Iceland Local Custom Tips by Regina1965 Top 5 Page for this destination
Iceland Local Customs: 183 reviews and 248 photos
Grýla and Leppalúði.
Here in Iceland we have 13 Yulelads, which are quite different from Santa Claus, but now we have all but adopted the American Santa Claus. There are records of names of 80 Yulelads, but somehow these 13 Yulelads have stayed with us until the modern times.
Our original Yulelads were spranksters and all of them have their special name. 13 days before Christmas the first Yulelad comes to inhabited areas and then a new one arrives every day until the last one arrives on the 24th of December. We Icelanders celebrate Christmas on the evening of the 24th of December.
It has been a tradition here in Iceland since 1950 for young kids to leave one shoe on the windowsill in their bedroom, the first one 13 days before Christmas. The Yulelad coming to "town" visits all the kids and leaves a small present for them in their shoe. But only if the kids have gone to sleep early and have not behaved badly. Because as one knows then the Yulelads cannot leave you a present if you are awake ;)
The parents of the Yulelads are Grýla and Leppalúði (see my photo). Grýla is a very bad and grim ogre, and she eats badly behaved children, she comes to pick them up, puts them in her sack and then cooks them in her cauldron.
Grýla and Leppalúði own the Christmas cat, he eats people who don't get any Christmas presents containing clothes. So you better get some soft Christmas presents if you don't want the Christmas cat to eat you ;)
The names of the Yulelads are:
Stekkjastaur- Sheep Cote Clod.
Giljagaur - Gully Gawk.
Stúfur - Stubby.
Þvörusleikir - Spoon-Licker.
Pottaskefill - Pot-Scraper.
Askasleikir - Bowl-Licker.
Hurðaskellir - Door-Slammer.
Skyrgámur - Skyr-Gobbler.
Bjúgnakrækir - Sausage-Swiper.
Gluggagægir - Window-Peeper.
Gáttaþefur - Door-Sniffer.
Ketkrókur - Meet-Hook.
Kertasníkir - Candle-Beggar.
By their names you can see that they were up to mischief ;)
The last two photos are of the Icelandic Yulelads, they are a little out of focus, it was difficult catching them as they were moving all over the place ;)
The first settlers in Reykjavík.
From the beginning of settlement here in Iceland only ca 800.000 Icelanders have been born. All of their names and relationship by blood has been gathered in a data-file which every Icelander has access to. The church books are the biggest source of information.
We Icelanders are crazy about genealogy and I remember how the older generation knew everything about how everybody was related. Now the younger generations only have to add their name and the name of another Icelander in this data-file and in a matter of seconds you get a list of how you are related.
We always say that every Icelander is related at least in the sixth generation, that is we have the same great-great-great-great grandparents. That is not the case, but comes pretty close.
Let's not forget about all the French and Spanish fishermen who were fishing here by the shore of Iceland. Many of their ships sank here by the shore and a lot of them were rescued by the natives here. It was a common practice to put them in bed with young women to get some heat back into their cold bodies - resulting in a lot of Icelanders having black hair ;)
Here is how I am related to the first settler in Iceland, Ingólfur Arnarson and the first settler woman in Iceland, Hallveig Fróðadóttir. Ingólfur Arnarson is the father of Reykjavík so to speak as he settled here in this then unspoilt place. This list I got from The Icelandic book.
