Christmas Traditions

Leaf Bread

29.11.2016

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.