Sumardagarinn Fyrsti

In Iceland, This Is the First Day of Summer

In Iceland, This Is the First Day of Summer

If you can find a place in Iceland that looks like this, let me tell you, my friend, you are not in Iceland. In today’s Iceland Review, there was a brief article about today’s being the first day of summer, or, in Icelandic, Sumardagarinn fyrsti. This holiday falls annually on the first Thursday following April 18 and is a bank holiday throughout the island. The article continues:

According to the science website of the University of Iceland, the first day of summer was also considered the first day of the year, which is why people used to count their ages, and their animals’ ages, in winters rather than years.

It was common to distribute summer gifts on Sumardagurinn fyrsti, four centuries before Christmas presents became a tradition, and the summer gift tradition is still practiced in some households. People celebrated with a feast, often finer than on Christmas Eve.

Farmers took a break from their hard work and children were allowed to play with their friends from the neighboring farms. The day was dedicated to young women and to children (it’s also known as Children’s Day). On this day young men would often reveal whom they fancied.

Another tradition on the First Day of Summer, called húslestur, involved people getting together and listening to readings from the Icelandic sagas, poems or other literature.

If the weather was summery, farmers would let their cattle and rams out, to allow the animals to greet summer, and to also entertain themselves by watching the animals play.

People used to go to mass on Sumardagurinn fyrsti until the mid-18th century when the inspectors of the Danish church authority discovered that mass was being held on this heathen day and banned the practice.

According to legend, people considered it a good sign if summer and winter ‘froze together’ (if there was frost on the last night before summer).

People would put a bowl filled with water outside to check whether it had frozen in the early hours of the next morning, before the morning sun could melt it. If the water had frozen, the summer would be a good one.

As I prepare for my vacation in Iceland, little stories like this help motivate me to learn even more about where I’m going. The idea of spending New Years Day reading sagas, poetry, and other great literature out loud is a welcome change from watching bowl games and merging with one’s inner couch.

Two Wild & Crazy Guys from Dagestan

Not Understanding American Culture Can Be Dangerous

Not Understanding American Culture Can Be Deadly

You may recall those two Wild & Crazy guys from Czechoslovakia, the brothers Yortuk and Georg Festrunk, on Saturday Night Live. As they shimmied across the stage in search of “foxes, ” they displayed an exquisite misunderstanding what the United States was all about. In the case of Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd, the result was comedy. In the case of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, two Chechen brothers from Dagestan, the result was death and disorder.

In the years to come, one of the greatest dangers to America will be the failure of immigrants from cultures vastly different from our own to adapt to the prevailing culture of the U.S. Even the mother returned to Russia, leaving several arrest warrants for shoplifting in her wake. The streets of America are not paved with gold. They are fraught with dangers not understood by people who have been influenced by our popular culture without understanding the particular demons that we in the States have to contend with in our daily lives.

After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, my parents took in two sets of refugees. The first was a mother and son who thought that, now they were in America, everything would be golden. That ended badly when Feddike, the son, was sent to a juvenile correctional facility. Next was Lászlo, a young man in his twenties, who also quickly fell afoul of the law—whereupon my mother and father resolved not to take in any more refugees from the Mother Country.

I do not mean to imply that immigration is bad, but that American culture sends misleading vibes to the rest of the world. People who are not thoughtful and who think that just being on American soil is the solution to all their problems are more likely to go astray. No, they must be ready to roll up their sleeves and start working long and hard toward their goals.

The Tsarnaev brothers should be an object lesson to American officials that they have to probe more deeply than mere external circumstances when opening the doors of the henhouse to potential predators.