Running with the Elves: Fun in the Midnight Sun
It‘s finally here! That magical, almost mythical phenomenon known as the Icelandic summer. For us here, living on the edge of the inhabitable world, summer is a welcome change from the dark winter months. It is also a time when Iceland’s version of strange lights in the sky (no aliens here I’m afraid, at least not yet) changes from the Northern Lights, to the Midnight sun.
Church at Latrabjarg | Photo by Jon Meddings
The Midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the local summer months in places north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle, when the sun remains visible at the local midnight. Around the summer solstice (around 21 June in the north and 22 December in the south) the sun is visible for the full 24 hours. Even though most of Iceland (barring Grímsey) is just south of the Arctic Circle the midnight sun is still visible here due to atmospheric refraction and the fact that the sun is a disk and not a point.
Icelanders have found various ways to celebrate the long days around the Summer Solstice. There’s the Secret Solstice music festival in Laugardalur where people young and old gather in the green valley for 4 days of music by Icelandic and international artist. The festival’s laidback attitude and eclectic mix of patrons makes it feel like our own Arctic Coachella.
The Jónsmessuhlaup Midnight Sun Run takes place at midnight on June 23rd, on the eve of Jónsmessa, an Icelandic holiday named after John the Baptist. In that mix of Christian and Viking mythology that is so prevalent in Icelandic culture, legend has it that Jónsmessa is one of four nights of the year when elves are out and about, seals become human and cows gain the power of speech. So make sure you engage as many friendly Icelanders in conversation as you can. You never know who, or what, you’re talking to! Jónsmessa is also when nature’s healing powers are magnified. Healing stones will float up in lakes and ponds and rolling around naked in the morning dew is said to have incredible health benefits. You can also make a wish while you’re at it!
A still moment in the middle of the night. No one rolling in the dew though | Photo by South East Iceland
The healing properties of the summer solstice is not something Icelanders take lightly so as well as running a half marathon you can take part in the Arctic Open golf tournament or join one of the many Elf walks around the country. If you prefer a less strenuous way of celebrating the solstice the Diamond Circle, Puffins & Midnight Sun bus tour might be right up your alley. But it’s also important to relax and enjoy the rays of the midnight sun somewhere warm and cozy. The Mývatn Nature Baths are a perfect spot in the North of Iceland.
We’ve all wished that we had more hours in the day and now your wish has been granted (and you didn’t even have to roll around naked!) so make sure you use those extra hours to their full potential. However we all need to sleep sometime. The extreme polarities in our seasons mean that since Icelanders want to get as much light as possible into their houses in winter, we also need to deal with constantly bright bedrooms in summer. So bring your sleep mask and your favourite cuddly toy and enjoy a rejuvenating snooze in the sunlight. And just ignore the talking cow in the corner.