Educative Holidays at The National Museum of Iceland
The National Museum of Iceland is No Ordinary Museum
When people think of museums, fun and games isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. The National Museum of Iceland however invites its visitors to explore its exhibitions in a special holiday treasure hunt. The traditional Icelandic Christmas cat has thus been hidden all over the museum and it is your job to look for clues that take you through Iceland’s rich history towards your ultimate goal. Other holiday specialities at the museum include the daily arrivals of the thirteen Icelandic Yule lads from December 12th onwards, a Christmas house, music, lectures on Icelandic Christmas traditions and food tastings.

Holiday Treasure Hunt

Ólöf Breiðfjörð, at the National Museum, says that the treasure hunt has been a big success since its inception a few years ago. “I was watching the games over the last holidays and it was a real treat to see entire families enthusiastically exploring the museum together. We wanted to present the idea that museum visits don’t always have to be silent and purely academic. We want our guests to be able to have fun while they’re here,” says Ólöf. The treasure hunt is now available in five different languages; Icelandic, English, Polish, French and German and will be available until January 6th. It is centered around finding the Christmas cat, which is a uniquely Icelandic creature, believed to be the pet of the Yule Lads’ parents—which devours children who don’t wear new clothes on Christmas Eve.

Touch & Feel
A part of that interactive theme is the Christmas house in the reception hall of the museum. The house is meant to capture the essence of Christmas in Iceland as it was several hundred years ago and it’s not just meant to be gazed upon—you can smell and touch the things in it. “We wanted to invite people, and especially children, to get a real feel of how the holidays were celebrated before their time. There will be a traditional smoked leg of lamb hanging from the windows, which gives an incredibly thick aroma and traditional utensils and related items will be available to fondle and touch,” says Ólöf.

The National Museum’s role is, of course, to safeguard Iceland’s heritage and traditions and Christmas traditions are, of course, not exempt. The 13 Icelandic Yule Lads, for example, each has his own agenda and theme and some are connected to historical artefacts that are no longer present in modern society. The seventh Yule Lad is thus named Askasleikir, a named derived from his unsanitary habit of licking the inside of special carved mini-troughs that Icelanders used instead of plates when the winters were so harsh that they had to eat in bed. The Christmas house enables people to see and feel what an Askur is and thus better understand where the stories came from.

The Yule Lads are Coming

Starting on December 12th, one of the Icelandic Yule lads will make an appearance in the museum at 11 o’clock. According to Ólöf, this is naturally extremely popular with the children, as their appearance is followed by singing and dancing. In addition, when the Yule lads come to the National Museum they don their traditional garb, instead of the more commonly known red and white costume of Father Christmas. Olöf emphasises the importance of maintaining the authenticity of the Icelandic Yule Lads, even though they weren’t always particularly nice.

Enjoy Christmas Traditions

For those looking for a more thorough introduction to Icelandic Christmas traditions, be sure to check out Terry Gunnel, Professor in Folklore’s lecture on the subject on December 15th.

A more modern Christmas exhibition will be found on the top floor where dolls and puppets of the Icelandic Yule Lads will be on display. To ring in the holiday spirit, Christmas trees from throughout the generations will also be on display.

On the day before Christmas, (take note that Icelanders usually celebrate Christmas on the 24th) and on December 30th, there will be special events in the museum where you can taste the best of Iceland’s holiday cuisine, while listening to one of the countries most celebrated singers, Egill Ólafsson, followed by an audio guided tour through the museum.

Þjóðminjasafn Íslands

Suðurgata 41 • 101 Reykjavík
+354 530 2200


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