Evergreen trees have always inspired awe and reverence in man. They seem to defy the winter with their verdure, even on the darkest days of the year. No evergreen tree is native to Iceland, and the Rowan, European Mountain Ash, served as the tree which was revered in Iceland.
The idea of the Yule tree was imported to Iceland in the middle of the last century, and the first recorded Yule tree was a Rowan mentioned in 1862. Lights burned on its branches during Yule Eve and did not go out even when the wind was strong. Obviously an outdoor Yule tree. Soon afterward, Yule trees, mainly home-made, started to become common in Iceland. These were made from a central pole on which branches were nailed, long at the bottom and tapering as they neared the top. On these branches the candles were fastened. The Yule tree was usually painted green, and native foliage was used to decorate it. Numerous, coloured pouches were then hung on the Yule tree, often filled with candies which the children were allowed to eat after the candles had burned out.
In this century, locally grown evergreens as well imported trees have replaced the home-made ones. Nowadays most Yule trees in Iceland are locally grown. The tradition is to have a star or crown at the top, and to decorate the branches with light bulbs and Yule decorations. The Icelandic Flag is also commonly used as a decoration. The Yule tree is usually decorated on Þorláksmessa or early on December 24th,
and somehow, magically, presents appear under the Yule tree on the night of Þorláksmessa, and are added to during the morning and afternoon of Yule Eve, as family and friends exchange Yule presents.