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.