10 fun facts about Christmas in Iceland - Hotel Rangá


Mountains covered with snow behind an Icelandic country church in Vík.

10 fun facts about Christmas in Iceland

Christmas in Iceland is filled with fun holiday traditions. Icelanders gather together to spend quality time with family and loved ones. We made a list of 10 fun facts about Christmas in Iceland - keep reading to learn more.
Illustration of Iceland's 13 Yule Lads.
The mischievous Yule Lads.

The mischievous Yule Lads

The Yule Lads, or Icelandic Santa Clauses, are a mischievous group who like to play jokes, steal food and slam doors. This is rather surprising, as their mother Grýla is a troll who eats naughty children. You would think she might have taught her sons to behave! But the Yule Lads can also be friendly, in their own special way.

Small gift from the Yule Lads hanging on a doorknob in Hotel Rangá.
The Yule Lads deliver gifts in the days leading up to Christmas. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir.

Shoes in the windowsill

In the thirteen days before Christmas, the Yule Lads come down from the mountains and bring presents to children who leave a shoe in their windowsill. However, if the child has been naughty, they will find only a potato in their shoe. What’s more, the Yule Lads have been known to bring presents to guests at Hotel Rangá.

Hotel Rangá has a cooperation with the school in neighboring town of Hella. The children at the school use old linen to make small bags to help the Yule Lads with their presents.  From the 11th to the 24th of December we encourage our younger guests at Hotel Rangá to leave a shoe outside their door at night and see if a Yule Lad will stop by.

Two girls dressed as elves stand in front of a bonfire to celebrate the end of Christmas.
Bonfires burn bright to celebrate the end of Christmas. Photo by Eyrún Aníta Gylfadóttir.

Celebrating the end of Christmas

Though Icelanders celebrate through the Christmas holiday, they also celebrate the end of Christmas! On the 6th of January, Icelanders light bonfires and set off fireworks. One such bonfire is held every year in the nearby area of Fljótshlíð. The event is called Álfadans or ‘elf-dance’ as the elves are rumored to be out and about on the thirteenth night after Christmas.

Holiday treats on Hotel Rangá's Christmas Menu.
The chocolate-covered sweet is Hotel Rangá’s take on a traditional Sarah Bernhardt cookie. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir.

Christmas in Iceland Holiday baking

Christmas in Iceland is a time to relax with family and eat delicious baked treats. It is quite common for families to gather and bake Christmas cookies together, or jólasmákökur in Icelandic. Lakkrístoppar are very popular: these meringue cookies are light as air and filled with bits of licorice and chocolate. Piparkökur are a kind of ginger snaps which are also extremely tasty.

Of course, we can’t forget about Sarah Bernhardt cookies. These delicious almond cookies are covered with coffee-infused chocolate buttercream and topped with even more chocolate. Though these cookies are very popular, they are rather time intensive to make. Luckily, our version of Sarah Bernhardt cookies is on Hotel Rangá’s Christmas Menu.

Christmas book flood in Iceland

Many Icelanders give and receive books for Christmas. In fact, the majority of books in Iceland are sold in the months leading up to Christmas. This tradition is known as Jólabókaflóð or “Christmas Book Flood.” Stores stock all the latest books, and every household receives a brochure listing the newest releases.

Platter of hangikjöt, Icelandic smoked lamb.
Hangikjöt is a popular Christmas food in Iceland. Photo by Hreinn Magnússon.

Christmas in Iceland: Delicious food with family

Over Christmas,  Icelanders gather with family and eat delicious food such as hangikjöt (smoked lamb), sweet glazed potatoes, canned green peas, red cabbage and laufabrauð. And of course, you can’t forget the malt and appelsín!

Laufabrauð is a type of thin, fried bread that is served with the traditional Christmas feast. This tasty treat has been enjoyed by Icelanders for centuries and harkens back to the days when wheat was scarce. Laufabrauð isn’t just delicious – it’s also quite beautiful. The thin bread is decorated with intricate patterns slashed into the dough with a special tool.

Mountains covered with snow behind an Icelandic country church in Vík.
Many Icelanders attend church on Christmas Eve. Photo by Paige Deasley.

Church services on Christmas Eve

Iceland is a predominantly Christian nation, and many Icelanders attend a church service on Christmas Eve. These services features traditional hymns, and the congregation sings together. Usually, members of the congregation light candles to symbolize the star of Bethlehem. The final song of the service is almost always Silent Night.

Christmas in Iceland: Lights in the graveyard

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, many Icelanders participate in the tradition of decorating graveyards with colorful lights. Often, this is a family event with many generations coming together. Families will set out candles or electric Christmas lights and use this time to remember loved ones. Local graveyards become filled with light and remembrance.

Ringing in Christmas

In Iceland, we celebrate Christmas on December 24 at 6 pm sharp. Yes, those are the facts – Christmas in Iceland has an exact starting time! At 6 pm, Icelanders around the country will turn on their radios to hear the sound of church bells ringing at Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík. This officially symbolizes the start of Christmas, after which many families start to eat their holiday feast.

Lit up Yule Cat in Reykjavík.
Wear a new Christmas outfit or else the Yule Cat will come for you!

A new outfit will keep you safe

Have you heard of the Yule Cat? This large, hungry beast is said to lurk in the shadows and devour Icelanders who don’t wear new clothes for Christmas. Though this story is really just a folk tale, many Icelanders make sure to buy a special, new Christmas outfit.

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