Icelandic Language Blog

Jólin að koma! Posted by on Dec 4, 2014 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs

Gleðileg jólin by Elín Guðmundsdóttir on

Christmas is on its way! Without further ado, let’s get into the spirit of Icelandic Christmas 2014 – but first some sad news.

The present that was blown away

“Góður hluti af efri hluta trésins brotnaði af og stjarnan hékk í miðju trénu.” (= A large part of the lower part of the tree was broken off and the star hung at the middle of the tree.)

We began the month with a bang… or should I say a storm. It was the strongest one in 15 years they say, and while there were no casualties the damage is still being repaired. Alas, some things cannot be fixed by any means like the Oslo Christmas tree that was torn to shreds.

Oslo Christmas tree? Due to the fact that Iceland is somewhat lacking in trees the big brother rushes in to help every year.* The tree’s arrival is a much awaited part of Christmas preparations and people gather around to watch its lights being lit on the 1st Advent every year. This year the whole show had to be postponed because of the storm and afterwards… well, there was very little of the tree left. See for yourself here.

Thankfully a local tree was eventually found to replace the Oslo tree, so although it was sad to lose the Norwegian gift Christmas is not ruined!

*Even though this is not even the first time the tree is destroyed; during the Kitchenware revolution protesters actually burned it…


Christmas is not Christmas if…

…your hairstyle stays the same, say the Icelandic ladies. Hairdressers are soon booked full and will put extra hours to their days to cater to as many customers as are in desperate need of a new hairstyle. The Christmas dinner is a family gathering after all and one must look her ultimate best, which means a new dress and a whole new look. I’m not even kidding here, it’s the busiest time of the year for the local hairdressers and indeed I seem to see many people entirely changed come New Year.

As a funny detail a friend of mine wanted to have her hair cut earlier this week and the hairdresser tried to talk her out of it. “Christmas is a whole month away! It’s going to grow out and that’ll be a catastrophe because no one will have time to fix it for the big day!” It was only after she assured her she was going to fly back home for the holidays anyway that the hairdresser relented.

The merriest Christmas lights

Icelanders take Christmas lights seriously… with a small exception to the ones lining Snorrabraut, likely Akureyri (link). I’m trying to hold myself back here with all the stupid jokes that are popping into my mind and I’m almost losing the fight! That said, we should at least get matching ones for the Snorrabraut in Reykjavík – the Phallological Museum that’s located just around the corner to our Snorrabraut would probably appreciate them greatly. 😀

Laufabrauð by Brian Suda on I love your design, Brian!

Time to bake

This is the time when you’re most likely to come across all kinds of typical Icelandic bakery products. My own favourite would have to be laufabrauð, leaf bread: thin, crispy, delicate spheres like so many edible doilies. Er. That may not have sounded very delicious but please give them a chance if you ever come across them.

Or perhaps you’d like to make some yourself? You can find a recipe and instructions here.

By the way, did you know that one reason why certain Icelandic recipes have survived to this day is because of Canadians? More specifically speaking West-Icelanders, as they’re called here in Iceland, the people whose forebears emigrated from Iceland. Honouring their previous home they hung onto every bit of its culture that they had, recipes for example. Have a look at one such Christmas cake – the Randalín (= stripy one) here.


Hulda recommendshulda078

Christmas needs Christmas music, and as a choir singer I’ve got my own favourites clear:

Það á að gefa barnum brauð (= Children must be given bread) performed here by the Hamrahlíð choir (link). Listen for the words “Nú er hún gamla Grýla dauð” – “Now the old Grýla is dead”. If you know who she is you know this is the best news you could have all Christmas. Lyrics here.

Hátíð fer að höndum ein (= a holiday is coming) performed beautifully by Graduale Nobili (link). Lyrics here.

Heyr himna smiður (= Hear heavenly creator) – you’ve not forgotten this one, have you? Thought so! The lyrics for this truly beautiful song are here included underneath.

Jólakötturinn (= the Christmas cat), not a choir piece, performed here by Ragnheiður Gröndal. Lyrics here with Björk’s version of the song included – now the question is which one sung it creepiest?

Í heitri þökk (= with warm thanks/in warm thankfulness) performed by the University Choir (link). My own personal favourite for several reasons!

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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!


  1. Brian:

    Enjoyable post. Reading about Icelandic baked goods has inspired me to try to make laufabrauð, but also reminded me about other traditional eating habits of Icelanders.

    Could you do a post sometime about “askur”? These wooden bowls have always fascinated me, and I still wonder how someone in the States like me could get their hands on one.

    • hulda:

      @Brian I love askar, they’re so handy and beautiful! There will definitely be info on the askur, traditional Icelandic plate+bowl+lid -thing quite soon. 😉 I’ll try to see if there’s a way of buying them.