Iceland’s People and Culture
Iceland is known as the Land of Fire and Ice; a testament to both its weather conditions and contrasts between its traditions and modern culture. The people of Iceland are known for their peaceful nature and resilience to the extreme weather and conditions. While they still retain many of the culture’s ancient traditions today, they are a progressive and modern society that strives for a high quality of life for all.
Speaking to Icelanders
While Danish and English are taught in schools, Iceland’s primary language is Icelandic. Icelandic is one of the most historically preserved languages of the Nordic countries, as the society and government works diligently to protect their heritage. Many Icelanders are bilingual and embrace being able to speak multiple languages with tourists. When getting to know Icelanders, tourists may notice the particular trait that they do not use surnames. Instead, they use patronyms, which is the name given to them by their father or grandfather, which often end in “son”. Tourists also notice Icelanders’ pride in their Viking heritage. Some Viking traditions and festivities are still carried out today in celebration of their rich culture. While they are banded together by their culture and close family ties, Iceland as a society places a high importance on independence and encourages self-sufficiency.
Quality of Life
Iceland was ranked #1 on Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index of 2016. There are very few crimes committed and the people place a high importance on equality for all. The legislations passed over the years have been committed to gender equality, progressive gay rights, and strict laws protecting children.
Many Icelanders are extremely active and take pride in their sports. Popular sports are football, handball, basketball, golf, tennis, swimming, and horseback riding. Icelanders and tourists alike enjoy rock-climbing the beautiful mountains. As a part of their Viking heritage, chess is also popular. It is believed that Vikings favored playing chess to pass the time during the cold winters.
Holding tight to their heritage, Icelanders’ favorite pastime is storytelling. Their love for storytelling dates back to the 9th century, when Iceland was first settled by the Vikings. Tales are told with respect to the country’s harsh climate, long periods of darkness, and ancient battles. While many Icelanders today write their own stories, traditional sagas are carried on through its people. Both fictional and nonfictional tales, as well as what could be considered old wives’ tales, have been passed down throughout the centuries.
Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions
To celebrate their history, culture, natural surroundings, and one another, Icelanders enjoy many festivities and traditions throughout the year. Even in the harsh, dark winter, Icelanders find reason to come together and celebrate.
“Husband’s Day”, or Bóndadagur, is usually celebrated in late January. During this tradition, wives treat their husbands to gifts, traditional food, and special appreciation. Husbands later return the favor on “Wife’s Day”, or Konudagur.
Every February, the Winter Lights Festival brightens the darkness and warms the peoples’ spirits in the midst of the cold winter months. To light up the darkness, they use light-art throughout the city of Reykjavík. They include art shows and people warm up in heated pools.
Two days before Lent begins, Icelanders enjoy pastry delights on Bolludagur. These delicious pasties are often filled with cream and topped with chocolate. It is viewed as the feast before the fasting.
Children in Iceland celebrate Ash Wednesday, called Öskudagur, by donning costumes and going door to door for candies and sweets.
Iceland National Day is in June and celebrates the country’s independence from Denmark in 1944. This is one of the largest and most popular celebrations that includes parades, performances, and outdoor concerts. It also includes children’s’ games and adult competitions such as a sailing competition and strength competition.
Icelandic Christmas combines religion and folklore and begins December 23, ending on January 6. Families gather for formal dinners and children are visited by 13 Yule Lads. Gifts are given and traditional stories are told.
While New Year’s Eve is a celebration that is enjoyed worldwide, Icelanders take particular pride in the welcoming of the new year. Shops generally stay open later and clubs, bars, and restaurants keep the celebration going all night. Most cities celebrate with fireworks at midnight while people watch with their families.