Preparing for Christmas in 1904

How did Icelandic households prepare for Christmas in 1904? Have the preparations changed much since then? What did families purchase for the holidays? Household accounts from that period are helpful when looking for the answers to these types of questions.

The household ledges kept by Sigrún Ísleifsdóttir in 1904-1905 clearly illustrate what was purchased for Christmas and New Year's Eve. They allow us to draw conclusions on what was served for Christmas and even to get an glimpse of what the household members actually did during the holidays.

For example, Christmas presents were bought on December 20th, for kr 16.67. The family probably dined on singed heads of lamb on New Year's Eve, because on the 31st a total of kr 3.50. was spent on sheep's heads. Among other things, the accounts show regular monthly expenditures on cleaning, delivery of water to the house, as well as payments for washing garments, along with the amount needed to provide food for the women who did the laundry.

Private documents provide an important source for studying the past and they can often paint a much better picture of people's daily life than public documents. The Reykjavík Municipial Archives preserves many private collections from individuals, companies and varied associations in the city. Included in these are the private papers of Þorleifur H. Bjarnason (1863-1935), second husband of Sigrún Ísleifsdóttir. Bjarnason was an educated man, a teacher at the Reykjavík College and the author of several well known textbooks. His rich collection contains personal letters, post cards, manuscripts, bills, his wife's household accounts and other items.


Sigrún´s Ísleifsdóttir´s household book from the year 1904-1905. (BskjR: E.- 30, askja 22. Photo KB)
Pages from the Ísleifsdóttir household book where you can see transactions for the household in December 1904 and January 1905. (BskjR: E- 30, askja 22. Photo KB)
A Christmas card from the year 1924 sent from Akranes by Niels R. Finsen, Mr. Bjarnason´s uncle. (BskjR: E- 30, askja 19. Photo KB)