Sheep graze along a road, Iceland
© Matthew Kuhns/Tandem Stills + Motio
What are Icelanders celebrating?. First day of summer
After very long winter nights, the First Day of Summer is greeted with much celebration in Iceland. It falls on the first Thursday after 18 April, and launches Harpa, the first summer month of the old Norse calendar. The year was split into just two seasons back then - summer and winter - which explains why Sumardagurinn Fyrsti, the First Day of Summer, falls in chilly April. If you put out a dish of water the night before Sumardagurinn Fyrsti and it freezes, it is said that you’ll have a good summer. While still cold, it heralds the arrival of those famously long days with little darkness.
How do Icelanders celebrate? With parades, marching bands and outdoor games with family and friends. There’s a tradition of giving summer gifts (sumargjafir), often connected to outdoor activities - maybe a bike or a football, or new clothes - to encourage children to play outside after the long, cold winter. And people crank up the barbecue and gather for 'summer' food, even though the average temperature in April is around 3C. Icelandic crepes with thick cream and jam inside will warm you up or tough it out with hardy Icelanders who make ice cream a First Day of Summer must-have.