A Mix of Old World Tradition and Present Day Christmas

The Yuletide Season in Iceland

Map of Iceland

Figure 1: Map of the country of Iceland , which is located in the North Atlantic Ocean . Source: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook




The Yuletide season in Iceland is a highly celebrated time. It is a celebration rich in tradition, dating back to the earliest societies in Iceland . The Yule celebrations have adapted to the changing times, religion, and economic status of the country. The first records of these celebrations are dated back to a time before Christianity had reached the island. Over the years, Christianity has changed the overall celebration to be more like Christmas in the United States . Instead of just adopting the idea of Christmas, the Icelandic people have combined it with their oldest traditions to make it what it is today. Iceland 's natural resources and world market allow for a more affluent society than at times in the past, which has also been integrated into the Yule celebrations. In the past gifts were made by family members to give to others or trade for Yule supplies, while today they are mostly bought at stores. Still, they have not let the traditional gift giving ideas fade away. Children still receive small presents from the 13 Yule Lads in wooden shoes left by windows, even though presents are left under a Yule tree which is very similar to a Christmas tree.


Yuletide Lads  

Figure 2: A picture of the 13 Yule Lads. Source: www.simnet.is/gardarj/yule5.htm Figure 3: A national park area in Iceland . Source: www.icelandreview.com


The Yuletide season in Iceland brings the best of millennium old traditions together with current celebrations. Winter is long and cold in Iceland, so one of the largest celebrations of the year during this time lifts spirits. The original Yuletide season was centered on the winter solstice, but the actual reason for the celebration is not clear. The holiday and celebrations begin 13 days before Christmas and end 13 days after Christmas. This period is set around the arrival and departure of the Yule Lads.  The Yule Lads are Iceland's representation of Santa Claus. Since this celebration began before the introduction of Christianity to Iceland, only part of today's contemporary ideas have integrated into the old traditions.  The Yule Lads keep children's behavior in check, as does Santa Claus in other Western countries.  They also leave presents in wooden shoes left out by the children each night.  Besides keeping children on their best behavior, the Yule Lads bring families together for a great mix of traditional and contemporary celebration.


Context of Iceland]

Iceland is located to the Northwest of the United Kingdom in the North Atlantic Ocean . The total land area of the country is slightly smaller than that of Kentucky and has a population of less than 300,000. The climate is controlled by the North Atlantic current, which gives it windy winters and damp, cool summers. The terrain of the country is rocky and mountainous, with lots of ice. It is also popular for being one of the most active volcanic areas in the world. Figure 3 shows some of the beautiful landscape Iceland has to offer.

The land was settled originally by Scottish, Irish, and Norwegian peoples over 1,000 years ago. People begin emigrating to the United States and Canada in the 19 th century due to a massive volcanic eruption. The country was ruled by Norwegian powers for a long period of time, but gained complete independence in 1944.

The economy relies heavily on fishing. The country is a good producer of hydroelectric and thermal power, with 85% of the population receiving their household heating from these sources.

Sources Cited: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook.html



Origins of the Yuletide Celebrations]

Yule celebrations are known to have existed since atleast 1000 AD.  There is controversy as to why the celebrations originally took place.  Many beleive that the original Yule celebrations were centered around the winter solstice rather than the birth of Christ.  Since winters are harsh in Iceland, the sun and longer daylight hours are reason for celebration.  There is also no agreed upon definition of the word Yule.  The most popular meaning of the word stems from the Icelandic word for "wheel".  This would symbolize the cyclic nature of the calendar and the sun.



The Yuletide season brings much celebration and decoration to Iceland, as does Christmas in the United States.  Families decorate their homes with lights and tinsel and even a Yule tree.  The idea of a Yule tree is similar to a Christmas tree, and was only introduced about 200 years ago.  New Years is included in the Yuletide season celebrations, so fireworks can be seen lighting the sky on this night.  Food is an integral part of the celebrations, and the most traditional dishes are those consisting of lamb.   The Yule log has been part of the celebration since the beginning. The log is now burned on Christmas eve since the introduction of Christmas.  The log is burned in order to burn away mishaps for the coming year.  Figure 4 shows a typical Yule log decoration.

The most significant repsentation of the Yule season is the Yule Lads.  Beginning thirteen days before Christmas, one of the thirteen Yule Lads comes down from the mountains into town each day.  The Yule Lads are described as troll-like boys who cause mischief in towns and homes.  You will see children on their best behavior during this time, because the Lads are giving presents to the good children, and taking away the bad ones.  Other figures of this season include the Lads mother and their cat, who like to eat bad children.  Families celebrate together during this season usually at their own homes.



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Prognosis for [name of celebration]

The Yule season celebrations have always been popular in Iceland . The season itself remains popular, but different aspects of the celebrations change in popularity with changing times. The ideologies of Christmas and Santa Claus have become more popular over the past 200 years due to Americanization. The season has become more of a gift giving time since the country has become more affluent. In the past, when the economy has not been well, celebrations were held with gifts that family members had made for each other, rather than bought. Regardless of these changes, the Yule season has always been important to the Icelandic people.( http://www.simnet.is/gardarj/yule1.htm )



The Yuletide season in Iceland began as a celebration of winter solstice and the lengthening of days, and has integrated the popularity of Christianity among the Icelandic people. The season represents the heritage of the country and reflects the history that has made it what it is today. The celebrations of this season began before the arrival of Christianity, but have adapted to the integration of the religion into the Icelandic society. Even though over 90% of Iceland 's population describes themselves as Christians, they have not let the rituals of Christmas completely take over the origins of the Yuletide celebrations.


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner

    Religious Celebrations. In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual . Victor Turner, ed, pp. 201-219. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.
  • Cronk, Lee

    •  Reciprocity and the Power of Gift Giving . The Sciences May/June: 164-9.

    Dorson, Richard M.

    •  1982    Material Components in Celebration. In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual . Victor Turner, ed, pp. 33-57. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.




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