Christmas Traditions

Leaf Bread

In the minds of many Icelanders, leaf bread is one of the specialities of the Icelandic Christmas. The oldest available source regarding leaf bread in Iceland stems from the earlier part of the 18th Century where the leaf bread is described as the sweetmeat of the Icelanders. It is believed that originally the leaf bread was mostly on the table of those better off and that it did not enter the table of the general public until the 19th Century.

It was at times difficult to obtain the raw materials needed to make the bread, especially during the time of trade monopoly, and therefore bread and other grain products were only eaten by the genral public at holiday times. The tradition of the leaf bread comes out of this reality and thus a wafer thin bread was baked at Christmas in order to make it possible for everyone to have a bite as it says in the poem:

At Christmas children should be given a bite of bread

Candlelight and red clothing so that they can get out of bed

The bread in this instance is thought to have been the leaf bread. To make the bread more festive beautiful patterns were cut into the leaf bread. At the close of the 19th Century it was mostly in the north of the country that leaf bread remained the festive bread of the general public and it was only later that the custom spread throughout the country. In the north it was also customary for people to get together during Advent and bake and cut patterns into the leaf bread to get into the right Christmas spirit.


Christmas tree

Christmas Trees - 29.11.2016

Christmas trees are an important part of Christmas in our day and generally they are given a central place in people´s living rooms. A great part of the Christmas celebrations take place around the Christmas tree. The Christmas gifts are usually kept under the tree and it is around the tree that families gather to open their presents. 

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Aðventukrans

Advent Lights - 29.11.2016

On the first Advent Sunday, which falls on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Icelanders traditionally put up so called Advent wreaths. The Advent wreaths traditionally are circular and are decorated with four candles which are lit, one by one, the last four Sundays before Christmas. The Advent wreaths are often ornately decorated with evergreen branches or the like. 

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Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights - 29.11.2016

Christmas lights were for the longest time the only decorations people could afford for Christmas. At that time people used candles, but most people could not afford to use candles except at festive moments and therefore used them at Christmas. Still today it is the masses of light that are a characteristic of Christmas but nowadays it is not only candlelight but also electric light in all shapes and sizes. Before the coming of electricity Icelanders had to endure a darkness of a scale the modern man finds difficult to conceive of.  

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Jólasveinn

Christmas Decorations - 29.11.2016

In the advent of Christmas all types of Christmas ornaments and lights are seen everywhere. People decorate their homes and put colourful garlands of lights in their windows. Amply decorated shop windows fill up with Christmas merchandise and there are lights everywhere. 

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Family

St Thorlákur´s Day Skate - 29.11.2016

Even though Catholicism was abolished in Iceland in the year 1550 the Mass of the Icelandic saint Thorlákur is still celebrated on his Mass day of December 23rd each year. Today, it is mainly in connection with the preparation of Christmas that people remember the Mass of St Thorlákur (or St Thorlákur´s Day) and for many it is a tradition to decorate the Christmas tree on that day or do the last of their Christmas shopping. 

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Christmas food

Christmas Food - 29.11.2016

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. 

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Shoe in window

Shoe in the Window - 29.11.2016

On the night preceding December 12th it is customary for Icelandic children to put their shoe in the window as that night the first Yule „Stekkjarstaur“  or Sheep-Cote Clod comes to town. The shoe stays on the window sill until Christmas and the children hope that the Yule lads, who one by one come into town from the mountains those nights leading up to Christmas, will leave a little something for them in the shoe. 

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Woman with her children

Christmas Clothes - 29.11.2016

As is mentioned in the chapters on the Yule Cat and on Christmas Presents it was customary in the old rural society that employers gave the employees in their home a new garment and sheepskin shoes for Christmas. This was done to reward the people for good work as the tasks that had to be accomplished before Christmas were numerous and therefore the weeks leading up to Christmas were characterized by a rigorous workload. 

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Christmas presents

Christmas Presents - 29.11.2016

Today, Christmas and Christmas presents are inextricably linked and in the minds of many people the presents are one of the most important features of the celebrations. In the month of December shops and shopping centres are filled with people buying one present after the other and the media are full of advertisements for the perfect Christmas gifts. The flood of Christmas presents seems to get larger and larger each year and shop owners certainly need not complain about anything during this time of year. 

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Christmas Cards

Christmas Cards - 29.11.2016

Nowadays many people consider sending Christmas greetings to friends and family near and far as an essential part of the Christmas preparations. 

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