Icelanders are fiercely protective and proud of their history and this is shown through their passionate storytelling, iconic festivals and countless heritage museums that keep all the enthralling stories and traditions alive.
Read on to discover our top six fascinating customs and traditions of Icelandic culture:
1. Geothermal Bathing
Bathing in volcanically heated water whilst surrounded by artic snow is an Icelandic tradition dating back to the Vikings. Today, Icelanders and tourists from around the world still flock to the country’s natural hot springs and geothermal lagoons, such as the beautiful Blue Lagoon and Mývatn Nature Baths, for a warm and soothing haven from the crisp Icelandic air.
Not only is this a blissfully relaxing experience, but the springs’ high levels of silicates and minerals are amazing for your skin.
Source: Heather R
2. Thirteen Santas
The Christmas holidays are rich in Icelandic customs and traditions, making it an enchanting time to visit Iceland. Aside from all the magical snow, festive feasts and spectacular decorations, Iceland has not one, but thirteen Santas. The Yule Lads, as the residents call them, are descended from trolls and live in the mountains. They travel down, one by one, from December 12th till Christmas Eve to bring children small gifts.
How lovely? Maybe not... Ancient folklore states the Yule Lads were originally incredibly mischievous, stole from the village people and played tricks on them – oh dear!
3. Extraordinary Seafood
The Icelandic diet is one of the healthiest in the world, mainly due to the island’s abundant fish and seafood from its pure, clean shorelines and rivers. As well as the usual salmon and trout, eating fermented shark (Hákarl) and fish jerky (Harðfiskur) are part of the Icelandic culture and history. Why? In the past, inhabitants had to be creative with food sources and ensure nothing went to waste due to the island’s isolation and lack of diverse food sources.
Source: Richard Eriksson
4. Icelandic Sagas
Through storytelling and literature, the illustrious Sagas ensure Icelandic customs and traditions stay alive in the hearts of Icelanders today. Passed down orally through the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Sagas were committed to paper in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries and chronical Old Norse history, religion and thought.
Today, the stories continue through the island’s museums, festivals, walking trails and activities which offer an enjoyable and exciting way for young Icelanders and tourists to learn about Iceland’s impressive history.
5. Midnight Sun
Summer solstice may be celebrated all over the world, however, Icelanders do it best as their sun lingers until after midnight. Gathering at the sun’s peak has been an Icelandic tradition ever since the Nordic seafarers met up at midsummer to discuss legal matters, visit wells with healing powers and build huge bonfires.
Today, music events, Viking festivals and epic feasts are a popular way for residents and tourists to enjoy the miraculous midnight sunshine.
Source: Hafsteinn Robertsson
6. First Name Basis
When visiting Iceland it’s custom to address everyone by the first name. Why? Because there are technically no surnames or family names in Iceland. Last names are pretty irrelevant as they simply state they are the son or daughter of their mother or father. For example, Eidsdottir means daughter (dottir) of Eid. So everyone you meet, feel free to call them by their first name – even the President!