The Icelandic Christmas period is an intriguing mixture of religious practice and traditional folklore, beginning on December 23rd and ending on Epiphany, 6th of January. In between, there is a whole lot of food to be eaten, people to meet and fireworks to be launched. This celebration is deeply rooted in most Icelanders, since it coincides with the darkest period of the year, and the time when the days start to grow longer again. As a result, Icelanders add extra emphasis on bringing light into their Yuletide festivities. Icelanders decorate their houses with bright Christmas lights both inside and outside. And, as in many other parts of the world, a brightly-decorated Christmas tree is an important living room fixture.
Indeed, Christmas in Iceland is a fare quite different from the version celebrated in other countries. For starters, it includes not one, but 13 Santa’s, who are more passionately referred to as Yule Lads. Rather than flying in from the North Pole via a sleigh pulled by reindeer, Iceland’s Yule Lads live in the mountains and walk to town one by one until Christmas Eve to bring children small gifts.
New Year’s Eve is probably the biggest party of the whole year. On this night everyone is allowed to light fireworks, which requires special permission from the authorities on other occasions. Icelanders make sure they take full advantage of that. Fireworks are lit all night long, reaching the high point at midnight, when the sky lights up for a few minutes. At the same time the fire trucks and harbored ships ring their bells and blow their horns to welcome the new year. It is certainly the grandest display of fireworks you will ever see. After midnight, people gather either for parties in each other homes or downtown, where they drink the night away until the early hours of the morning.