If you’re planning to spend the winter holidays in Iceland, be prepared. Icelanders have some very neat deep-rooted Christmas traditions practised during the nearly month-long celebrations.
But before we talk about that, it’s time to impress your friends in Iceland by greeting them in their native tongue.
Let’s learn how to say Merry Christmas in Icelandic!
If you are only acquainted with the letters of the English alphabet, don’t be intimidated. Merry Christmas in Icelandic sounds something like “Gle-delig-yuul.”
Then, of course, there’s the next big celebration: the coming of the New Year. I’m sure you’d like to know how to amaze people with your Icelandic knowledge, so let’s get to that!
How to say Happy New Year in Icelandic
Believe it or not, there are two ways to go.
The first is Farsælt Komandi Ár which sounds like “Farset-comenderr” or the more widely used Farsælt Nýtt Ár which sounds like “Farset-nit-trr”. Just pick the one that seems the easiest as they are both accepted.
You can also opt for Gleðilega hátíð which means “Happy holidays” or the neutral Bestu kveðjur! which means “All the best!”
Don’t worry though, people in Iceland are very understanding and not easily offended. In fact, they will appreciate that you took the time to learn how to say things in Icelandic.
To add a bit of spice to your conversations during the Christmas season, here are some fun Phrases to learn in Icelandic:
“Einn jólabjór, takk.” – One Christmas beer, thank you
“Má ég fá piparköku?”- Can I have a ginger bread cookie?
Plus, here are some words in Icelandic to add to your Christmas vocabulary:
Jólatré – Christmas Tree
Flugeldar – Fireworks
Gjöf – Gift
Jólasveinn – Santa Claus
Jólasmákökur – Christmas Cookies
Aðfangadagur – Christmas Eve
Jóladagur – Christmas Day
Now that you know how to give your greetings in Icelandic, let’s take a deeper look at inter holiday festivities in Iceland that lasts for 26 days.
Yes, you heard it right. Christmas celebrations in Iceland starts officially on the 1st of December and stretches to the 6th of January.
Plus, they have 13 Santa Clauses (actually they’re called Yule Lads). The arrival of the first Yule Lad officially opens the Christmas season and this happens 13 days before Christmas Eve.
Advent in Iceland calls for the preparation of wreaths and candles as early as late November. The Christmas lights go up in the homes on the first Sunday of Advent.
If you’re wondering what to give to your friends in Iceland for Christmas, you might want to go with something that Icelanders are known to love – books!
Jólabókaflóð – that’s the name of the phenomenon when Icelanders are flooded with books as presents during Christmas. They are well-known for their love of reading, so if you have dibs on a hot paperback, that would make a great gjöf – just investigate if they haven’t read it yet!
If the air begins to smell fishy on the 23rd of December in Iceland, then you’ll know it’s St. Thorlakur’s Day or Þorláksmessa when the country celebrates its major Saint Thorlakur Thorhallsson’, the Bishop of Skálholt.
It is customary to have fermented skate or skata during meals. You would have to find out for yourself if you have the stomach for it since it is an acquired taste.
Christmas trees are decked on this night and this is the day for your last-minute gifts, with stores remaining open until midnight.
With that in mind, it cannot be emphasized enough – don’t hold back until Christmas Eve for last-minute Christmas shopping since December 24 (Christmas Eve) is a public holiday.
Shops are likely to be closed or be open only for half a day at best. A sumptuous Eve dinner is usually observed at 6 pm.
Icelanders celebrate Jóladagur or Christmas Day with extended family. Expect to have a spread that includes traditional Icelandic fare of is ‘Hangikjöt which is roasted lamb leg. You can also expect to find Laufabrauð or leaf bread.
This is homemade bread which consists of thin sheets of dough cut into delicate patterns which are fried. Each family prides itself on their own patterns for the Laufabrauð.
You won’t see the party scene active in Iceland during Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Public entertainment is considered inappropriate for these days – however by Annar Jóladagur or Boxing Day, the fun resumes.
Now let’s jump to New year’s celebrations. Iceland is known for the intense fireworks displays all over the country with the entire population chiming in with their own stash of firecracker.
Get ready to get out and join the fun out in the snow. Be sure you’re decked in a shiny, sparkly (and warm!) outfit and get ready to make some noise for ‘sprengja út árið’ (blowing out the year).
The celebrations continue with Icelanders going full-blast into party mode while many opt to spend the rest of the holidays getting together with other friends and family.
Restaurants will be awash in buffets and spreads. All this winds up on January 6th or the Day of the Epiphany.
We hope that you enjoy the unique Icelandic holidays and through all the festivities, don’t forget to raise your glass and toast to good health – Skál!