Icelandic Language Blog

Gleðileg jól! Posted by on Dec 24, 2012 in Icelandic culture

It’s the 24th and I’m glad to say we’re all still alive. Some door slamming activity has been noted and I’ve had to make piparkökur, gingerbread twice because they keep randomly disappearing, but other than that we may have managed to avoid luring in any of the local “Santas“. Let’s celebrate this by reading more about some Icelandic Christmas traditions!

Laufabrauð (= leaf bread)

Originally a north Icelandic delicacy, these thin, round cakes are now a popular Christmas treat all around the country. They can be eaten as a side dish at a meal or on their own, as they are. Making them is a whole family feat, and since a lot of work would go to making your own most people either buy theirs ready  or make a dough and bring it to a place that’ll fry it for you. A word of warning: they’re very fatty, definitely unhealthy and very, very addictive delicious.

Gjafir (= presents)

The Yule time itself lasts for 13 days, starting from today on. Now all the Jólasveinar (= Yule lads) have arrived and from now on they’ll start going back home, one by one. Icelandic children will receive presents today but the well-behaved ones may have received some even earlier, as Jólasveinarnir nowadays bring children treats instead of abducting them. Starting from 12 days before Christmas children put their shoe on the windowsill and depending on how good they have been they may have been given a small present each morning by a passing Yule lad!

However, naughty children get only a potato.

Þorláksmessa (= St. Þorlákur’s Mass)

Named after Þorlákur Þórhallsson, the 23rd of December has by now changed from a religious day to the last minute shopping frenzy -day. Everyone’s out and about, and some Icelanders even like to go have a walk downtown just to mingle among the mass of people running around. It’s typical to eat a traditional “delicacy” called skata (= putrefied skate) on this day, but as it smells rather awful most people prefer eating it at restaurants instead.

Want to know more? Þjóðminjasafn Íslands (= National Museum of Iceland) has a great article in English here.


To finish with, let’s learn some ways of giving people season’s greetings in Icelandic.

On behalf of the Icelandic blog of Transparent Languages I’m wishing you all a merry and a peaceful Yule and a happy New Year!



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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!