Traditions and seasonal customs
Icelanders have several unique holidays and celebrate the more common ones in special ways. Many of the festivities are related to ancient Norse traditions, while others tie in to the Christian calendar, even though nowadays most Icelanders celebrate these events in a secular way. In addition to the traditional holidays listed here, numerous festivals take place throughout the year.
6 January is celebrated as the last day of Christmas. The occasion is marked by various fireworks displays and bonfires.
The first day of the ancient Norse month of Thorri begins with bóndadagur, or 'husband's day'. On this day, which usually falls in late January, women give gifts to any significant men in their lives, and often feed them traditional food, related to the Thorri festivites.
Roughly coinciding with mid-January to mid-February in the modern calendar, the ancient month of Thorri is the time for Thorrablót, or Thorri feast. Traditional foods, conserved in the traditional manner, are consumed and most Icelanders attend at least one Thorrablót feast, where there is much merriment and drink. The cuisine is definitely an acquired taste; delicacies include smoked lamb, seared lamb’s head, putrefied shark, ram’s testicles and flatbread, all washed down with Icelandic spirits. More...
The month of Thorri comes to an end with 'wife's day', a day to celebrate women. This time men do the treating, buying flowers or other traditional gifts for the significant women in their lives.
The tradition of culinary excess during winter continues with bolludagur – literally, bun day – which occurs two days before Lent and symbolises the feast before the fast. Bakeries and home chefs prepare sweet cream puffs filled with cream and jam and drizzled with chocolate. It’s impossible to eat just one.
Following the indulgence of bun day comes sprengidagur – bursting day. It is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday when heavily salted lamb is consumed with a side serving of pea soup. Traditionally, Icelanders were encouraged to eat to bursting point, during what would be their last proper meal before Lent.
Ash Wednesday is mostly celebrated by children in Iceland. Traditionally ashes were collected into small ash bags. The challenge was to then pin the bag onto innocent passersby. Today children celebrate the day by dressing up in costumes and singing in shops for sweets and treats, a little like Hallowe’en celebrations.
A religious holiday in Iceland and marked by the giving and receiving of large chocolate eggs filled with sweets. There are national holidays on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. Most Icelandic children in their 14th year are confirmed during the Easter period.
In First Day of Summer is celebrated in Iceland with a holiday on the third Thursday in April. Traditionally, the weather is anything but summery.
This holiday is dedicated to Iceland’s seamen and is celebrated on the first Sunday in June with displays of fish and fun and games for the kids in most communities around the country.
Icelandic Republic Day
Iceland’s national day, 17 June, commemorates the creation of Iceland as a republic in 1944. The day is the birthday of the country’s independence hero, Jón Sigurdsson.
Midsummer Night, The longest day of the year, is endowed with great mystical powers. According to Icelandic folklore cows gain the power of speech for the night, and seals can take a human form. Surely a treacherous time agical things are said to take place on this evening, including rumours that cows can speak!
This bank holiday, the first Monday in August, celebrates shopkeepers and other merchants. Numerous outdoor festivals take place around the country, and many people leave the capital area for a weekend at their summerhouses or camping.
Dagur Íslenskrar tungu
The Icelandic language day is celebrated on 16 November, the birthday of 19th-century writer Jónas Hallgrímsson, to symbolise the importance of protecting the Icelandic language.
Not to be confused with the official Independence Day on 17 June, this is celebrated on 1 December, to recognise Iceland’s declaration of independence from Denmark in 1918. It is not an official holiday.
23 December is St. Þorlákur's Day, when Icelanders eat putrefied skate to symbolise what was traditionally the end of the Christmas fast. Shops are also open very late for the many who leave their Christmas buying frenzy until the last minute. For many, this signifies the beginning of Christmas.
Christmas is celebrated on 24 December promptly at 6pm in the evening. Traditional dishes include ptarmigan, smoked lamb or smoked pork and pickled red cabbage. Presents are opened after Christmas dinner, which is a fairly formal affair. Icelanders decorate the interior and exterior of their houses extensively, in an effort to brighten up the dark winter days and nights. More on Icelandic Christmas
New Year’s Eve
This is celebrated with the gathering of family and friends at home and visits to the local bonfire. Most Icelanders buy their own fireworks and set them off at midnight to welcome in the New Year.