Ingólfur Arnarson (844) Hallveig Fróðadóttir (850)
Þorsteinn Ingólfsson 890
Þórhildur Þorsteinsdóttir 920
Þorkell Þórhildarson 945
Ketill Þorkelsson 965
Haukur Ketilsson 1020
Yngveldur Hauksdóttir 1060
Snorri Húnbogason 1100 - 1170
Narfi Snorrason 1135 - 1202
Snorri Narfason 1175 - 1260
Narfi Snorrason 1210 - 1284
Snorri Narfason 1260 - 1332
Ormur Snorrason 1320 - 1401
Guttormur Ormsson 1345 - 1381
Loftur "ríki" Guttormsson 1375 - 1432
Ólöf Loftsdóttir 1410 - 1479
Þorleifur Björnsson 1430 - 1486
Björn Þorleifsson 1480 - 1548
Jón Björnsson 1520 - 1600
Árni Jónsson 1560 - 1655
Sveinbjörn Árnason 1610 - 1681
Gísli Sveinbjörnsson 1650 - 1703
Sveinbjörn Gíslason 1694 - 1762
Einar "yngri" Sveinbjarnarson 1727 - 1814
Ragnheiður Einarsdóttir 1789 - 1855
Soffía Vernharðsdóttir 1829 - 1869
Ragnheiður Helgadóttir 1855 - 1946
Þórdís Ásgeirsdóttir 1889 - 1965
My grandmother 1920 - 1995
My father 1942 - 2008
The highway code here in Iceland is that the head-lights need to be on 24/7. Even during the bright summer time the lights must be on. This is a good thing, cars are more visible like this and we are so used to this that I have noticed that if a driver has forgot to switch on the lights I don't notice the car.
There is a fine for driving while speaking on your cell phone, but everybody does it anyway, sic.
There is also a fine for not buckling up, i.e. using seatbelts.
There are speed bumps all over the place and speed cameras in many places so don´t drive too fast here in Reykjavík. In residential areas the speed limit is 30-60 kph.
Drunk driving is all too common here and you will be charged with DWI if the blood level alcohol is .05.
I was asked about the rush hour recently. Even though Reykjavík is a small city then there is a rush hour at 7:30-9:30 and from 16:00-18:30.
Parking is not easy to find in Reykjavík, but there are covered car parks in many places in Reykjavík. When we go down-town we use the parking lot by the University, there are usually several parking spaces there on the big parking lot - with P4, which is cheap parking. Or we park the car on a gravel parking lot close to Grandi and walk to the centre. In both cases it is only a 5 minutes´walk. There are meter maids all over town, so even if you find a parking spot with a parking meter, the chance is that you will get a fine, so better walk for a short distance.
There are 2 speed cameras in Reykjavík and 16 on the ring-road.
Settlement chicken on Flatey island.
There is a stock of very colourful chicken in Iceland, called "landnámshænan" or the Settlement chicken, as these are descendants of the chicken the Vikings brought with them to Iceland.
This stock of chicken was nearly extinct by 1970 and an Icelander, Stefán Aðalsteinsson, travelled across Iceland to collect the Settlement chicken to save it from extinction. In 1978 he got 10 hens and 2 cocks and by now he has about 230 hens and 35 cocks.
Now there are ca 2.000-3.000 Settlement chicken in Iceland. It is similar to a wild fowl. It is lean and doesn´t lay as many eggs as the chicken that is being breed in Iceland.
The chicken at the chicken farms in Iceland is of another stock than the Settlement chicken and is called the White Italian.
To protect this special stock of Settlement chicken it is now possible to adopt a chicken for 2 years for ISK 25.000.
The period we call "Þorrinn" starts in the 4th month/thirteenth week of winter somewhere between the 19th and 25th of January. Then it is a tradition to eat the food our ancestors, who didn't have a refrigerator, had prepared for the winter.
"Þorramatur", the food, consists of singed sheep-heads, sheep-head-jelly, smoked lamb, blood-pudding and liver-pudding (like haggis), various soured meat, made sour in whey, like ram-testicles, breast-of-lamb, and seal-flippers. Then we have dried-fish, rotten shark, and beaked whale, cooked rye bread and rye pancakes.
The younger generation usually only eats dried-fish, rye pancakes, rye bread and smoked lamb out of the whole selection of Þorramatur, but there are exceptions to that (when I was a little girl I loved rotten shark).
"Þorramatur" is an aquired taste, so if ever you are visiting Iceland at this time of year, end of January-beginning of February, and somebody asks you to "Þorrablót", i.e. when we gather together and eat "þorramatur" or you go to a restaurant and want to try "þorramatur", you are hereby warned what you are getting yourself into ;)
Þorrablót as we celebrate them today started in the latter part of the 19th century amongst the upper class.
