Stinking Icelandic Skate: A Putrefied Christmas Tradition

Today is the last day before Christmas, known as Þorláksmessa (‘The Mass of St. Þorlákur,’ Iceland’s patron saint). The day is celebrated by eating skata, putrefied (or fermented) skate and buying last minute Christmas presents.

Flight of the Icelandic skate/stingray before putrification

According to a recent survey, almost 40 percent of Icelanders intend to eat skata today.

Þorláksmessa is celebrated in memory of Þorlákur ‘the Holy’ Þórhallsson, who was Bishop at Skálholt in Iceland in the 12th century. He died December 23, 1193, which became a holiday in 1199. In 1985 Pope John Paul II appointed Þorlákur ‘the Holy’ as the patron saint of Iceland.

The Catholic Church is the third largest religious community in Iceland and nine Catholic churches offer services in various parts of the country.

The tradition of eating putrefied skate originates in the West Fjords, but is now common in all parts of the country. The fish delicacy is usually served boiled with potatoes, turnips and hamsatólg, melted sheep fat.

People who want to avoid bringing the stench of skate to their homes—it smells strongly of ammonia—order the fish at restaurants instead. Serving skate on December 23 is becoming increasingly popular at restaurants in Iceland.


From Iceland Review

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