I love this time of year in Iceland. It’s the time of year where it is culturally acceptable to stray from the norm both when it comes to eating as well as behaving.
For an anthropologist it’s a cultural treasure box filled with activities and customs to research and explore. This cultural celebration starts with the month we call Þorri. Þorri is personified in old Icelandic saga’s as the guardian of winter and, as such, respected and celebrated. Þorri starts in the 13th week of winter and marks the fourth month of winter according to the old Icelandic timetable.
The beginning of Þorri means that winter is half way over. First day of Þorri is dedicated to husbands and referred to as Bóndadagur (Husband’s day). Women made sure their men are well provided with food that day and he was supposed to do well with his household instead. Today we celebrate Þorrablót to remember the old times, the old gods, to sing old songs and eat sour and fermented food.
This custom is practiced all over the country as well as in foreign places where Icelanders live and amongst people of Icelandic descent.Konudagur (Wife’s day) is on the first day of the month Góa. Góa is the last month of winter and personified in old Icelandic sagas as Þorri’s daughter. Like her father, she is also regarded as the guardian of winter. Konudagur is similar to the North American Valentine’s day and in recent years the presence of St. Valentine has become more and more evident in Icelandic culture.
It was believed that if Góa was stormy the summer would be good. Today it is a custom to give flowers to your beloved wife on this day and husbands are encouraged not to annoy their wives ... well, at least to try to keep it to a minimum.Bolludagur (Bun day) is the Monday in the 7th week before Easter. I am a big fan of this day.
Personally I feel privileged to belong to a culture that dedicates a whole day every year to over indulge in pastry. Every bakery in the country is filled with this specific type of buns on this day and people stand in long lines to get their hands on them. This tradition is said to have arrived here from Denmark in the late 18th century. The old tradition was that children made specific colourful wands and they were supposed to sneak up on their family members and neighbors, especially while they were still laying in bed, and hit them on the rear with the wand.
The ones that hit the most rears gained a prestige reputation and were rewarded with a bolla (bun).Sprengidagur is by far my favourite. It’s literal translation is bomb day, but it refers to eating until you’re more than full, pretty much til you’re ready to explode. All over the country, specific type of salted meat and bean soup is had for supper or/and lunch. Sprengidagur is also the day where respectable women stay in doors due to the possibility of unexpected acute gas release, commonly referred to as farting or Prumpa in Icelandic.
Those who have tried the bean soup know what I’m talking about. Bolludagur and Sprengidagur mark the last two days before Lent which then ends on Easter Sunday so I guess no wonder people ate, eh?Öskudagur (Ash day) is the Wednesday in the 7th week before Easter and marks the first day of Lent. The name of the day derives from the fact that on this day ash was distributed on the heads of sinners in Catholic cultures.
The ash was believed to have spiritual and cleansing abilities. Ironically, smokers today, who distribute ash with cigarettes, are frowned upon. I guess it makes a difference who is doing the ashing, eh?Around 1650 it was a popular custom for women to try to sneak little bags full of ash onto men and men tried to sneak little bags full of stones on women. The ash bag custom was very popular and practiced in the 18th century. Still to this day young children make them at school.
Today we celebrate this day in a way that is similar to North American Halloween. We dress up and go downtown to sing and get candy in factories and stores. I’m having a big Ash day celebration at work at the Senior Centre and I told everyone that I would dress up. However, as the day gets closer my options for a costume seems to consist of a pig or what can only be described as a nurse in severe danger of getting a cold.
After consulting with my mother I have decided that I’m going with the pig, seeing the nurse costume could possibly produce heart attacks instead of preventing them.The 1st of April is an international fool’s day and we celebrate it. Every year on this day you can find stories in the newspaper about this and that which turns out to be false and what I love is that we Icelanders always seem to be somewhat surprised and puzzled about the stories in question. I used to take this day very seriously and started pulling pranks on my parents at an early age. They were very innocent pranks at first but they gradually escalated into serious pranks.
I was 18 when I snuck into my parents’ bedroom in the early morning and on my mother’s bedside I put a letter where I told her that I had found love online, he was from Lithuania, had asked me to marry him and I had accepted and when she would be reading the letter I would be well on my way to the airport. In the meantime I hid in the closet by the front door. My mom woke up and I could hear her upstairs running around frantically. She called my phone about 13 times but I never answered.
It was just about when she was leaving the house, rushing to save me from disaster and heading to the airport to get me, that I jumped out from the closet, laughing hysterically, yelling: Fyrsti Apríl (April’s Fool). My mom did not laugh nor did she speak to me for the rest of the day. Needless to say I have not pulled any pranks after that. The prankster still lies in me, I won’t lie, and every April 1st I get this almost uncontrollable urge to pull a prank but I know my place now and that is in the good graces of my mother.