Þorrablót – Midwinter Festival

Posted on Categories Culture, Culture, heritage, Iceland, TraditionTags , , , ,

Hip Hip Hooray-it’s midwinter in Iceland which means only one thing..it’s celebration time again!

According to the old Icelandic calendar which was developed in the 10th century, the fourth month of winter (mid January to mid February) is called Þorrinn (Thorrinn).  The word is most likely derived from Thor, the thunder god from the Norse mythology or from the Norwegian king Thorri Snærsson.
The old Icelandic calendar is not in use anymore but some Icelandic holidays and annual feasts are still calculated from it.

 

Þorrablót (Thorrafeast)

In pagan Iceland Þorrablót was a midwinter sacrifice, held to honor the Nordic gods, however with the Christianisation of Iceland the sacrificial festival was banned. Then in the 19th century, when Icelanders gained religious freedom, Þorrablót festival was brought back but without the sacrifices. This midwinter festival is still a popular tradition in Iceland today and is a feast where locals get together and celebrate their heritage by singing, dancing and eating traditional viking food and of course lots of drinking because, how else should we keep warm during these cold winter days?

The food, often served in wooden trays, consists of uncommon delicacies, like boiled sheep’s head, rams balls, blood and liver sausages, fermented shark, traditional herring and more.  All this is often washed down with an strong Icelandic schnapps made out of potato and caraway called Brennivín, also known as Black Death.

Assuming your mouth is starting to water, most grocery stores sell tasting trays during the month of Þorri.  And you can also find some Þorra inspired menu items at some local restaurants. Last but not least, the local breweries also take advantage of these festivities to create a selection of seasonal Þorri beers! You can find them in the Vínbúðin stores, our state-owned liquor shops.

Bóndadagur (Farmers Day)

The first day of Þorrinn is called Bóndadagur (Farmers Day) and this year Bóndadagur is on Friday January 25th. On this day it is customary that the wives and girlfriends are especially attentive to their men.

So ladies, why not make your man feel like a viking for the night by treating him to the Old Iceland menu at Ísafold Restaurant, a three course menu that showcases the best of Icelandic traditional cuisine with a modern twist (don’t worry there is no rotten shark on the menu).  And if your man is a whisky fan, you can end the evening with the whisky flights tasting which consists of three different types of exquisite whiskeys on a specially designed tray.

Þrettándinn – The last day of Christmas

Posted on Categories Christmas, Holidays, Iceland, TraditionTags , , , ,

Þrettándinn-The Thirteenth

 

January 6th, or the Thirteenth as Icelanders call it, is considered the last day of the epic Christmas season in Iceland.  This is the day when Christmas decorations are taken down and when the last of the 13 Yule Lads, Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar), returns back to his home in the mountains.

Many Christmas lovers get the blues on this particular day, but on a brighter side, this is also a day that people celebrate in Iceland.  Like on New Years Eve many families come together around big elf themed bonfires and sing and dance with elves and Yule lads.
According to Icelandic folklore mystical, supernatural events are connected with New Years and the Thirteenth as well as Christmas Eve and Midsummer night.  These dates in a way border two worlds, our world and the world of the hidden people and the supernatural.
Various things gain special powers on these nights for example seals become human, cows gain the ability to speak in human tongue and the hidden people including elves become visible and some walk and dance amongst us.

There will be several bonfires in the greater Reykjavík area and the one closest to downtown is at Ægissíða by the seaside in the Western part of Reykjavík.

Oh and last but not least, get ready for more fireworks! Icelanders do like to make the most out of their holidays after all. 😉

Happy Þrettándinn!

Banging New Years

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If you’re celebrating New Years in Reykjavík, you are in for a treat. Icelanders sure know how to welcome in the new year.

In the early evening families gather for a feast. New Years Eve dinner is usually not as traditional as the Christmas meal. Some always stick to the same but most families mix things up a bit for New Years.

