Iceland is 103,000km² and has approximately 340,000 inhabitants so it’s bound to have some unique and preserved traditions the islanders have picked up along the way. Here are a few traditions you might want to look into.
Thorrablót and Thorramatur
In January and February, during the Nordic week of Thorri, Icelanders feast on what they call Thorramatur as a tribute to the old culture. Many go to a fiesta called Thorrablot where Thorramatur is often served as a buffet. Even in pre-Christian times, Thorrablot feast was celebrated in honour of Thor, the Nordic god of thunder. After Icelanders converted to Christianity the tradition got lost, but in the 19th century, it caught the interest of the Icelandic nation once again.
Thorramatur consists of unusual culinary delicacies, mainly meat and fish products cured in a traditional manner. Most of the food is sour but the reason for that is that it was orignally made like that as a preservation method. Hungry yet?
Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue
Each ICE-SAR rescue team, which has gotten worldwide attention for their work, consists of approximately 100 people but there are thousands of volunteers that participate when needed. The group has specialist training for Icelandic conditions and unbelievable knowledge that they have gathered both in Iceland and overseas. When people get lost, for example while hiking or ptarmigan hunting, the search and rescue group volunteers to help look for the individuals. Their work is non-profit, non-commercial and voluntary. Their unselfish work of searching for people in need, both locals and tourists in extreme and often dangerous conditions, is admirable.
Bónda og Konudagur /“husband’s and wife’s day”
So your country only has one Valentine’s Day? Iceland does not make do with that! It made two more days to celebrate love. After all, who doesn’t like to celebrate?
Icelanders’ Husband’s Day is on the first day of the month of Thorri, which is an ancient Norse month. This year it was January 20th. The Wife’s Day is the last day of the month of Thorri and is a day to celebrate women. On Husband’s Day, it is the wife who treats her beloved husband with good food, gifts or something romantic and likewise, on Wife’s Day, it is the husband who treats his spouse.
In Iceland, Valentine’s Day is considered an imported tradition that not many celebrate, although it is getting more popular with the younger generation. But both old and young celebrate Husband’s Day and Wife’s Day.
Bolludagur / “bun day”
Bun Day is celebrated seven weeks before Easter in Iceland. On that day Icelanders eat as much as they can of cream-filled buns. Both homemade and found in all bakeries, these buns can have different kind of fillings and toppings. The most-known, traditional bun is filled with whipped cream and jam and has chocolate on top. These days, children are still encouraged from the morning of bun day to smack their parents with wands they make from school and yell each time “bolla, bolla, bolla” (bun, bun, bun). For each spank, they get one bun… you can just imagine the encouragement.
13 Icelandic Santa Clauses (Yule Lads) for Christmas
Every year, 13 days before Christmas, Icelandic children put their shoe in the window before going to bed. Once they wake up each day, Santa Claus has given them some little treat in the shoe. Often it is a pack of gum, fruit, chocolate or other small gifts. There are 13 Icelandic Santa Clauses and they are all quite naughty and known for stealing pots and pans, slamming doors, peeking into windows and such. This is why they draw their names from some of their habits such as Door Slammer, Pot Scraper, Candle Beggar, Spoon-licker, Bowl-licker and so on. There are Icelandic Christmas songs for each Santa Claus that the children sing. However, they are terrified of their mother who is said to eat children who do not behave well… so better watch out during the Christmas month!
Thorlaksmessa is celebrated the day before Christmas, December 23rd. That is because in Iceland, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th in the evening with a wonderful meal. However, on the 23rd, all houses smell of something completely different than wonderful – they fill the space with the odour of the fermented skate. Because of the smell, many Icelanders prefer not to have this meal at home and would rather go to a restaurant. This is the reason all of Reykjavik city stinks a bit on the 23rd of December.
Verslunarmannahelgi / “bank holiday weekend”
This weekend has a long history in Iceland and seems to get bigger by the year — it is the first weekend in August ending with a bank holiday on Monday. While this holiday is dedicated to Icelandic merchants, all Icelanders celebrate it with them with a holiday with outdoor festivals throughout the country. The outdoor festivals involve camping, great live music, fireworks and enjoying time with friends and family. The most famous and biggest outdoor festival is held yearly in the Vestmannaeyjar and is called Þjóðhátið (the festival of a nation). If you find yourself in Iceland during this weekend, you might want to look up which event is near you. There is usually something for everyone, even kid-friendly festivals and sporting events for teenagers. If you still feel like a big kid and want to play sports, do not worry as you can indulge yourself with the swamp soccer festival in Isafjordur.