Sheep graze along a road, Iceland
© Matthew Kuhns/Tandem Stills + Motio
What are Icelanders celebrating today?. First day of summer
After long—very long—winter nights, it’s not surprising that the First Day of Summer is cause for a big celebration in Iceland. The public holiday falls on the first Thursday after April 18, and launches Harpa, the first summer month of the old Norse calendar that was followed by the country’s first inhabitants. 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. Indeed, folklore has it that if you put a dish of water outside the night before the holiday and it freezes, you’ll have a good summer. Regardless of temperature, the holiday does herald the arrival of those famously long days with little darkness, a welcome relief after the light-deprived winter months.
So how do Icelanders celebrate the First Day of Summer? Well, they take part in flag-waving local parades, listen to marching bands, and enjoy outdoor games and sports with family and friends. There’s a tradition of giving summer gifts (‘sumargjafir’), and those are often connected to outdoor activities—maybe a bike or a soccer ball, or new clothes—to encourage children to play together in the fresh air after the long, frigid winter. And of course, what celebration would be complete without food? The holiday gets people cranking up the barbecue and gathering for 'summer' food, even though the average high temperature in April is below 10 degrees. Getting cold watching a parade? Icelandic crepes with thick cream and jam inside will warm you up. Feeling chilly but you’re determined to think ‘summer?’ Join the hardy Icelanders who make ice cream a First Day of Summer must-have.