Icelanders light bonfires for the elves on New Year's Eve

Lighting bonfires on New Year's Eve is an Icelandic tradition.

Lighting bonfires on New Year's Eve is an Icelandic tradition. Alfons Finnsson

If you're in Reykjavík on New Year's Eve, you won't miss the multitude of fireworks being lit on every street corner. Another Icelandic New Year's Eve tradition is to light bonfires where families gather to sing songs about the elves and the hidden folk who according to folklore are prominent at this time of year. 

Keeping peace with the hidden people

According to the folk tales of Jón Árnason, compiled in the nineteenth century, elves are most apparent around Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. "At Christmas they have banquets and parties, music and dance either in human abodes or their own elven homes, and on New Year's they travel from one place to another, an event which they celebrate." Árnason adds that women usually light a candle in every corner of the home during this time and clean the home impeccably. The mistress of the home would then walk around the home saying, "Those who want to come may come, those who want to leave may leave, without harm to myself and my people." This was done as a means of keeping peace with the hidden people. 

Families gather at bonfires

Despite numerous articles stating the opposite, it is not common for Icelanders to still believe in elves and the hidden people but the tradition of bonfires on New Year's Eve and on January 6th are still upheld. The bonfires on New Year's Eve are generally lit at 8.30 p.m and everyone is welcome to attend. All use of fireworks near the bonfires is of course forbidden. 

The bonfires in Reykjavík and surroundings are as follows: 

At Ægissíða, west Reykjavík (large bonfire)

At Skerjafjörður opposite Skildinganes 48-52 (small bonfire)

At Laugarásvegur (small bonfire)

At Suðurhlíðar below the Fossvogur churchyard (small bonfire)

At Geirsnef, Elliðaárdalur (large bonfire)

At Suðurfell, Breiðholt (small bonfire)

The Fylkir bonfire at Rauðavatn lake (large bonfire)

A bonfire ready to be lit at Ægissíða, west Reykjavik.

A bonfire ready to be lit at Ægissíða, west Reykjavik. Kristinn Magnússon


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