As the days tick by in December, Icelanders are well on their way to celebrating the Christmas season. Most of town is decorated with bright, colorful lights, and the holiday events are underway. I have experienced Christmas in a few different countries, but always find Iceland to have the most magical holiday season. With only a few hours of sunlight in December, the Christmas lights really help lighten the mood as the days continue to shorten. However, while the decorations are beautiful, it is the coming together of the community that really brings the season so much joy.
Stykkishólmur is a relatively small town around 2.5 hours northwest of Reykjavík. You can read more about it here. December is a month full of activities which bring members of the town together to celebrate. None of which as cherished to me as the Christmas Tree lighting. It reminds me of the scene at the end of The Grinch where the town comes together around the tree on Christmas morning to sing carols. The town comes together early in December one evening to sing carols, share some hot cocoa, and meet all the Santa´s! This year was my first experiencing it with a young child of my own, and to see the amazement in her eyes as they lit the massive tree was amazing.
Beyond the signature tree lighting, the local shops and restaurants extend hours, have holiday themed meals or treats, and even host pop up markets. Our calendar is booked throughout the month with these extended hours and events.
As a Canadian, Christmas for me always started on the evening of the 24th with Christmas Eve. The main event was always Christmas morning on the 25th. However, here Christmas actually begins on the 23rd with a celebration called Þorláksmessa (Mass of Saint Þorlákur). On this day locals cook a traditional meal of Skata, which is fish. However, this is not your typical fish. With a strong scent similar to ammonia and rotting scales, Skata is not a meal for the faint of heart. My first Christmas in Iceland I was on a mission to try it all, so I took part in this event (and never will again). Skata, is a particular fish that may be the smelliest I have ever encountered. It actually permeated the walls of our house from neighbors cooking it. And even if you don’t eat it, there is almost no escaping the smell throughout town. The 24th is “the main event” with a big feast and everyone in their dress clothes. It is after dinner that everyone exchanges presents. I’ve found the 25th to be a cozy day with leftovers and family time.
The whole season
This Christmas season is such a unique (and lengthy) experience. But with so many different traditions spanning the month of December, it is a great way to truly get the most of Christmastime.
If you can’t imagine yourself being away from your home or family during Christmastime, there is still another way to experience the holiday season in Iceland. New Year’s Eve is a wildly popular time to visit. The darkness makes it perfect for Northern Lights Hunting, and if you’re a fan of fireworks, this is a place you want to be on NYE. Between the massive meal to celebrate the evening, and the brilliant fireworks show to kick off the New Year, it really has become one of my favourite places to celebrate.
Here’s hoping you all have a merry holiday season wherever you may be, and that you get to experience Iceland’s soon.