Christmas in Iceland

Christmas in Iceland is quite possibly the best place in the world to celebrate the holidays. Why? Because Icelandic Christmases last 26 days. Only today has christmas officially ended, since January 6th is the 13th day of christmas. Icelanders get a lot of holiday time and everything just shuts down on the days surrounding Christmas and New years, and everyone has somewhere to be surrounded by people they love and way too much food. Christmas food in Iceland is to die for: the first 3 days I was back home I ate 4 meals of hangikjöt og uppstúf (smoked lamb and potatoes in white sauce), my favourite. It goes well with pickled red cabbage and canned green beans, and laufabrauð (unlevened bread) goes good with anything, anytime. I also ate alot of foods that I can´t get anywhere else, namely flatkökur (flat bread), skyr (a yogurt like thing), cheap and fresh smoked salmon, sheep heads, and of course the best pylsur (hotdogs) in the world. Im salivating just writing about this stuff.

Stakkholt, my family's summerhouse in the countryside

Christmas is celebrated with family on Christmas eve, with a little dressing up, a fancy dinner, and gift exchange. I spent the evening with my dad, and for dessert we smoked hookah while listening to Van Morrison and Santana. After family time, most of town fills up every church for midnight mass; I went to Frikirkjan and watched Iceland’s lead pop singer, gay Pall Oskar, sing hymns in a sparkle suit jacket. Christmas is also fun because all your friends or family that live abroad come home for the holidays, so you get a chance to see people that you can’t always see. I took the chance to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while by going to our summer cottage in the country side for a night – the ideal definition of a cozy night in. We spent some time outside too, trying to walk to a wild hot spring nearby that you can bathe in, but after barely making it accross the muddiest field and destroying all our shoes, only 2 of us actually made it across the tiny stepping stones to claim victory in the 40°C hotpot.

midnight from the top of Hotel Saga, overlooking the main building of the University of Iceland

The most impressive night during Christmas time in Iceland is undesputedly New Year’s Eve. As soon as it gets dark on the last day of the year, fire works start to fire off, slowly building up to the bombs-over-Baghdad chaos that happens when the clock strikes twelve. During the minutes before and after midnight, the city is lit up with the most beautiful array of fireworks, all colours and types, 360° around you. They say there’s a serious recession going on, but even with the recent spike in inflation, Icelanders still manage to blow up their money with something like 600 tonnes of fireworks. Atleast we’re not cheap when it comes to partying like its the New year. People stumble home the next day when the sun comes up, which isnt until 10 or 11 am.

However, with the end of Christmas season comes some sad realities. I was shopping today in the mall and they were taking down all the bright and shiny things since January doesnt get the glitz and glamour like Christmas does. Even though the days have started to get longer since the winter solstice, things just seem darker as all the houses take down their christmas lights and all the missing christmas decorations make things seem not as bright. It also feels colder since all the indoor time spent with family, dinners and parties starts to wind down. Its perhaps a little lonelier, with people no longer on holiday, returning back to school or work, and everything is open again as the hussle and bussle of Reykjavik life starts again. Yet somehow I love January since it makes you appreciate Iceland so much more in June, and the chance to have a comfy night in with a winter storm raging outside is actually one of the most coziest feelings I know. The chance to see some northern lights and wear your heaviest parka also make winter fun, and battling the incredible winds that sometimes blow me right over makes me feel tough and nordic 🙂

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