Sunday, December 8, 2013

christmas around the world: iceland

image by Skarphéðinn Þráinsson  / right image via

A few years ago, R and I heard a story told by David Sedaris and his experience learning about Christmas in The Netherlands (listen to it here).  It was not a Christmas story particularly, but it was fascinating to us to hear about the Christmas traditions and stories of other cultures.  Growing up, I focused on my own Christmas traditions and mythology.  Memorizing "The Night Before Christmas", writing letters to Santa and his elves in the North Pole, putting up a tree filled with handmade ornaments from school.  Also, having never really traveled around the holiday season, I thought that maybe I would do a little research on my own to share throughout the month.  A way to help myself get into the holiday spirit and learn a little more about Christmas traditions around the world.    

I decided to start with Iceland.  R and I recently booked a trip there for March (so exciting, but details another time!), and even though we are not going until March, I have been researching it quite a bit over the last couple of months.

The Icelandic word for Christmas is Jól and is a Norse word and is celebrated on Christmas Eve, where families gather together to eat and exchange gifts.  Many of the traditions are similar to the US, except for a few unique stories associated with the season.  The first is the "Christmas Cat".  Icelandic folklore states that everyone should get a new piece of clothing at Christmastime or risk being eaten by a malicious beast call the "Christmas Cat".  

The other tradition is the 13 Yule Lads.  They are not related to Santa Claus, but are said to live in the forest and come to town one by one each day starting on December 12th through December 23rd (and then leaving one by one after Christmas until January 6th).  Each night, children set out their shoes on their bedroom window sill where the lads leave sweets or small gifts.  

As with every country and culture, holiday celebrations are unique and steeped in traditions, stories and mythology.  Having grown up with my own unique Christmas stories, I loved learning even small tidbits of the Iceland Christmas celebrations.  
image left by Gunnar Sverrison via / image right by via
image left via / image right via  (both via Pinterest)
content "Christmas in Iceland" via

In other updates, I will be in Hong Kong this week.  Follow me on instagram, @teawithhummingbirds for Christmas in HK and other sites.

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