Monday 4 December 2023

Christmas in Iceland

Hello Friends!

I thought today I'd share a little bit about Christmas in Iceland. In some ways, it is similar to Christmas in Wales but in other ways, it is very different indeed. First, we'll take a brief look at the National Folk Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik. It's a small collection of traditional Icelandic buildings constructed from wood and turf.

Please note: the majority of these photographs are photographs of the original 35mm film images.

National Museum of Iceland 

A small brass band entertains, while the guide in the foreground is wearing a traditional cloak woven from Icelandic sheep fleece.  She will be warm and cosy in her cloak, whatever the weather.  It was a very beautiful garment, of which I was quite envious!


A few various photographs of interiors. There is a traditional fir tree as we would know it, however, the majority of the decorations will be handcrafted. Very often they are made out of recycled materials.  Until fairly recently, post WWII, importing of manufactured goods to Iceland was often intermittent, unreliable and expensive, so there is a strong history of make do and mend, recycling and upcycling.  Improvements to transport may have changed all that now, but the museum continues to preserve the ethos of bygone days.

Trees were hung with paper cones of sweets, and small baskets made out of hexagonal shapes cut out of last year's Christmas cards and stitched together with yarn would be filled with cookies and other sweet treats.  These ladies are making cones and baskets to sell.  The homemade tree was commonplace, instead of a real fir tree.
The emphasis is very much on home made, recycling, good food, and above all, family time.

Knitted ornaments, shapes woven from straw, woven paper hearts, and candles are also traditional Christmas decorations.

A traditional food served at Christmas is Laufabrauð, an unleavened flatbread {you can read more here} made using a special type of cutter.  The cuts are then folded into intricate patterns before the dough is cooked.

I purchased this paper cut replica at the museum, as made by the ladies, above.

This is a traditional cutting iron for sale in the museum shop {photo from site}

Another tradition in Iceland are the Yuletide Lads. These are the thirteen sons of the ogress Grýla and they come down from the mountains, one a day until on the 25th of December, all the boys are here. and then one by one they return to the mountains.  Each of them has an attribute for creating havoc, with Anglicised names such as Pot  Licker, Skyr Gobbler, Door Slammer, Sausage Stealer, and Window Peeper.   

You can read more about Grýla and her infamous Black Cat, and there's a full list of the Lad's names here.

Icelandic children do not put out Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve. But for the 13 days before Christmas, when the Icelandic lads are coming down out of the mountains, they put a shoe by the door or the window sill and if they have been good children they get a treat in their shoe, but if they have been naughty, they receive a potato.

Over the years, the fear of Gryla and her sons has softened somewhat, but in centuries past it must have been a very frightening time for small children especially in the deep dark days of an Icelandic winter!

A wonderful Christmas tradition they have in Iceland is the Jólabókaflóðið. It literally translates to flood of books. in the weeks coming up to Christmas, all authors release their new titles. Then, on Christmas Eve, the tradition is that the family gathers in the living room by the fireside and they all read their new books while eating chocolate.  What could be better: It is a tradition that would be worth observing!

Speaking of books, I am making a donation to the Book Trust in lieu of sending Christmas cards this year. Books have always held a special part of my heart for all of my life but as a small child, Christmas wasn't Christmas unless I had at least one book And thankfully, I usually had many!  The gift of a book to a child is a very important thing, in my opinion. It encourages so many things, not only the basic skills of reading, but opens up a whole new magical world of the imagination. 

Well, I have just scratched the surface of Christmas in Iceland. I've put in a few links if you want to explore further, you can.

Gleðileg jól

Until next time.
Stay safe stay well. Stay warm!
Debbie.  xx

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  1. Maybe some children would still benefit from a visit from the thirteen sons

  2. What a brilliant interesting post.
    Floods of books and chocolate - sounds good to me - ooops forgot I don't like chocolate anymore - can't get used to it - it would have to be chocolate cake!

  3. Enjoyable read about the lovely traditions in Iceland. I remember about the lads and how interesting that tradition is! Always trying to get children to behave crosses all cultures around Christmas. The handmade Christmas decor is lovely and so much better for the environment. Very beautiful paper cuttings. I can't imagine all the work in dough that must be. Books are the best gifts. My grands all love books and that makes this grandmother very happy! Have a cozy evening, my friend.

  4. It's so fun to learn about other Christmas traditions. I had to laugh at the vision of receiving a potato. Here it would be a lump of coal. One year I remember making felt ornaments...I wonder where they have gone to? Maybe it's time to make some more. ;-) I could definitely go for chocolate and books, my idea of heaven.

  5. Its so interesting to hear of the Christmas traditions in Iceland and see your photos. Lovely to make Christmas Tree decorations too - we still make a few handmade ones here. I especially love the book tradition - what a wonderful wonderful idea. Thanks Debbie a fascinating post.

  6. I enjoyed seeing your photographs and reading about the traditions in Iceland.
    Many thanks.

    All the best Jan

  7. I love that description of the tradition of Jólabókaflóðið and people gathering around together to read. Such a lovely communal activity in midwinter, so much better than sitting in front of a TV. And as for the lads coming from the hills, that is something else :-)