Today is Merchants’ Holiday (Frídagur verslunarmanna), a public holiday celebrated annually in early August in Iceland, always on a Monday. People of all professions use the long weekend preceding it, known as the Merchants’ Weekend (Verslunarmannahelgi), to travel to the countryside and celebrate at outdoor festivals—except, ironically, maybe those working in stores.
Towns across Iceland organize festivals either suited for families or for young people traveling with their friends.
Groups usually arrive at designated festival camping areas on Thursday before the Merchants’ Weekend, attend outdoor concerts throughout the weekend and go back home on Merchants’ Holiday.
The Merchants’ Weekend festivals are known for excessive drinking, but festival organizers are trying to improve the reputation of the Merchants’ Weekend by making the festivals more family-friendly.
The biggest festivals are usually held in Vestmannaeyjar (‘Westman Islands’) in the south, Neskaupstadur in the east, Akureyri in the north and Ísafjörður in the west. Reykjavík celebrates with indoor concerts.
Merchants’ Holiday dates back to 1894 and was originally held to secure one day of vacation for sales clerks in Reykjavík.
The idea came from Denmark and is probably the first indication of an organized vacation for workers in Iceland. Before 1894, workers usually didn’t have any summer vacation.
Most sales clerks in Reykjavík participated in the first Merchants’ Holiday; they marched through the city center, listened to speeches, watched stand-ups and shows, dined in tents, played games and sang, and the day ended with a dance on Lækjartorg square.