‘Rainbow Street’ at Christmas, Skólavörðustígur (Reykjavík) @ Unsplash

Iceland is probably the most intense in its passion for ‘Jólin’ (Christmas), among the Nordic countries: decorations go up as early as November, and for the next couple of months the country is a flurry of sparkling lights and parties, with locals shopping, preparing their homes, and baking gingerbread biscuits. December is also a delightful time of year to visit Reykjavík, thanks to the charming festive atmosphere in the city, particularly along the main street Laugavegur, as locals tend to come here in the evenings for last-minute shopping and get-togethers with friends. One of the more unusual Icelandic tales related to the festive season is that of the Christmas Cat (‘Jólakötturinn’), the house cat of the ogress Grýla: this feline is said to devour anybody who is not gifted new clothes for Christmas. The ogress Grýla herself has an insatiable appetite for naughty children around the holidays, and she is also the mother of the thirteen ‘Yule Lads‘: these strange elves descend from the mountains in the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas to wreak mischief and leave presents in the shoes of good little boys and girls. Iceland has a ‘regular Santa‘ too: one can actually visit his giftshop at the Christmas Garden near Akureyri in North Iceland, at any time of year. Having a reputation for some unusual food, Christmastime in Iceland is no exception: one particular delicacy one can eat on 23 December for St Thorlak’s Mass (‘Þorláksmessa’) is skata, or fermented skate, whose taste and texture is similar to ‘hárkarl‘ (rotten shark). Other traditional main courses at Christmas dinners are Icelandic smoked lamb (‘hangikjöt’), salted pork (‘hamborgarhryggur’), ptarmigan, goose, leaf bread (‘laufabrauð’) and the Malt-Appelsín soda drink.