Iceland's Christmas Traditions

Christmas street decorations, including a bell-shaped illumination, in Reykjavík.

Christmas in Iceland is nothing short of enchanting. Apart from the dazzling lights and charming Christmas markets, there are elements that add mischief to the magic. From the monstrous cat that prowls the streets for prey to getting a rotten potato in your shoes, this Nordic country has a plethora of Advent traditions up its sleeve.

Read our blog to find out more about the unique Christmas traditions in Iceland.

The Yule Lads (Jolasveinar)

Is it true that Iceland has 13 Santa Clauses? The short answer is no. But you may spot the Yule troll family during your Christmas in Iceland. 13 boys, known as Yule Lads, are mischievous figures who come down from the mountains one by one in the days leading up to Christmas. With names like Door Slammer and Pot Scraper, the Yule Lads are known for creating a ruckus during Advent. Their father, Leppaludi, is a lazy troll who often picks up naughty children for their giant mother, Grýla, who cooks them in a pot and eats them!

Did you know that in 1746 parents were officially banned from tormenting their kids with stories of Yule Lads ? However, the tradition may have secretly survived down the ages, for these tales still ring true among Icelandic families today. If children misbehave or don’t go to bed on time, parents warn them that the Yule Lads will know and give them a potato.

26 Days of Christmas (Jol)

On the night of December 11, the first Yule Lad comes to town, marking the start of Christmas in Iceland. On the next night, the second Yule Lad comes to town and so on until Christmas. One by one the Yule Lads head back to the mountains from Christmas Day.

Known as “the Thirteenth” or  “Þrettándinn,” the 6th of January is the day when the last Yule Lad goes home. On this day, bonfires and leftover New Year’s Eve fireworks are lit to mark the end of Christmas. Sometimes, you may also see a parade of magical creatures like trolls and elves down the main street!

Hidden Shoes

Why do children in Iceland put their shoes in their bedroom window 13 days before Christmas? To receive presents from Yule Lads. So these trolls are not so bad after all? Well, that depends upon the child in question. If they are kind and well-behaved, they will get a sweet treat or present. But, if they are naughty, they might just find a rotten potato in their window sill shoe. Trouble-making is for the lads alone!

Christmas Cat (Jólakötturinn)

Have you heard of the big black cat who roams the streets during Christmas in search of prey? If you do not get new clothes during the Advent season, you may just end up as its meal. The Yule Cat is one of the Christmas traditions in Iceland that encourages the gift of warm clothing.

If you are staying in Reykjavík during your Christmas in Iceland, you cannot miss the imposing statue of the Yule Cat on Lækjartorg Square in downtown Reykjavík. 

Lighted Statue of the Yule Cat in Reykjavík.


On the 23rd of December, Icelanders honour their patron saint of Iceland, Thorlak Thorhallsson. On this day, families get together to buy the last Christmas gifts. An age-old tradition associated with Þorláksmessa is to decorate the Christmas tree as this day marks the start of the holiday season.

On the 24th of December, Icelanders have a Christmas pudding called ris a la mande. Depending upon family traditions, it may be served either at lunch or dinner. Be sure to claim your prize if you find an almond in your ris a la mande. 

Leaf Bread (Laufabrauð)

Would you like to cut some patterns into Laufabrauð? This thin and crispy pancake-style bread is an integral part of Christmas traditions in Iceland. The name comes from the leaf-shaped patterns cut into the bread, which is then fried and served with butter. This is often a side dish for Hangikjöt (smoked lamb) which is often served on Christmas day.



Did you know that the holiday season in Iceland starts four Sundays before Christmas Eve? This period is called Advent. Lighting the Advent Candle is one of the oldest Christmas traditions in Iceland. Traditionally, you place four candles in a homemade wreath and light the first candle on the first Sunday, the first and the second candles on the second Sunday and so forth.

You may be surprised to know that one of the recent Icelandic Christmas traditions is aðventuljós - an electric candelabra with seven candles originating in Sweden .

The Christmas Book Flood (Jólabókaflóð) 

Is it true that Icelanders spend the night of Christmas Eve reading? That may not be entirely false given that Iceland is the third most literary nation in the world. This is due to the Icelandic Christmas tradition of giving and receiving books. It all began during World War II when Icelanders started exchanging books for commodities that were in short supply, paper was not rationed so books were abundant. This turned them into a country of bibliophiles. 

During the Reykjavík Book Fair in mid-November, every household in Iceland receives the Bókatíðindi or book bulletin to order books for Christmas.



A woman reading a book to a boy with a Christmas tree in the background.

Get ready for a magical Christmas in Iceland with our spacious car rentals and comfortable accomodation for the festive period.

Hótel Reykjavík Grand, Fosshótel Stykkishólmur, Fosshótel Húsavík are only a few of our many hotels hosting Christmas buffets, including a Big American Christmas buffet. Find out more about our Christmas offers.

Make your Christmas in Iceland exciting with these top 10 things to do in Iceland in winter.