Icelandic Christmas Traditions

The Icelandic Christmas Calendar

December 23rd

Þorláksmessa (St. Thorlakur’s Day)

Þorláksmessa is the day of Iceland’s patron saint, st. Þorlákur. It’s the last day before Christmas is celebrated, so for most people this is the height of Christmas preparation. It’s the biggest shopping day of the year and many people spend the day getting the last few gifts for Christmas!

A peculiar Þorláksmessa custom is eating fermented skate. The sinus-clearing aroma and funky taste of the skate is an acquired taste, but the idea is that it will make the Christmas feast the next day taste even sweeter!

December 24th

Aðfangadagskvöld (Christmas Eve)

Christmas Eve is the most important night of celebration. Christmas officially begins at 6 pm sharp. By that time most of the nation is washed and dressed in their best clothes (ideally new clothes, to fend off the Christmas Cat) and ready to sit down to Christmas dinner. This is a very intimate and festive evening that Icelanders normally spend only with their nearest and dearest. After dinner people relocate to the Christmas tree to open presents.

December 25-26th

Jóladagur & annar í jólum (Christmas Day & The Second Day of Christmas)

Iceland has a public holiday the day after Christmas day, which is simply called the Second Day of Christmas. It’s pretty much the same as Christmas day, but this time the Christmas party is with the other part of your family. Also, on the Second Day of Christmas, many people figure they’ve spent quite enough time with their families and duck out of the Christmas party early to go partying.

December 31st

Gamlársdagur (New Year’s Eve)

New Year’s Eve is a major event on the Icelandic social calendar. The fun begins around 6 pm when most people have a big festive dinner, after which they head out to a bonfire, or brenna, to mingle and socialize. At 22:30 it is time for the eagerly awaited “Áramótaskaup” (New Year’s Jest) – an hour-long comedy special on TV. More than 90% of the Icelandic nation watches the “Áramótaskaup” so the streets are virtually deserted while it is on.

The New Year’s madness starts to build as soon as when the final credits roll, and at midnight all hell breaks loose. In Iceland fireworks are sold unrestricted to the public between Christmas and New Years, and this small nation of 340,000 people manages to fire off over 500 tons of fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

January 6th

Þrettándinn (Twelft Night)

If you didn’t quench your thirst for arson and explosions on New Year’s Eve, don’t worry, just wait till Þrettándinn (Twelfth Night)! There’s a lot of superstition regarding Þrettándinn. The last Yule lad heads back to the mountains, the elves and the hidden people move house (keep your lights on the whole night so they don’t settle in one of your dark corners), cows speak, and seals leave their skin to walk on land as men. There’s usually a bonfire where people can finish of the last of their fireworks and the kids get a visit from the elf king and queen.

More information about Christmas in Iceland