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Christmas in Iceland: Iceland's Christmas Traditions

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Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik City of Culture Com.
This article is part of the series Christmas in Scandinavia

Spending Christmas in Iceland? Learn about Iceland's christmas traditions here. First of all, "Merry Christmas" in Icelandic means "Gleðileg jól (og farsælt komandi ár / and a happy new year)!"

When planning a vacation during christmas in Iceland, it is always helpful for visitors and travelers to get acquainted with local Icelandic Christmas traditions and different customs.

Christmas in Iceland is an interesting experience as this country has many old traditions for celebrating Christmas. Expect no fewer than 13 Icelandic Santa Clauses! In Iceland, they are called jólasveinar ("Yuletide Lads"; singular: jólasveinn). Their parents are Grýla, a mean old woman who drags off naughty children, and Leppalúði, who is not as mean. The origin of these "Santas" is centuries old, and each has its own name, character and role.

Nowadays during Christmas in Iceland, their function is to come to town bearing gifts and candy (and a prank or two). The first jólasveinn arrives 13 days before Christmas and then the others follow, one each day. After Christmas, they leave one by one. The Icelandic Christmas season lasts 26 days.

Thorláksmessa (mass day of St Þorlákur) is celebrated on 23 December. Shops are open until 23:30 (how about the 10 best Scandinavian gifts) and then close for three days during Christmas in Iceland. Many attend midnight mass. The main Christmas celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, including the gift exchange.

A special Icelandic custom for children is to put a shoe in the window from December 12 until Christmas Eve. If they have been good, one of the "Santas" leaves a gift - bad children receive a potato.

On New Year's Eve many people attend community bonfires and exchange visits. At midnight there is a spectacle of fireworks when almost every home in Iceland will light its own fireworks.

Iceland's holiday season ends on January 6, with a special celebration of the Twelfth Night. This is when elves and trolls come out and celebrate with the Icelanders, dancing and singing. On this day, the festivities of New Year's Eve (bonfires and firework show) are repeated in smaller extend all over Iceland.

Go back up to the main article Christmas in Scandinavia for more Christmas traditions!

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