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Christmas Traditions: Your Holiday Memories

For the final edition of this series, we asked our Facebook Group Members to share their holiday traditions and their childhood memories with us.

Here are some of their responses:

homemade christmas tree with wrapped presents below
Homemade Christmas Tree - Exhibit at Árbær Open Air Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland


"Growing up in Iceland, Christmas Eve was my favorite day all year. Precisely at 6:00 pm all was quiet in the city of Reykjavík (my home overlooked a big part of the city and harbor). Almost not a car moving and all church bells throughout the city were ringing. People were either at church services that began at 6:00 or at home preparing Christmas Eve dinner and listening/watching the sermon and the beautiful Christmas carols and psalms. I moved to the US and added the tradition of everyone lighting a candle for a loved one passed or not present. [Hangikjöt] that is what we have Christmas Eve as well. Hangikjöt with lots of sweet cream sauces with small potatoes, peas and red cabbage. Christmas pudding is the big thing with all 16 of my grandchildren and their parents. A very rich rice pudding with a hidden almond. The recipient of the almond receives a special gift. For my family… this is the most fun tradition."

Kathy was also kind enough to share her sweet cream sauce recipe.


1/4 c butter or margarine

1/4 c white flour

2 c whole milk

1/8 tsp salt

*add sugar to taste for sweet sauce.

Double, triple recipe .... as needed for number of diners. Figure on at least 1/3 c per person.


"I grew up in Gimli in an Icelandic household… we celebrated on the 24th and going to the Lutheran Church for the carol service was always a highlight of the evening."


"On Christmas Eve, our family had dinner, opened presents, and then went to 9pm church service. Once our kids were older, we attended the Candlelight Service that ended at midnight. Everyone stood outside the church holding our candles in silence to welcome in Christmas. It was magical!"


"I don’t know how traditional it is, but I make vínarterta and krumkake. This year I’m incorporating the 1 Yule Lads, instead of Elf on the shelf, for my toddler. We’ll leave out treats and snacks and hope the lads will leave little gifts. We’ll do something for Yule, light some candles, otherwise Christmas Eve is spent at my inlaws and Christmas morning we open our presents and stockings."


"Christmas Eve, magical and spiritual, almost beyond words. It began when my Grandma said so! Sometime between 5 and 6 p.m. Aunts, Uncles, cousins and my grandparents all together in my grandparent’s small house. First we had a buffet of holiday treats, sandwiches, and cookies, kleinur and vinarterta and milk. Then we would get ready for the magic of Christmas, the lights were dimmed, the little ones seated on the floor, all of us ready to sing the Carols and listen to the Christmas story read by my Mom or one of her 4 siblings. We ended our singing with “Jingle Bells” and “Here comes Santa Claus”. The magic continued with Santa coming with a bag of small gifts. One for everyone. Sometimes an orange and a pair of socks. Nothing big, Santa wore a mask and boots and an overcoat. All black. I think the lights were dim so the little ones wouldn't be terrified by Santa! Us cousins still laugh at the scary Santa , but our grandparents wanted Christmas to be honored with our worship time and also an element of fun and silliness. I treasure the memories of my childhood Christmas celebrations and we have carried the tradition over to our own family, with a few updates. We allow the younger ones to read the Christmas story from Luke and our Santa is much better looking!"

Singing and Dancing around the Christmas Tree at Árbær Open Air Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland
Singing and Dancing around the Christmas Tree at Árbær Open Air Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland


"I realize many decades later that's why we celebrated Christmas Eve much more than Christmas Day unlike most of our friends. My mother used to make those woven "heart baskets" out of Christmas wrapping paper to hang on the tree when we were little. We got to open just one present Christmas Eve but don't know where that came from? At Icelandic American Christmas Parties we joined hands and sang and danced around the Christmas Tree. Icelandic Santa arrived to deliver the presents to the children and he was skinny ;-) Another memory comes to mind from my Mother growing up in Iceland that they had Ptarmigan at Christmas and it was a real treat to get an orange for Christmas!"


"We always had hangikjot on Christmas eve. We opened presents Christmas morning. We just had our with mashed potatoes with lots of butter, and boiled cabbage."


"This year we sent a Pönnkökur recipie with all our christmas cards!"


"On Christmas Eve the elves would always hide new pyjamas or slippers for my children to find before going to bed!"

Thank you to everyone who shared their holiday traditions with us! It was a real treat to read the similarities and the differences between everyone. I know I sure found some inspiration for next year!

If you want to share your traditions with us, leave a comment below or tag us in your holiday photos. Facebook: @icelandicroots or Instagram: @icelandic_roots

Gleðileg Jól og Gleðilegt Nýtt Ár!

The Icelandic Roots Team

*Árbær photos courtesy of Natalie Guttormsson


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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