If it wasn’t obviously already, Christmas is my FAVORITE HOLIDAY!
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 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. I’m pretty sure I saw Christmas decorations at IKEA at the end of September. Since there is no Thanksgiving, this is acceptable (and a-ok with me!)
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.
Read more: Iceland Santa Claus – The 13 Yule Lads
Christmas is celebrated on December 24th starting at 6pm. They state that this is the beginning of a new day. Families will be together for dinner, church or festivities starting at this time. Dinner is traditionally ham, lamb or ptarmigan (a local bird that is hunted) and is prepared with help from members of the family.
After dinner is the gift opening.
This day is spent going around to visit extended family members. Decorations are taken down promptly on January 6th. This means the pretty Christmas lights that were brightening up the streets will make the darkness seem even darker! It will be another month before we notice longer daylight hours.
So I think the biggest difference between Iceland and American Christmas is that Christmas has a finite number of days. Although preparations start early in both countries, there seems to be a different approach. Putting the tree up in early December is one of my favorite things about Christmas! And I know plenty of Americans that keep their lights and decorations up past January 6th. Sometimes we just don’t want the holiday to be over!