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Icelandic traditions: Christmas celebrations and Þorrablót

Today we'll be talking about Icelandic traditions here at FREEDOMtravel. A while ago we wrote about travelling Around Iceland by car, and now I would like to follow up by telling you about two important holidays in Iceland: Christmas and Þorrablót (utt: thorrablot).

Icelandic traditions: Christmas

When I (Helena) lived in Iceland as a 17-year-old exchange student, I learnt early on about the two evil trolls Grýla and Leppalúði. These two horrible creatures are the parents of no less than 13 (!) Icelandic Santas. 

Grýla and Leppalúði eat children who don't behave properly, and many Icelandic children throughout history have probably been frightened by these scary creatures. And as if that wasn't enough, they have a cat, jólakötturinn, who also eats people who don't behave or work properly...

13 Santa Claus

The 13 the gnomes then? Fortunately, they are not quite as bad, but mostly a bit annoying in general. They have names along the lines of Sleigh Lickers, Door Slammers, Window Peepers and Light Thieves, which may give a description of their characters. Thirteen days before Christmas they begin to come down from the mountains, one by one, and after Christmas they disappear again at the same rate, the last one being gone on 6 January.

Isländska traditioner
Two of the thirteen Icelandic elves

Christmas celebrations and food

Just like in Sweden, Christmas in Iceland is celebrated on 24 December, and just like here, Christmas presents are distributed and Christmas food is eaten with family and friends. Icelandic Christmas food is not at all similar to Swedish Christmas food. Instead of a Christmas table, people eat a dinner at a set table.

The Christmas dinner I experienced in Iceland consisted of lamb, boiled potatoes and red cabbage, but I have read that smoked ham or grouse can also be served as an alternative. On 23 December, Þorláksmass is celebrated, and you can also eat rotten skate to celebrate what was traditionally the end of Lent.

Christmas in Iceland

Icelandic traditions: Þorrablót

Þorrablót is originally a pagan sacrificial festival held in the Old Norse month of Þorra, which roughly corresponds to February. On this occasion, people have a big party, sing, drink spirits, eat (rather strange) food and have fun.

What about the food? Yes, it consists of hákarl (sour shark/fermented shark), svið (boiled sheep's head), hangikjöt (smoked sheep meat), blóðmör (a kind of blood pudding), lifrapylsa (liver sausage), hrútspungar (sheep testicles), rúgbrauð (rye bread) and flatbrauð (a kind of flat bread).

When I lived in Iceland, the older uncles greedily sucked the sheep's eyes with a pleasurable sound. Today, it is said that the young people do not want this food. A bit of a shame, I think! I have participated in several Þorrablót, both in Iceland and in Sweden, and even though I was not think everything on the platters is amazing, it's a great experience to be part of this tradition!


Christmas and Þorrablót are the two traditions I remember most strongly from my year in Iceland, but if you want to read about even more Icelandic traditions, you can read more at

Isländska traditioner: Thorramatur
Even more of the same! On the left: different types of black pudding and liverwurst. In the centre: sheep testicles. In the bowls in the centre: surhaj. Top right: sheep's head.

Top image in the post: Photo:

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