Iceland’s National Day


Iceland’s National Day

National Day of Iceland

Narration and photos by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.

On June 17, 1944, Iceland claimed independence from Denmark and The Republic of Iceland was formed. June 17 was chosen because it was the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, or “President Jón,” who was never a president, but the leader of the 19th century Icelandic independence movement. On the National Day, a wreath of flowers is placed beneath the statue of President Jón on Austurvöllur, a green square in downtown Reykjavík. When Iceland became a republic in 1944 the nation celebrated in Þingvellir, a national park in which Iceland’s parliament, Alþingi, was founded in 930. Sveinn Björnsson became the republic’s first president. The National Day is celebrated across Iceland with parades, speeches, poetry readings, concerts, dance performances, street artists and all sorts of activities for children.

Almost every child is given a gas-filled balloon and cotton candy. The National Day is one of Iceland’s 11 flag days and on June 17 you see red, white and blue everywhere. Kids have the flag painted on their faces, and adults, too. Sometimes, people wear red, white and blue hats and small flags stick out of baby carriages and backpacks. And the flag is of course flying from every pole. Traditionally men and women wear the national costume if they are lucky enough to have one. The costume is very expensive, especially the women’s costume, since it is decorated with gold or silver. The traditional women’s costume, called peysuföt, acquired a new significance in the latter half of the 19th century when Iceland’s fight for independence reached its high. Another version of it, upphlutur, became popular around 1900.

Both costumes were worn on June 17 this year. The painter Sigurður Guðmundsson designed two new versions of the women’s national costumes in the 19th century, called kyrtill and skrautbúningur. The latter is the most festive costume and is worn by women interpreting Fjallkonan “The Mountain Woman,” who symbolizes the Icelandic spirit and nature. June 17 is often rainy, but the National Day was dry and sunny in Reykjavík the year that these photos were taken. Young and old gathered downtown to join the celebration of Iceland’s independence and many didn’t return home until late in the night.

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