Every year on the first Thursday after April 18th, Iceland officially celebrates the First Day of Summer. And you know what, summer is here!
The Origin of the First Day of Summer
For anyone that’s been to Iceland in late April, this might seem like a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of summer. However, there is a method to the madness. The date corresponds to the Old Norse calendar used by Iceland’s settlers. That calendar only had two seasons: summer and winter. The long, dark winters were often rough on the new population of this strange island, and the brighter days of summer were eagerly anticipated (it’s no coincidence that your age was measured by how many winters you’d survived). For example: “The boy is seven winters old.”
Nowadays, the modern Icelander might not struggle through the winter months in the same way, but the joy that comes with longer days and the sight of the sun is still a huge factor in the Icelandic psyche. And so we stubbornly insist on celebrating the First Day of Summer in April, despite the fact that some years we may have to put on our snowsuit to do it!
How did Icelanders Celebrate the First Day of Summer?
So what exactly does this celebration entail? Well, since it’s a public holiday everyone gets the day off. This has always been the custom and back in ye olden days no farm work, besides the absolutely necessary, was performed. Children were allowed to go between the neighboring farms and play with other children.
The day was also dedicated to young girls, and young men would take the opportunity and hint about their affections to whichever girl they liked best (Icelanders have never really gotten the hang of the whole dating thing). Until the mid-1700s Icelanders would have mass and read from the Bible on the First Day of Summer until the Danish church discovered the practice and banned it since it is not an official church holiday.
How do Icelanders Celebrate the First Day of Summer Today?
Since the 1900s the day has been catered mainly to children. Most towns, or city neighborhoods, will have parades led by The Icelandic Boy and Girl Scout Association complete with marching bands and flags. Various family games and activities will be available, as well as sporting events and other organized entertainment. Some families still give Summer Gifts, a tradition that precedes Christmas gift-giving in Iceland. Usually, the gifts have something to do with outdoor games; like a ball, a skipping rope or a bike. Families will commonly join for a BBQ and ice cream and other Summeresque treats will be on everyone’s table.
Grab yourself an Icelandic hot dog and treat yourself to some ice cream as a desert. Then you might just have captured the essence of an Icelandic summer meal!
Folklore related to the First Day of Summer
Icelanders can be a superstitious bunch and of course, there is various folklore and traditions connected to the First Day of Summer. When the temperature on the night before the First Day of Summer is below zero it is said that winter and summer have frozen together. It is mostly taken to be a good sign since it’s believed to mean that the summer crops will be good and the farm animals will be in good health. Hearing the drumming sound of the Common Snipe is a very good sign on the First Day of Summer since that means that there will be no more snow storms until next winter. However, if you spot a sparrow close to your house that means that it will get cold again.
Fun Facts about the Icelandic Summer
- The word for Summer in Icelandic is ‘sumar’
- Even though the first day of Summer marks the official day that Summer begins in Iceland many locals say that the first spotting of the European Golden Plover is their way of knowing it has begun. In Icelandic, the bird is called ‘Lóa’.
- The Summer Solstice is widely celebrated in Iceland and takes place on the 22nd of June.
- The official name for the first day of Summer in Iceland is ‘sumardagurinn fyrsti’
- Icelanders used to have a different way of counting the months. One of those months was Harpa and the first day of summer was the first day of Harpa.
- The Icelandic horse sheds its winter coat in summer and looks completely different during the summer months than it does in winter.
- The Midnight Sun is a famous phenomenon which takes place from June to July in Iceland. ‘To experience, the Midnight Sun’ belongs on your bucket list!
Iceland Summer Weather
As we have now established, Icelanders begin their Summer at a certain date not necessarily coinciding with any warmth or sun. The only certainty is that late April will already have a lot more brightness than the months before and the summer season is undoubtedly the season of daylight. This is when Icelandic nature comes to life, the grass gets green and the waterfalls more powerful. A trip to Iceland during the summer will not be a trip to a tropical paradise but it will most definitely be a gorgeous one.
Pro Tip: Prepare for some rain and wind but dress in layers. It is easier to take off clothing than to put on the ones that you didn’t bring.
May: 6,5°c or 43,7 Fahrenheit
June: 9,2°c or 48,5 Fahrenheit
July: 10,8°c or 51,4 Fahrenheit
August: 10,5 °c or 50,9 Fahrenheit
Iceland Packing List for Summer
- Long-Sleeved Shirt
- Thick Sweater
- Socks (more than usual)
- Long Pants
- Wind/Rainproof Jacket
- Primaloft Jacket
- Hiking Boots
- Water Bottle
- Lip Balm
Find out more about what to pack for Iceland.