In the end of April the Icelandic nation celebrates Sumardagurinn fyrsti, or the First Day of Summer, this year on April 23.
It seems rather ironic to think that this celebration is only a few days away when you look out the window. Snowstorms, weather warnings and closed roads are still commonly featured on the news.
Yet Icelanders take this day very seriously. The First Day of Summer is even a public holiday, people get the day off from work and it’s one of the country’s 11 flag days.
Children are given summer presents, mostly toys which they can use in the summertime, like jump ropes, balls, bikes and colorful chalks.
The First Day of Summer, which is sometimes called Maiden Day, always falls upon a Thursday, ranging from April 19 -25.
Every year there’s a parade celebrating the holiday. Scouts lead the parade and carry flags. I always feel rather bad for them since they are forced to wear shorts and last year the average temperature in April in Iceland was 4.9° (40.2°F). It dropped as low as 1.9° (35.4°F) on the First Day of Summer, so the poor scouts had to march on with their thighs practically blue from the cold.
According to the old Icelandic calendar, brought by the first settlers in the 9th century AD, the year is split into two seasons rather than four: summer and winter. The first day of the new season was considered a reason to celebrate.
Old Icelandic folk belief states it’s good if the temperature drops below zero in the night before the First Day of Summer. That would indicate that the summer would be good. People would therefore leave a bowl of water outside overnight to see if it would freeze.
In my opinion, it seems like a rather safe bet that it will cold on the First Day of Summer and that the tradition might only exist to make us feel slightly better when the temperature drops below zero just before summer officially begins.
The weather influences Icelandic people greatly. The winters are long, cold and hard and it can be a struggle to get out of the warm bed during the coldest days.
As soon as the friendly yellow sun shows itself, you’ll notice a drastic change to the mood of Icelanders.
Even if the temperature is still only slightly above zero, if the sun comes out, I can guarantee that there will be people grilling, swimming and sipping drinks on patios outside restaurants. And everyone will be thrilled and not willing to talk about anything besides the weather.
Meteorologists have already started predicting how the summer will turn out but the only thing we can do is hope for the best. I hope it freezes on the eve of the First Day of Summer; I could really use a good one.
Anna Guðjónsdóttir – annagaua(at)gmail.com