I’ve heard of a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking, but a potato in your shoe? This unusual gift is left for the naughty children of Iceland, not by Father Christmas you understand, he’s too busy building toys through the year to grow potatoes; in fact he doesn’t visit Iceland at all. He’s saved the job by the 13 Yulelads.
These festive visitors used to be depicted as mischievous elves that came to pilfer and play tricks on people but, as time has passed, they’ve developed into a cross between folklore characters and part time Santas! The belief is that starting from the 11th of December, one Yulelad comes down from the mountains each night. Children leave a shoe in their window in the hope of receiving a small gift from the Yulelad in reward for being good. Those who have not behaved well, however, receive a humble potato.
Of course, like any motley crew living in the Icelandic mountains, the Yulelads have a cat (technically it’s their mother’s but many see it as a family cat). The Yule Cat takes a trip into town at Christmas time as well, according to folklore. This festive feline is said to eat revellers who don’t have any new clothes! This tradition isn’t some
mythological purge of the poor though; it goes back to the olden days when employers would reward hard work with a new item of clothing. It was said that those without a new garment must be lazy and the Yule Cat would get them! People no longer spend their nights looking out for the creature, but most do get a new garment every Christmas…
Moving on from the folk tales; Christmas in Iceland is a very family orientated event. On the 23rd December, the Icelandic State Broadcasting Channel (RÚV) shows nothing but news and Christmas greetings, primarily to ensure those that live too far away to get home can still wish their family a happy Christmas.
Christmas Eve is the big night, with all day spent preparing enormous Christmas dinners of smoked ham, lamb and ptarmigan with hordes of sides! After dinner the presents come out and the night is spent in the company of family.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day are both dedicated to family reunions and get-togethers as far flung relatives converge for parties, though alcohol plays little part in the celebrations as they’re focused on the children.
New Year’s Eve makes up for the relatively sedate Christmas though, it’s the biggest night of the year with parties going on well into the early hours and midnight being announced to the fanfare of fire engine and boat horns as well as incredible firework displays!
As you might expect, New Year’s Day’s is a quiet event after the night before. But, entirely in the interests of keeping the children entertained, there’s always a competition to see how many used firework sticks the little ones can collect. Not a bad idea for getting cleaned up!
To experience an Iceland’s New Year celebrations for yourself, try our Iceland New Year’s Eve tour and guarantee yourself a happy New Year!