Iceland Mag

11 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Visit Reykjavík causes anger by encouraging tourists to disrupt a solemn local tradition

By Staff

  • There's plenty to do Tens of thousands of foreign visitors will be in Iceland over the holidays, spending Christmas with the locals. Photo/

Visit Reykjavík, the Reykjavík tourism board, has caused anger among locals by encouraging foreign visitors to visit cemeteries during Christmas to witness an annual Icelandic tradition. The advice has been described as baffling, insensitive and disrespectful. 

Experiencing Icelandic Christmas traditions
Áshildur Bragadóttir, the director of Visit Reykjavík, told the local news site Vísir that among of the advice that the staff of Visit Reykjavík had been giving foreign visitors who were looking for things to do in Reykjavík over the holidays was to attend mass during Christmas and visit cemeteries to experience "Icelandic Christmas traditions". 

On the day of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Icelanders go to the cemetery to visit the graves of relatives, lighting candles and leaving flowers, wreaths and Christmas ornaments. Áshildur describes this tradition as "Somewhat unique, and a rich part of our traditions."

What's next? Will tourists be encouraged to peep through windows into our living rooms and bedrooms? 
Icelanders, who have taken to social media to criticize this advice, agree that visiting the graves of loved ones at the cemetery it is indeed a rich part of Icelandic Christmas traditions, but that this is an intimate and personal moment, characterized by solemnity, and that it is inappropriate to encouraging tourists to come to gawk at this moment. Online commenters to the news story at the local news site were unanimous in condemning the advice, asking whether the tourism industry had gone insane, turning this intimately personal moment into a tourist attraction.

One commenter on social media asked whether the next step would be to encourage foreign visitors to peep through people's windows to witness local traditions.

Employees at Reykjavík cemeteries Iceland Magazine spoke to agreed that this was poor advice. The parking lots at local cemeteries fill up and there are frequently traffic jams at the cemeteries which are packed by locals attending graves: adding throngs of onlookers was highly unadvisable. The director of the cemeteries of Reykjavík told that the "hoped tourists will not be herded into the cemeteries", and pointed out that the cemeteries were already struggling to deal with the traffic.

Go to mass, visit cemeteries at other times
We at Iceland Magazine agree with the consensus of locals on social media: This is poor advice.

For foreign visitors who wish to experience and participate in the solemnity of the holidays should visit mass over the holidays. Those who are interested in witnessing the transformation of Icelandic cemeteries over the holidays should wait at least until the 26th or 27th of December when locals have had a quiet moment at the graves of their loved ones.


Related content

Editor's Picks