For thirteen nights from December 12th until 24th, Icelandic children leave one shoe in the window, and while sleeping, the thirteen Icelandic “Santa Clauses” arrive one by one to drop a small gift in the shoe of well-behaved kids, and a potato in the shoe of the naughty ones. The thirteen Santa Clauses are the children of the trolls Leppalúði and Grýla, and leave one by one after Christmas to go back to the mountains where they live.
Þórlaksmessa is on December 23rd; it’s the day where you can enjoy Skata or Skate (a fish related to sharks and has a strange smell). Many Icelanders boil smoked meat, hangikjöt, so their house smells of good food. Most shops stay open until 23 hours to allow those last minute shoppers to buy their christmas gifts.
Aðfangadagur is Christmas Eve, December 24th, and it is the most important day of the Christmas calendar in Iceland. This evening the family gathers to share a meal, hear Mass on the radio or go to the local church and this is also the time when people exchange and open their Christmas presents. The evening is spent reading the new books received as gifts, playing board games and eating chocolate.
The story goes that the Christmas Cat, Jólakötturinn, carries children who do not receive new clothes as a gift into the mountains!
On the Icelandic Christmas dinner table, you can find smoked meat, hangikjöt, the laufabrauð (bread that resembles a cracker decorated with motifs drawn by hand before baking with a small knife). The meat is usually pork, hamborgarhryggur, but some people eat ptarmigan (rjúpa) they have hunted themselves. For dessert, they often serve homemade cookies, known as smákökur, and the number and variety often show the baking skills of the hostess.
On Christmas Day, Jóladagur, December 25th, is a repeat of the previous day. Icelanders meet with their families and share a good meal together… December 26th( is the second Christmas) annar í jólum.
Gamlársdagur, literally “the day of the old year” is on 31st December. The festivities begin at 18 o’clock, just like on Christmas Eve. Some people go to church or attend a big bomb fire. On this night, everyone is enjoying a good meal and afterward, look at the comedy Áramótaskaupið on television, a satirical program that includes all the past year’s events. At midnight, the Icelandic set off the fireworks they’ve purchased the previous days leading up to the New Year. Nýársdagur is January 1.
Þrettándinn is January 6, and it is the last day of the festivities. Everyone takes down their Christmas trees and decorations, and the last Christmas elf goes back into mountains. The last of the fireworks go off this day.
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