading up to CHRISTMAS.
The Icelandic CHRISTMAS period is an intriguing mixture of religious practice and traditional folklore, beginning on 23 December and ending on Epiphany, 6 January. As many countries do, Iceland celebrates Christmas mostly with good food and gifts to loved ones, but unlike most countries that have a single Father CHRISTMAS / Santa Claus character, Icelandic children are fortunate enough to be visited by 13 Yule Lads.
From a relatively young age Icelandic children are told the story of Grýla, the ogress living in the Icelandic mountains. She is a dreadful character, described as part troll and part animal and the mother of 13 precocious boys (the Yule Lads). Grýla lives in the mountains with her third husband, her thirteen children and a black cat. Every CHRISTMAS, Grýla and her sons come down from the mountains: Grýla in search of naughty children to boil in her cauldron and the boys in search of mischief. She can only capture children who misbehave but those who repent must be released.
The Yule Lads:
Icelandic children place a shoe in their bedroom window each evening in the 13 days before CHRISTMAS. Every night one Yuletide lad visits, leaving sweets and small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on how that particular child has behaved on the preceding day. Each Yuletide lad has a specific idiosyncrasy and will therefore behave in a particular manner.
The CHRISTMAS Cat
Old Icelandic folklore states that every Icelander must receive a new piece of clothing for CHRISTMAS or they will find themselves in mortal danger. An enormous black cat prowls Iceland on CHRISTMAS Eve and eats anyone who doesn’t follow this simple rule. This obnoxious feline is know as the CHRISTMAS Cat.
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