After dinner some families like to gather around neighbourhood bonfires and sing songs about (and with) the elves and hidden people that according to old Icelandic folklore are most prominent at this time of year and actually walk amongst us on New Years Eve some in disguises. The bonfires are more for the children and there are 17 bonfires in the greater Reykjavík area and the largest one is at Ægissíða by the seaside in the Western part of Reykjavík.
Reykjavik Excursions offers a great Bonfire Tour which allows you to experience this tradition with the locals.  Also if you are interested in learning more about the strange Icelandic folklore connected to the magical New Year’s Eve, join the Magic & Mystery tour at New Year

At 22:30 everyone gathers around the TV (literally everyone) to watch Áramótaskaupið which is a sarcastic comedy show that covers the highlights of the passing years events.  You will notice the whole city shutting down during the show as everyone and their mother is inside watching it.

At 23:30, as soon as the Áramótaskaup ends, you will start to see and hear fireworks light up the sky which peak at midnight with fireworks covering the whole sky.  Icelanders blow up about 600 tonnes of fireworks on NYE so get ready for a show, it is quite breathtaking.

Keep in mind that if you are planning on enjoying the fireworks from outside, safety googles are strongly recommended and due to the pollution caused by the excess amount of fireworks; it is wise for those who suffer from asthma to rather enjoy the show from inside.

Popular locations in Reykjavík to view the fireworks from are Hallgrímskirkja church and Perlan (The Pearl). Just make sure to dress warm as it’s going to be a chilly one and of course bring something bubbly and welcome the new year with a bang!

Lastly,  like for Christmas, not all restaurants are open for New Years and the once that are open do book up fast so make sure to make a table reservation ahead of time.  Most restaurants also offer a set New Years menu that are usually a more festive version of their normal menu.
All our three hotel Restaurants will be open for New Years Eve and New Years Day and you can view our New Years menus here: SKÝ Restaurant & Bar, Ísafold Restaurant and Jörgensen Kitchen.

Have a banging New Years in Reykjavík!

Spend Christmas in Iceland like a local

Posted on Categories Christmas, Culture, Holidays, Iceland, TraditionTags , , ,

Christmas is only few days away so the Christmas frenzy is at its peak in Reykjavík. After all Christmas is the most celebrated holiday in Iceland and many families tend to go all out when it comes to preparation.
We did cover a lot about the Christmas season in Iceland in our prior Christmas post but here’s some more insider information on how majority of Icelandic locals like to spend their holiest of holidays.

 

The celebration starts on December 23rd (Þorláksmessa) which is the biggest shopping day in Iceland.  Locals flock downtown to do their last minute Christmas shopping in the evening so downtown Reykjavík becomes very lively with stores and cafés open as late as midnight. Taking a stroll down Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s main shopping street on December 23rd is quite an experience and sort of a must if you’re visiting. Checking out the holiday lights, sitting at a cafe and grabbing hot chocolate or Christmas beer while listening to Icelandic Christmas carols and even possibly running into a yule lad or two.

Another Icelandic tradition on this particular day is to gather with friends or family and eat fermented skate (the fish). Why this tradition is so popular is bizarre because the stench of the fermented fish is so strong that it takes days getting the smell out of your house or your clothes. Then again, Icelanders do love holding onto their Christmas traditions. 

A lot of Icelanders also wait to put up and decorate their Christmas tree until December 23rd.  However that tradition seems to be changing as people like enjoying their Christmas tree a bit longer during the dark December month.

On December 24th Christmas officially starts for Icelanders. At 18:00 precisely the churches ring their bells which symbolizes that Christmas is here.  At that time Icelandic families sit down for their elaborate Christmas meal, followed with present openings. Yes, we don’t wait until Christmas morning to open presents. You may ask why and the answer is: why wait!?

Many spend the rest of the evening playing board games, some go to midnight mass and then end the night reading a book that they received for Christmas. It is a tradition in Iceland that everyone must receive at least one book for Christmas to read on Christmas eve, of course with some chocolate or cookies.

Christmas day is often spent home relaxing and/or at a family gathering. On December 26th, the second day of Christmas as we Icelanders call it, is the same as Christmas day just a bit more casual. For example many like to go out and hit the bars in the evening as bars stay open late.

 

Now you should have enough information to go and celebrate Christmas like an Icelandic local.

 

Gleðileg Jól/Merry Christmas!