ICELAND

The Christmas or Yule (Jól in Icelandic) celebration in Iceland starts four Sundays before Christmas proper, which begins on December 24 (Advent) and ends thirteen days later on January 6. Traditionally, one candle is lit each Sunday until four candles are lit on the 24th. At 6:00 pm Church bells ring to start the Christmas celebration. The religiously observant and/or traditional Icelanders will attend mass at this time while the secular Icelanders will begin their holiday meal immediately. After the meal is finished, they open gifts and spend the evening together. In Iceland people over the Yule holidays most often eat popular dishes like smoked lamb, ptarmigan and turkey. Pork is also very popular.
Thirteen days before December 24 the Yule Lads children will leave their shoes by the window so that the Yule Lads can leave small gifts in their shoes. The Yule Lads are the sons of two trolls living in the Icelandic mountains. Each of the Yule Lads is known for a different kind of mischief (for example slamming doors, stealing meat, stealing milk or eating the candles). The Yule Lads traditionally wear early Icelandic wool clothing but are now known for the more recognizable red and white suit.

Each home typically sets up a Christmas tree indoors in the living room with most decorating it on December 11. In addition to the decorations, presents are put underneath the tree. It is also a tradition in many homes to boil skate on the 23rd. The day is called Saint Thorlak Mass (Þorláksmessa).

During the holiday season, it is traditional for families to work together to bake small cookies to serve or give to guests. Most common are thin gingerbread cookies which are decorated in many different colors of glaze. Many families also follow the tradition of making Laufabrauð (Leafbread), which is a flat thin bread that is cut out using a special tool and folding technique.

The end of year is divided between two days – the Old Year’s Day (Gamlársdagur) and the New Year’s Day (Nýársdagur). At the night of the former and morning of the latter Icelanders shoot up fireworks blowing the old year away and welcoming the new one.

Thirteen days after the 24th Icelanders say goodbye to the Yule Lads and other mystical creatures such as elves and trolls. There are bonfires held throughout the country while the elves, Yule Lads, and Icelanders dance together before saying goodbye until the next Christmas.

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