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How to enjoy the festive season in Iceland

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Iceland has everything you need for a story book Christmas. With crisp white blankets of snow, twinkling lights and a mystical atmosphere, there's no better place to be on December 25 if you want to soak in all things Santa Claus. 

Here's how to spend the festive season in Iceland and just why it's so special. 

Experience the natural environment

Iceland's landscapes are so wonderful and surreal and there's a definite sense that magic's in the air. There's everything from dramatic volcanic peaks to vast lakes and lush green forests, with some of the Icelandic people even believing the natural environment is home to a population of elves, called Huldufólk in the local tongue. When you see the stunning countryside for yourself, the idea might not seem so strange after all. 

With features such as the stunning Snæfellsjokull Glacier and volcano that stretches 1,446 metres into the sky, and the Vatnajokull National Park, the largest national park in Europe, it's easy to get swept away in the fairy tale-esque atmosphere. 

Partake in the local tales and traditions

With so much dramatic scenery and such a mystical environment, plenty of old tales and traditions have sprung up relating to events like Christmas. 

It all began when Icelandic people would celebrate the winter solstice with feasts and parties. Now, Christmas revelry begins to take place on the night of December 24 and lasts for 13 days until January 6. Throughout these 13 days, the streets brim with colourful lights and decorations, making it one of the most atmospheric places to spend the Yuletide season. Wander the streets of Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, and see ornately decorated Christmas trees, advent lights, wreaths and candles, reindeer and more. 

Listen out for the ringing of the bills of the Lutheran Cathedral in Reykjavik on Christmas Eve, which signals the formal beginning of Christmas. A religious service is broadcast around the country and the feasting begins. 

Throughout the Christmas period, look out for signs of 'The Yule Lads'. These are local folk characters who have become a quintessential part of Icelandic Christmastime. There are 13 of these troll-like characters who are very tongue-in-cheek and mischievous. Families tell their children that in the days before Christmas, each lad comes down from the mountains and into town to play tricks on naughty kids and to give gifts to those who have been nice. You'll see artwork, costumes and references to the Yule Lads throughout the country during the Christmas period. 

Enjoy great festive food and gifts

The Christmas Market in Heidmork, Reykjavik, is open throughout November and December. Here, you can check out designers and craftspeople selling their Yuletide wares, from Christmas trees to handmade wooden trinkets. There's also a fireplace, choral performances, other musicians and even writing and poetry readings to enjoy. 

Yule Town in Ingolfstorg, Reykjavik, is another spot to visit during Christmastime, with a collection of miniature Christmas houses as well as other gifts and crafts. Then there's the food! Try smoked lamb, wildfowl, ham, turkey and much more, along with sweet treats such as pastries, hot chocolates or warming mulled wine. 

Cookies are also incredibly prominent in Iceland throughout this period, with an amazing array of mouthwatering flavours from rich chocolate to gooey peanut butter. Leaf bread is also ubiquitous. This is round, thin wheat bread cut into patterns and deep-fried. Families often bake the bread together and present it beautifully, tied up in ribbon. 

With so much to do in Iceland during Christmas and the surrounding weeks, it's a fantastic destination to consider. Here, you'll experience the real peak of Christmas. 

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