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Celebrating Icelandic Christmas Tree Traditions

December is one of the most magical months in Reykjavík. Marking the beginning of the holiday season, for more than half a century, is the lighting of the iconic Oslo Christmas tree on the Austurvöllur Parliament square, followed by lighting of Christmas trees all around the capital area such as in Hafnarfjörður Heritage Harbor, Mosfellsbær Mountain Borough and Kópavogur Culture Hill. Each event is celebrated by young and old honoring Icelandic Christmas tradition by gathering around the trees do dance, accompanied by brass bands and choirs singing Christmas carols and hymns. If you want to experience how Icelanders have danced around the Christmas tree through the centuries you should visit Árbær Open Air Museum. There you can also participate in traditional Christmas activities such as making of traditional leaf bread, spin yarn, make candles or ornaments. The Yule Lads are likely to make their way down from their home in mount Esja engaging in their regular business like peeping through windows, slamming doors, licking spoons, snatching sausages and other Christmas foods. An alternative way to get the feel of Christmas is to visit Reykjavík City Hall and have a walk through the Christmas forest, decorated by three thousand and five hundred children in Reykjavík with ornaments made from recycled material. 

Laugardalur Christmas Valley Walk

Christmas is all around in Laugardalur where Christmas lights set the mood for a festive advent. Prepare for a day out visiting the Reykjavík Botanic garden, a peaceful place with a beautiful arboretum, ponds and birdlife. In the garden you find Café Flora where you can stop during weekends for hot chocolate, mulled wine or jólaglögg, and delicious cakes, enjoy live music, book readings and other fun weekend-events. Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo will be decorated with colorful lights and the smell of delicious Christmas baking fills the air. All the animals will be in a special Christmas mood and the sheep will have their yearly Christmas shear, a cut off their woolen fleece. At the Skating Hall in Laugardalur you can ice-skate around a beautifully decorated Christmas tree to the sound of lively Christmas songs. Skaters of all ages can rent skates and helmets and swing on the skating rink with Christmas creatures who regularly put on shows on the ice. A perfect visit on a walk through the Laugardalur is Ásmundarsafn, the Museum and sculpture garden of Ásmundur Sveinsson, exhibiting works of modern and contemporary artists. Finally, there is nothing like soaking in hot water underneath a starry sky in Laugardalur thermal pool at the end of the day, but taking the so called “Christmas bath” is an Icelandic tradition everyone can participate in.

The Book-Flood before Christmas

Reykjavík is a UNESCO City of Literature and literature is celebrated in various ways in the city. By tradition, books are the single most popular Christmas gift item in Iceland and during this time, books are quite literally the talk of the town. Icelanders have a term for this – the Christmas-book-flood - which may sound strange or even horrific in English, but the Icelandic word “Jólabókaflóð” is familiar and dear to every Icelander. In the spirit of this bookish season, we highly recommend a visit to one of the local downtown bookstores, most of which are open until 10 pm. There you can enjoy a warm drink at the book café and browse the selection of books by local authors in translations, including books about our beloved Yule Lads. You may also want to take a relaxed literary stroll with your private guide by the aid of our free app Reykjavik Culture Walks. You will find walks in English, Spanish and German. The Icelandic literary tradition goes all the way back to the settlement time and for those curious to dig into the past, the exhibition Points of Views at the Culture House gives some visual insight into this legacy. Or you can pay a holiday visit to the house of Iceland’s only Nobel laureate, Halldór Laxness in nearby Mosfellsdalur valley, where he lived and wrote for over half a century. This warm home is now a museum, left exactly as it was when the writer and his family lived there.

Christmas Markets in Reykjavík

There will be three Christmas Markets worth visiting in Reykjavík this Christmas. One is in Hafnarfjörður, one in the centre called the Christmas Market in Hjartargarður and the third one is located on the outskirts of the city in the nature reserve Heiðmörk.

 A feast of sights and sounds, the Christmas Village in Hafnarfjörður offers live entertainment, visits from the Icelandic Yule Lads, horse-drawn carriage rides and quaint village of Christmas houses selling everything from Icelandic design and craft to snacks and hot drinks. Don't forget to try some of the homemade Icelandic delicacies.

The Christmas village is open every Saturday and Sunday from 12:00-17:00 during Advent.

The Christmas Market at Hjartagarður will be at the heart of downtown Reykjavík. The Market at Hjartagarður provides you with a genuine christmas spirit with handmade Icelandic products, foods, and other products while enjoying live christmas music.

The market will be open from the 13th of December until the 16th and again from the 20th to the 23rd.

In Heiðmörk; the woods on the border of Reykjavík, one can visit the Reykjavík forestry societies  Christmas Market. On weekends in advent, families visit to buy local craft-, design- and food products at the market, choose their local Christmas tree and enjoy a hot chocolate.

The market prides itself with an ambitious culture program, and every day writers and musicians visit to read for children around the bonfire, and read and play music in the café.

The icelandic jule lad is also known to visit these parts on advent.

For the more adventures types, the forestry society also provides saws and guidance for those that want to venture to find and chop down their own tree.