Christmas is a tradition that is spent around the world in so many different ways. In North America, we think of spectacularly decorated trees in the windows of brightly lit homes along with the iconic red suited Santa that slides down the chimney each and every Christmas Eve. I have been spending early December in Iceland learning about their unique traditions that are full of glitter, music and folklore. Here are just a few of the amazing things I’ve learned about the Icelandic Traditional Christmas.
During one of our Icelandic adventures to the ominous Dimmuborgir lava fields, we were given the option to donate and meet a toothless troll like gentleman which we graciously declined.
Back at our Guesthouse we were curious why this troll like gentleman was a highlight of the tour. It turns out there is folklore that says Dimmuborgir is the home of the thirteen YuleTide Lads. (they are not trolls).
Apparently these Lads are the mischievous sons of the homicidal troll named Grýla. During the 13 days of Christmas, (December 23 through to January 6th) the Yuletide lads arrive in towns around Iceland from the mountains, one by one, playing little tricks along the way.
Their names give hints to the mischief they perform: you can find a hilarious write up on all the thirteen Yule Lads here.
At Christmas, Children are encouraged to put out their best shoe on their window ledge in their room and if the child goes to bed on time each night, it is said that one of the thirteen Yuletide Lads will leave a gift in their shoe, however if they stay up late and miss their bedtime, they will wake up to find only a cold rotten potato instead.
The Yule Cat
When you walk around the cities and towns of Iceland in December you will find various symbols and monuments of cats. As a first time visitor, we assumed the locals just liked cats but never associated what we were seeing with Christmas.
Wikipedia explains it well, so I will paraphrase … The Yule Cat is said to be a vicious cat that eats people who have not received any new clothes before Christmas.
Apparently a long time ago, farmers would use the Folklore Yule Cat as an incentive to make their workers work faster.. those who got their work done on time would be awarded with new clothes, and those who didn’t would be preyed on by a monstrous cat. It also said the the cat was the house pet of the Yule Lads.
The Christmas Tree
We all know how iconic the traditional Christmas tree is.. but it seems Icelanders have just a little more holiday cheer when it comes to the Christmas tree. You can find them outside just about every merchant shop, every bank, every home, every street corner. Even as we drove through the most desolate areas in Iceland, we always found a lonely Christmas tree somehow lit up in the middle of nowhere. They take a box, fill it with earth and place a real tree and add lights to it. Plain as it may seem.. these beautiful trees are lighting up the lives of those who live and visit Iceland.
Needless to say you will find a wealth of Christmas tradition when you come and visit this amazing country and maybe if you’re lucky – a spectacular display the Northern Lights. ♥