In many countries carnival is celebrated at this time of year. In Iceland, the carnival season is limited to three days, Bolludagur (Collop Monday), Sprengidagur (Shrove Tuesday) and Öskudagur (Ash Wednesday). Öskudagur (literally: ‘Ash Day’) is in many ways Iceland’s answer to Halloween.
Children dress up in fancy costumes and visit shops and companies where they sing in exchange for candy.
Originally a Catholic holiday, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and is celebrated seven weeks before Easter.
According to the Bible, ash is holy and on Ash Wednesday in some countries ash is spread over the heads of churchgoers or smeared on their foreheads.
In Iceland, people used to pin bags filled with ash unnoticed on each other’s backs. In some schools in Iceland children make such bags in handicraft classes before Ash Day.
Ash Day in its current form was first celebrated in Akureyri, North Iceland, in the early 20th century, but since then the tradition has spread to other parts of the country, as described on the University of Iceland's Science Web.
Akureyri remains Iceland’s unofficial Ash Day capital. There, a pinata is hoisted in the town square and children takes turns ‘beating the cat out of the barrel,’ as it is called.
On Ash Day children wake up early to get ready and head downtown—as soon as the stores open.
Then there is relentless singing until the bags have been filled with candy or until shopkeepers put up a sing in the window reading: “Krakkar! nammið er búið” (“Kids! There is no more candy”).
Ash Wednesday is preceded by Bolludagur (‘Bun Day’) and Sprengidagur (‘Bursting Day’).