The population of Iceland may be just shy of 350,000 people, but that hasn’t stopped the humble nation from developing a rich and diverse cultural heritage that inspires travellers from across the globe.
Each year, Icelanders are involved in numerous celebrations and traditions which make this captivating country even more special. Some of these traditions span centuries, having been passed down through generations, and many are also entirely unique to Iceland.
Here are 10 of the most unusual Icelandic traditions: Which tradition would you most like to get involved with?
Bóndadagur, or Husband’s Day, takes place on the first day of Thorri, which is the fourth winter month. On the day, husbands – or significant, male others – enjoy extra-special treatment, often receiving a number of gifts and being cooked a traditional feast associated with Thorri.
Of course, it would be unfair if there was a day dedicated to husbands and not wives! The tables are turned for Konudagur, which takes place on the last day of Thorri. Just like on Bóndadagur, wives get to enjoy being pampered, are cooked a special meal and receive gifts.
Also known as the ‘Festival of the Sea,’ Sjómannadagur is dedicated entirely to Iceland’s seamen, who understandably are a vital part of the island country’s culture. It takes place on the first Sunday of June, with communities organising games, workshops and conferences, and showcasing dazzling displays of fresh fish.
Winter festivities stretch until 6 January in Iceland, which is considered to be the last day of Christmas. Families and communities get together to marvel at firework displays and warm up around glowing, crackling bonfires – after the last Santa Claus has left, of course!
Sweet tooths, rejoice! If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, visiting just before Lent means you can join in with Bolludagur. ‘Bun Day’ marks the feast before the fast and sees bakeries and households preparing sweet pastries loaded with jam and cream and drizzled with chocolate.
Naturally, after Bun Day, comes Bursting Day, when bellies are full from indulging in those deliciously sweet treats! But hopefully you still have an appetite, as Sprengidagur sees locals filling up on heavily-salted lamb with a side of pea soup.
Ash Wednesday is Iceland‘s answer to Halloween: kids are given the day off from school and dress up in fancy dress (not just spooky costumes!) and sing in exchange for sweets. Akureyri is considered Ash Day‘s unofficial capital – a pinata is presented in the town square, with little ones taking it in turns to beat the cat out of the barrel, as it is known. Great fun for all the family!
Cheers… or, shall we say, skál! Iceland enforced a beer prohibition for 74 years, from 1 January 1915 to 1 March 1989. Beer Day, celebrated annually on the first day of March, marks the end of the beer ban and is celebrated (unsurprisingly) by drinking enjoy a few tipples in Iceland’s bars, restaurants and clubs. The capital city of Reykjavik is renowned for its Beer Day celebrations – if you’re keen on joining in, why not make one of our hotels your base?
The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs each year before and after the Summer Solstice. Known to be the longest day of the whole year, the Icelandic Summer Solstice falls between the 20th and the 22nd of June.
The Jónsmessuhlaup Midnight Sun Run takes place at midnight on June 23rd, and legend has it that it‘s one of four k of the year when elves come out to play, seals become human and cows gain the power of speech! Jónsmessa is also when nature’s healing powers are intensified: healing stones will float up in lakes and ponds, and rolling around naked in the morning dew is said to have incredible health benefits...
Thorri, or Þorri as we call it, is the personification of winter and frost in Norse mythology, and Icelanders celebrate it with a festival called Thorrablot. Throughout the month of Thorri, locals congregate to eat, drink and be merry. With Icelandic delicacies on offer, it‘s a great month to visit if you want to try some of the country‘s most unusual food and drink.
Translated as Merchant‘s Weekend, Verslunarmannahelgi is a three-day celebration that takes place at the beginning of August. In many destinations across Iceland, it‘s celebrated with outdoor festivals – you‘ll and find people of all ages enjoying the long weekend, thanks to family-friendly activities in the day dancing and concerts at night. Perfect if you want to immerse yourself in Icelandic culture and get to know some locals.