Some people like to get out of the cold weather for their holiday vacation, but if you truly want to enjoy a winter wonderland, Iceland is the place to do it.
One of the reasons Iceland is a great location for a holiday celebration is, there’s a really good chance there will be snow on the ground! In fact, in 2015, the country had a record early December snowfall of 42 cm. And the further north you go, the snowier it’s likely to get.
More than that, Iceland’s Christmas lasts 26 days and there are 13 Santa Clauses or Yule Lads. The first Yule Lad comes 13 days before Christmas Eve and the last one leaves town on the 12th day of Christmas. That’s quite a celebration!
And even though you can count on plenty of darkness during an Iceland winter, it is countered by many bright festive lights. In fact, most natives start decorating early to avoid having to hang lights in the darkness.
There’s also plenty to do in Iceland during the Christmas season. Read on to find out about activities you’re sure to enjoy.
Christmas and New Year’s Tours
A tour is a great way to take in Iceland and there are plenty that are tailored to the holiday season. Day tours are available for guests to learn about Icelandic Christmas traditions and to listen to live music in an Icelandic home.
There are also tours available that can last 3-7 days. During these trips you can hike glaciers, visit ice caves, and gaze at winter waterfalls. Don’t like being part of a group? You can self-drive instead.
Spend the Day in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is an Icelandic hub and it’s a terrific place to stay or visit during Christmastime. There is so much in the city to see and do.
There are plenty of holiday concerts taking place in the many performing centers in town.
You can also ice skate on Tjornin, the city’s local pond. But if temperatures are not ideal, there’s a rink at Ingolfstorg, right near a Christmas market providing a great way to spend the day.
Reykjavik is a terrific city to see and be seen. You can stroll downtown streets to take in the decorations and do some shopping. You can stroll to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja tower to admire the city’s lovely views or you can even hop on a whale watching tour.
Another must see stop is the Arbaejarsafn Open Air Folk Museum. During Christmastime, special exhibitions are set up to give guests a taste of what it’s like to celebrate the holidays in Iceland. Visitors can make candles, taste traditional Christmas treats and sip hot chocolate.
While in Reykjavik be sure to check out a few of their cafes where you can enjoy hot drinks, pastries and live music.
Celebrate a Traditional Icelandic Yuletide
Christmas in Iceland is called Jol which closely resembles the word ‘Yule’. It kicks off on December 21, the shortest day of the year. People celebrate this day because it is the beginning of days starting to get longer. The celebration is called The Festival of Lights.
Over the years, the Festival of Lights became influenced by Christianity as well as Danish and American customs. As a result, Danish decorations are displayed and Danish foods are served including a hog roast glazed with Coca Cola.
The holidays are also marked by the arrival of the 13 Santa Clauses. These include the traditional fat Santa dressed in red as well as the Yule lads who are mischievous characters that more closely resemble skinny Icelandic trolls.
Although Christmas is celebrated for 26 days, the festivities officially kick off on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, families gather together and eat multi-course meals. Then they open their gifts.
Many cap off their evenings with a Midnight Mass although some stay home and play games and read with their loved ones.
Traditional Christmas gifts include candles and playing cards. Although the gifts given may vary, there is almost always a book thrown in. The Icelandic people are obsessed with books.
Christmas Day is spent eating good food and relaxing with family.
Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is reserved for partying. People go out to have a good time with friends and bars are usually open late to accommodate them.
The 23rd of December has its own reason to celebrate. During this night, bars and shops are open late as people gather in town to mingle. Some purposely leave their Christmas shopping for this date to give them a chance to be in the center of things.
Before going out for Porlakmessa, many people eat a dinner of a type of fish called skate. Skate has a strong aroma so you can smell when someone has eaten it. Then they go out and party all night. To each their own, right?
Eat Traditional Foods
During your stay in Iceland, you will want to get a taste of the traditional foods, especially those served at holiday time. Be warned that many of the restaurants will be fully booked during Christmastime so you will want to make reservations well in advance.
But even if you miss out on eating at an Icelandic restaurant, you can still stop in at shops and bakeries to eat Icelandic treats including chocolate and gingerbread cookies, licorice tops and more. One of the most prestigious Icelandic treats is the Sara. It is an almond macaroon with a biscuit base filled with chocolate cream and dipped in chocolate.
The cookie was created by a Danish pastry chef to commemorate when French actress Sarah Bernhardt arrived in Denmark to announce the publication of her memoirs in Danish. Although it is a Dutch treat, it is quite popular in Iceland and, may we add that it is absolutely delicious?
Other Icelandic treats include reindeer meat, Hangikjot or smoked lamb, Ris a ‘amande or rice pudding and a non-alcoholic Christmas drink called Ale that is a mixture of an orange fizzy drink called Appelsin and malt.
Iceland is truly magical around Christmastime. Will you be putting it on your destination list for the coming season?