The winter season can be a great time to visit Iceland for children and adults alike. Not only can you experience Icelandic Christmas and New Year but you can also celebrate lesser known holidays as the Þorri or Beer day.
The Icelandic Christmas period is really traditional for most Icelanders, they stay with their family and friends. Christmas season starts on 23 December and ends on 6 January. But the main days are 24-26. You need to keep in mind that some companies close over the Christmas especially 24-26 of December. One of the best things about Iceland Christmas traditions, particularly for Icelandic kids is the shoe in-the window tradition. This gets underway 13 days before Christmas, when the Icelandic Yule Lads, who live in the mountains, start coming to town, one by one. Before they go to sleep, kids take one of their shoes and leave near a window and they get gifts in the morning. However, this only works if the child has been good – if he or she has been bad, they will only get potato.
The New Year’s Eve in Iceland is a one of a lifetime celebration. The locals have a family dinner at home, and later family, friends and neighbors gather around bonfires (brenna) to enjoy the warm fire and celebrate. Majority of Icelanders watch the annual Icelandic television comedy called Áramótaskaupið. And at midnight the craziness begins with a display of fireworks in the sky.
In the midwinter Icelanders celebrate Þorri festival offered to the gods in pagan Iceland of the past. It was abolished during the Christianization of Iceland, but resurrected in the 19th century as a midwinter celebration that continues to be celebrated to this day. The timing for the festival coincides with the month of Thorri, according to the old Icelandic calendar, which begins on the first Friday after January 19th.
The eating habits of the Icelandic nation have changed a lot in the last hundred years. And it is only during Þorri that people will eat many of the old traditional foods. As this feast takes place in the middle of winter, it is no surprise that most of the food served at the feasts is preserved in some way: by pickling in whey, salting, smoking, drying or fermenting.
These will include rotten shark’s meat (hákarl), boiled sheep’s head, (svið) and congealed sheep’s blood wrapped in a sheep’s stomach (blóðmör)! This is traditionally washed down with some Brennivin – also known as Black Death schnapps made from potato and caraway.
Beer was banned in Iceland from 1915 to 1989 (yes, you read that right: 1989!). In the beginning all alcohol was banned but in 1922 the ban on wine was lifted after Spain threatened to stop buying Iceland’s fish if Iceland wouldn’t buy their wine. For some strange reason it took another 67 years for Iceland to legalize beer and on March 1st 1989 beer-thirsty Icelanders could finally order a pint of beer at their favorite drinking holes. Since then Icelanders have celebrated beer day on March 1st every year.