Christmas Traditions

St Thorlákur´s Day Skate

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. 

The eating of fermented skate on St Thorlákur´s day has become an Icelandic tradition. Not everyone knows that this is really a remnant of Catholisicm when people fasted until Christmas and did not consume meat. For that reason fish, preferably bad fish, was eaten the day before Christmas, the day before the great meat feast which started when the Christmas festivities finally arrived. The tradition of eating skate came to the capital from the West fjords around the middle of the 20th Century but it was mainly in the West fjords and in Breiðafjörður where the skate was caught. It was never considered a great delicacy but as the autumnal fishing season came to a close on St Thorlákur´s Day the eating of Skate became inextricably linked to this day in the minds of many people and they considered it a necessity to eat skate the day before Christmas.