But if you are up for trying something "new" here are the names in Icelandic and English:
Seytt rúgbrauð=cooked rye bread
Ýmis súrmatur=various soured meat.
Þorri was a winter wight who was worshipped in the old Norse religion. When Icelanders converted to Christianity it was forbidden to worship Þorri. Þorri is described either as being fierce and hard, but in other tales as being an attentive supervisor of the farmers´ hay. He was greeted with generous amounts of food.
The rescue helicopter.
During the Festival of the Sea The Icelandic search and resque organizations display jeeps and other resque equipment. On Fishermen's day the coast guard’s helicopter demonstrates rescue operations from the sea with the search and resque organization. Their resque achievements both at sea and on land are beyond words and we are VERY grateful for their work.
If you ever find yourself in need of help, be it lost at land or sea, or need the police (Lögreglan) or the fire-brigade (Slökkviliðið) call 112 which is our emergency number (Neyðarlínan).
The Icelandic search and rescue organizations are men and women from all walks of life who rush to help when ever they get a call that somebody is in danger or has gone missing. This is voluntary work made by unselfish people, so let us not take advantage of them. Always let other people know of your plans when travelling and always check the weather report before travelling in Iceland. The rescue operations are very expensive and the rescue force risks their own life and limbs to help other people. Every year a number of tourists go missing here in Iceland, and throughout the whole year Icelanders need help on several occasions from these great people. Ca 4.000 people are on call for the rescue organizations.
In January 2011 three experienced German hikers came to Iceland to hike up to Eyjafjallajökull glacier and volcano (remember that one, travellers, the volcano which gave us so much trouble while we were travelling in 2010?). Why do people come to Iceland in high wintertime and go unaccompanied on a glacier? Of course one of them went missing in fog and then there was a blizzard (very common here in wintertime). 150 rescue people had to risk their live and limbs to look for this man and they found him alive. These kind of rescue operations are very expensive and who pays for them? Not the travellers, that is for sure. In my opinion the rule should be that those who by foolhardiness get themselves into trouble should pay for their rescue.
The rescue organizations partly fund their operations by selling firework in December for the New Year's eve celebrations.
Other Contact: www.logreglan.is
Hot spring baking at Geysir.
It is an old tradition to use hot springs here in Iceland to steam/cook rye-bread. The photos I include are from bread-baking in the hot springs by Geysir and by Laugarvatn.
The recipe for the rye-bread is 2 kilos rye, 300 gr sugar, 2 table-spoons salt, 5 tea-spoons dry yeast and 1,75 litres water. Knead the dough and put into an empty milk-carton. Let it set for an hour. Put the cartons into the hot spring and let it bake for 24 hours. Be careful as the hot springs are like really hot and use oven mittens ;) The hot spring is then covered with a piece of wood.
Nowadays the rye-bread is baked in the oven for 24 hours as not all of us have got our own private hot springs. But those who live in the country side and have access to hot springs use them for cooking and the taste of the rye-bread baked in hot springs is stronger than of the one baked in a normal oven.
At the restaurant by Geysir the bread is served with herring and strong Icelandic "brennivín" spirit. TV-programs from many countries in the world have filmed the rye bread being steamed in the hot spring by Geysir, f.ex. from the USA, Italy and India :)
Steamed rye-bread is best eaten with butter. You can buy it in bakeries and the super-markets. The rye-bread in my last photo was bought in the bakery at Hveragerði "hot spring town".
A word of warning though, the Icelandic name for rye-bread is "rúgbrauð", but another name for rye-bread here in Iceland is "þrumari" - you will have to find out for yourself what that means ;)
The Icelandic dog
The Vikings brought the Icelandic sheep-dog with them to Iceland back in ca 874. The Icelandic dog is unique. It is obedient, playful, kind, active, curious and does have a know-how.
The Icelandic dog is a sheep-dog, so the only drawback for it being kept as a pet is that it barks a lot when guests come for a visit. The Icelandic dog is trained for finding people buried in avalanches.
