Skip to main content

For half an hour before midnight each year on New Year´s Eve the sky over towns in Iceland will light up with hundreds of thousands of fireworks. PIC sammich

J ust a decade ago most tourists visiting Iceland over Christmas and New Year´s were thrilled with the experience but complained about stores and restaurants being closed and little to do except get drunk on miniature vodka in your hotel room.

This is not much of a problem anymore. The gold-digger mentality in the tourism industry means you no longer have to choose between one hotel or one restaurants over the holiest days. In fact, your options are almost limitless as long as you stay in the capital Reykjavik. Elsewhere you will soon get bored or snowed in.

But since locals have tight customs regarding Christmas and New Year´s what should you expect exactly over this period in time.

> 23rd of December  –  If you think Eyjafjallajokull is unpronounceable try the word Þorlaksmessa. That is the name of this day of the year in Iceland and refers to the only catholic saint in Iceland. Þorlakur, or Thorlakur, is a long forgotten bishop known for nothing in particular but fighting for more catholic influence. In any case no one in Iceland is thinking of this guy on the 23rd. This is the essential shopping day for Christmas and the custom in Reykjavik city is to take the whole family downtown and walk the Laugavegur shopping street. This you do even if you have no shopping to do. Stores are open late until 22 or 23 and a growing number of people enjoy a drink or two afterwards before heading home again.

TIP: Whatever you do make sure you are somewhere in Laugavegur street come evening. The later the better. Grab a window seat if weather is bad and then watch in awe as the whole street is taken over by every human on the island it seems. [/reveal]

> 24th of December  –  Also known as package day. Major stores and some businesses are open until noon this day for last minute shopping before people head home to put the latest touch on their Christmas preparations. As the clock strikes exactly 18 most people either take part in a Christmas mass at the local church or they sit down to eat what is usually the most delicious meal of the year. Afterwards the kids, and some adults, go nuts opening Christmas presents.

TIP: A service is held twice this day at the most majestic of Icelandic churches in Hallgrimskirkja. Everyone is free to attend as long as seats are available. A splendid moment to get some spirit inside even if far away from home. @18.00 and 23.30.

> 25th of December  –  Probably the only day where foreigners have Reykjavik to themselves. Locals usually spend this day in bed and pyjamas and just chill. Most businesses and many restaurants are closed. Often the weather is below horrible and recharging is the thing to do.

> 26th of December  –  Things slowly get back to normal. Restaurants open and you notice some life in the city and towns.

After dinner on New Year´s Eve many locals visit bonfires lighted at predestined places in all towns and villages in Iceland. PIC Devan

> 31st of December –  Known in the local language as Gamlarsdagur or roughly translated The Day of the Old Year. By this time most people have bought their share of fireworks and again at 18 most families sit down for another fantastic meal. Later many people visit giant bonfires. Those take place in most towns and villages and the locations are advertised in the newspapers. Subsequently, depending on age, you either sit down in front of the television or go to a party. A yearly TV comedy show most people watch starts at 22:30 and finishes an hour later at 23:30. By now you have 30 minutes to light all your fireworks. That custom is changing however as many light up well after midnight. However, the whole idea is to blow away the old year and if you light after midnight you are also blowing away the New Year. A bad omen. The fireworks show is stunning and you would do well to find a nice viewing platform over town wherever you find yourself. You will not be disappointed.

TIP: Take it all in, have fun, get drunk. Repeat as necessary.

> 1st of January  –  Another day of the dead so to speak. Most stay indoors and businesses are closed. Hangovers are nurtured and some families meet again for leftover food from the night before.

> 2nd of January  –  Slowly life gets back to normal again.

Team Total Iceland will gladly give you more information should you have further questions regarding Christmas time in Iceland. Do not hesitate to make contact.