Christmas Traditions

Christmas Food

The Cristmas Season has traditionally been centred around food, a celebration where people eat a lot of good food and meat has been a mainstay of people´s diets during this season here in Iceland. During the last years the development has been that it is not just during Christmas itself that people enjoy good food but rather the eating fest stretches to include the period of the Advent. 

At that time people flock to so called Christmas buffets where everyone can eat his or her fill of glorious foods. Many people also bake various types of cookies for Christmas and even make leaf bread. In many homes people try out the Christmas baking during Advent, nibbling on the wonderful home baked goodies, even though some like to keep the goodies for Christmas. 

In the olden days the last weeks before Christmas were called the Christmas fast because of the Catholic habit of fasting at this time of year and no meat being put on the table. This term was used for centuries in spite of the fact that no actual fasting took place. Today this term hardly applies as the Advent is generally characterised by more eating than other times of year. It is, however, interesting to see that one custom related to the Catholic fast is still going strong and this is the habit many people still observe of eating skate on St Thorlákur´s Day (December 23rd).

There is a long tradition in this country to eat and drink well over Christmas. There are sources that indicate that at the time of the Icelandic Commonwealth it was considered extremely important for people to have access to fresh meat at Christmas. For Centuries every farmer who could afford to would slaughter a sheep before Christmas so that the household could have a taste of newly slaughtered meat. However, this all depended on the farmer´s economy and not everyone could afford to lose a sheep at Christmas time. When that was the case the next best thing was put on the table, that is smoked food, such as smoked mutton which later became part of the nation´s favorite festive foods and is still considered an essential part of the Christmas table. Far into the 20th Century fresh fruit was only available around Christmas time, as it had to be imported from far away and only arrived in the country around that time. There are still people who can remember being given apples or oranges at Christmas and it stays with them how tasty and exotic this was. As the years have gone by things have progressed so that just about any type of food is available all year round and thus it is understandable that people eat what they like best at Christmas. Some common Christmas dishes include Rock Ptarmigan, Smoked Rack of Pork, Leg of Lamb or Turkey but no exhaustive list exists as the selection is wide and people´s tastes differ.