Watch this video and audio slideshow about the Icelandic carnival season, which is limited to three days seven weeks before Easter: bolludagur (Collop Monday, literally: “Cream Puff Day”), this year on March 7, sprengidagur (Shrove Tuesday, literally: “Bursting Day” ), this year on March 8, and öskudagur (Ash Wednesday, literally: “Ash Day”), this year on March 9.
Photos by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir and Páll Stefánsson, videos by Páll Kjartansson and narration by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
Click here to download the slideshow.
“Bolla, bolla, bolla,” is the wakeup call for parents on the morning of bolludagur, literally “Bun Day” or “Cream Puff Day”, followed by playful spanks from the children.
They have spent hours and hours decorating their Bun Day paddles at school; according to tradition, they will get one cream-filled bun every time they manage to spank their parents with their paddles.
The Christian tradition of celebrating Cream Puff Day seven weeks before Easter (between February 2 and March 8) traveled to Iceland from Denmark in the 19th century. In many other countries the day is known as Collop Monday and does not have anything to do with eating buns.
The spanking tradition may originally be an Ash Wednesday tradition or be related to Catholic priests sprinkling their congregation with water at the beginning of Lent using special wands.
The buns eaten on Cream Puff Day are very similar to profiteroles, made from choux pastry—butter, flour, water and eggs—and are rather tricky to make (click here for the full recipe).
Salted mutton and peas, saltkjöt og baunir, can be bought in most stores the days preceding sprengidagur, literally “Bursting Day”. The meat is easily recognizable by its distinct pink color.
Stores might also sell the other ingredients needed to make this dish in one package. Such a package typically includes onions, yellow turnips, carrots and yellow split peas (click here for the full recipe).
Bursting Day is always celebrated on a Tuesday seven weeks before Easter. It is a Catholic custom to eat meat on that day because it is the last chance to do so before fasting.
Salted meat and bean stew has been served on this day in Iceland since the late 19th century. Before that, hangikjöt, smoked lamb, was eaten on Bursting Day.
On Ash Wednesday, Iceland’s answer to Halloween, children, most of whom have the day off from school, dress up in fancy costumes—all sorts of costumes, not just scary ones—and visit shops and other businesses 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.
Ash Wednesday in its current form was first celebrated in Akureyri in north Iceland in the early 20th century, but since then the tradition has spread to other parts of the country.
Yet Akureyri remains Iceland’s unofficial Ash Wednesday capital. There, a piñata is hoisted in the town square and children take turns “beating the cat out of the barrel” as it is called.