Happy (Icelandic) first day of summer!

Not quite this warm yet, but at least it's summer!

Not quite this warm yet, but at least it's summer! Photo: Iceland Monitor/Styrmir Kári

For a long time after Iceland was settled the year was split into two seasons, winter and summer. The first day of summer is still celebrated in Iceland, and it’s today!

It's one of few all Icelandic festivities. All over the country there are parades led by scouts bearing the Icelandic flag. There is some family friendly entertainment, much depending on the weather (which is traditionally not good on the first day of summer).

There are parades all over Iceland on the first day ...

There are parades all over Iceland on the first day of summer, lead by the scouts. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Árni Sæberg

Summer presents

One of the customs of the first day of summer is summer presents. This may sound like some rip-off of Christmas but it isn’t. The tradition of giving gifts on the first day of summer is at least 400 years older than the tradition of giving presents on Christmas. It’s not as big as Christmas presents today and not a tradition that every Icelander follows anymore.

In the past there was a great feast on the first day of summer, not unlike Christmas. With the best food available at the time. Bread was a common summer present, enjoyed at the feast (a grand gift indeed as grain was not cheap or easy to get).

The first day of summer was a holiday and only the most necessary chores were completed. It was also dedicated to young women, in the same style of Bóndadagur (Husband's Day) and Konudagur (Ladies' Day).

Horse age is still measured in winters, not years.

Horse age is still measured in winters, not years. Árni Sæberg

First day of the year

The first day of summer is always on Thursday from 19 to 25 April. It is never stated precisely that the first day of summer was considered the beginning of the new year, but it seems so nonetheless. People’s age used to be measured in winters, and to this day so is the age of horses. 

Danes banned masses on the first day of summer

There was a tradition to have a mass on the first day of summer, a special Icelandic custom. That stopped in the 18th century when Danish inspectors were travelling in Iceland in the end of April. They found out there were masses on this day, not special to any other nation than Iceland, and banned it.

Youth clubs took over a big part of first day of summer celebration last century, and today it's dedicated to children.

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