Christmas in Iceland

Different cultures have different holiday celebrations. In America, Santa rides in his sleigh with his nine reindeer and delivers presents to good boys and girls. If you’re on the naughty list, you get coal for Christmas. If you’re lucky, you can see signs of Santa on Christmas morning, like a footprint in the fireplace ashes or half-eaten carrots in the front lawn. Christmas in Iceland has a little bit of a different legend of Santa Claus.

< Christmas in Iceland >

Christmas in Iceland

There are two well-known mountain-dwelling trolls in Iceland named Gryla and Leppalúði. The 13 sons of these two trolls are the sons of Christmas, so Christmas in Iceland has 13 “Santa Clauses”. But these sons of Yule lads are not like the jolly old St. Nick that Americans know and love; they are mean and mischievous Yule lads.

< Icelandic Yule Lads >
Image via

The 13 Yule lads come down from the mountains to visit the townsfolk on a different night before Christmas to deliver rewards or punishments depending on children’s behavior. Instead of hanging stockings by the fireplace like American kids do for Santa, Icelandic kids put a shoe outside their window. If they’re good, they get a gift in their shoe when they wake up. If they’re bad, they get a potato. No one wants a potato in their shoe.

Iceland’s Yule Lads

Each son has a different personality and name. For example, one of the Yule lads is Skyrgámur, or Skyr-Gobbler, who comes to your house and eats all your skyr. (Skyr is an Icelandic sweet similar to yogurt.) Another of the Yule lads is Hurðaskellir, or Door-Slammer, who slams all your doors in the middle of the night. These are mean things to do, and scary for kids! All the Yule lads cause trouble during Christmas in Iceland.

One by one, the Yule lads come down from the mountain to cause their mischief. And one by one after Christmas, they leave and return to the mountain. On the 13th day after Christmas, Icelandic people officially believe it’s the last day of Christmas. They celebrate with lots of bonfires, fireworks, and parties. They start taking down decorations, although because of the long nights, people do like to keep their Christmas lights up until March to make the dark days brighter.

< Christmas in Iceland >
Image via Flickr by Josh Angehr

Thanks to my tour guide from Gray Line Tours for this little folklore lesson on Christmas in Iceland! I always love learning about different cultures right from the source. For an informative tour in more ways than one, try Gray Line for your Iceland tour needs.

< Gray Line Iceland >

Have you learned of a unique and interesting Christmas tradition in another culture? Does your culture celebrate Christmas, and if so, how? Tell me some stories to help me learn in the comments below!

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< Christmas in Iceland >

P.S. If you like this post, you might also like Iceland and 7 Places to Travel in Winter.