The Icelandic dog was exported to England, where it was very popular amongst the upper classes.
The Icelandic dog has got a curled up tail, bicoloured - mostly yellow or light in colour.
I 1869 it is believed that there were ca 24.000 Icelandic dogs here in Iceland, but in 1883-1887 the number of Icelandic dogs was down to ca 10.000. And ca 3/4 of the Icelandic dogs died in epidemics in Iceland in the last part of the 19th century.
About 50 years ago the Icelandic dog almost became destinct, but back then organized breeding of the Icelandic dog began. Now there are ca 500 Icelandic dogs in Iceland, and a lot of them are abroad.
All of the dogs are registered in the Icelandic Kennel Club (Hundaræktunarfélag Íslands).
Whalers in Reykjavík harbour.
There is a lot of controversy on whaling in the world. And some misinformation. Icelanders hunt some types of whales, f.ex. the small mink whales. We have a quota for hunting 145 finbacks (langreyður) out of 20.000 around Iceland, but haven´t used that quota. Finbacks are now on the watch list of IUCN, as there was massive overfishing of finbacks around the South-pole in the last century.
Iceland is close to the North-pole and these finbacks are only of the same under-species and don´t travel from the South-pole to the North-pole. But still we get a lot of grieve because of this.
Finbacks are increasing in number around Iceland and humpbacks around Iceland have increased in number ca 10-15% a year! Mink-whales have decreased in number though. Not because of whaling though as our quota is only 216 mink-whales yearly, but we never even hunt so many whales. And the number of mink-whales has decreased from 40.000 to 20.000.
It is not sure why, but the stock of sand-launce, which they eat, has collapsed dramatically - also causing the artic tern problems, so that their chicks died of starvation for the past couple of years here in Iceland. So the mink-whale, which also eats cod and krill, has probably moved to other locations.
All in all Icelanders (some of us) have caught ca 15.158 leviathans since 1948. Out of them 2.644 have been sei whales (sandreyður), 2885 sperm whales, 2707 mink whales and 9461 finbacks. And 159 blue whales, but it hasn´t been caught since 1959. And "we" stopped hunting humpback in 1954.
Some of these whales can become 100 years old.
The traditional plain skyr from MS.
Skyr is a dairy product which used to be unique to Iceland and very popular here. The Vikings settlers brought the knowledge of skyr-making with them when they came over from Norway in ca 874.
Skyr is really thick, made from pasteurized skim-milk which is cultured and concentrated. It contains no fat, but a high percentage of protein. It comes with all kinds of different flavours now, see my photos. When I was younger we bought a very thick chunk of skyr, unblended, and added sugar and water or milk to it and mixed it. It was traditionally eaten with milk or cream and sugar on top and it was/is a stable in the Icelandic diet. Sometimes skyr is called the Icelandic cheese ;)
There are always new and new skyr products coming on the market, the latest idea being sea-weed/blueberry/honey skyr :) It is made with 100% Icelandic ingredients.
And now there are assorted chocolates made from skyr, white chocolate with skyr fillings.
Skyr can now be bought in some places in the USA now, have a look at their website for information on where it can be bought. And Icelandic skyr is becoming increasingly popular in Norway, from where the Vikings came to Iceland. In 2009 Norwegians ate 284 tonnes of skyr, but last year they ate 2.000 tonnes of skyr!! It seems like skyr making died out in Scandinavia, but stayed strong in Iceland (maybe it stopped being popular and the Vikings didn't hear about it, seeing that they were so isolated here on this island).
Now skyr is being sold in the USA under the name of Greek Yogurt.
"We" Icelanders eat ca 2.000 tonnes of skyr annually and export ca 5.000 tonnes of skyr. In the year 2013 skyr export increased by 56% in Scandinavia.
Skyr is either exported from Iceland or produced abroad with a special permisson from Iceland.
Do try it, it is both healthy and yummy. Unfortunately I became allergic to dairy products when I was 19, but I remember the taste well.
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