Icelanders celebrate New Year's Eve with a fancy dinner and fireworks at midnight. A special sketch comedy show about the year in review is shown on TV and watched by almost the entire Icelandic population.
The fireworks in Reykjavík. Copyright: Icelandic Photo Agency.
New Year’s Eve starts with a bonfire. Children love watching the flames devour logs, old rocking chairs and other undesired wooden furniture, and even old fishing boats.
Every now and then members of the local volunteer search and rescue service pour gasoline onto the fire, causing excitement among spectators. As flames jump into the air, spectators can feel the heat from the fire on their faces.
The purpose of the bonfire is to “burn up” the old year and clear the path for new exciting times and a fresh start. The flames eating up wood symbolize time’s relentless course, slowly but surely erasing every minute, hour and day of the old year.
The bonfire is attended by elves and trolls and the occasional Yule Lad. The 13 troll brothers are still in town and make a special appearance to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
Other supernatural beings come out of their hidden dwellings on this magical night to snatch unsuspecting humans and take them to the underworld. Songs that tell the story of men who fall in love with elf queens and follow them to the other side will be sung tonight.
When the last piece of wood has been devoured by the fire it is time for a family dinner, often with the extended family. The menu usually consists of the same dishes that are eaten on Christmas Eve, or turkey, which is becoming increasingly popular.
After dinner the family gathers around the television. National broadcaster RÚV runs an annual news review on New Year’s Eve, a collection of the main news stories from Iceland and the rest of the world.
The news review is followed by the New Year’s Comedy Show, Áramótaskaupið, in which the most prominent people and the most noticeable events of the year are parodied.
At midnight it is time for fireworks. Traditionally each family spends considerable amounts of money on fireworks bought from the local rescue service. The profits are used for supporting its operations.
The midnight sky in Iceland on New Year’s Eve is truly breathtaking. Fireworks in all the colors of the rainbow explode and form patterns across the sky. As the clock strikes 12, adults have a glass of champagne and young and old wish each other a Happy New Year.
The party carries on into the early hours of the next morning; even the youngest children are given permission to stay up as late as they like on New Year’s Eve.
After midnight, some people abandon their families for their friends and go clubbing or party at home.
Click here to watch a video of a fireworks spectacle from a previous New Year’s Eve.