Iceland festivals can be unusual

Many people would know of Iceland because the debris from one of its volcanoes Eyjafjallajökull which brought European aviation to a standstill and because it is home to the Icelandic singer Bjork, who has a penchant for dressing herself in a swan.

Iceland is a breathtakingly beautiful country which, because of its isolation and the fact that it was settled by Vikings who called this lovely place Iceland as a reverse marketing tool to create and image which would encourage other possible settlers from staying away.

Due to its isolation and the fact that its traditions are governed largely by the Viking beliefs and a reasonably stern form of Christianity, the Icelandic people have developed some quirky festivals which occur in the first half of each year.

These festivals include:

Yol (Christmas)- 24 December – 6. January
Leading to Christmas, restaurants around the country offer lavish Christmas buffets serving traditional Icelandic foods such as hangikjot (smoked lamb), venison, goose, seafood, and laufabraud (deep-fried paper-thin bread). The dessert tables overflow with Christmas cookies, kleinur (fried dough), delicate tortes and cream-laden cakes. Communities illuminate the long dark nights with thousands of Christmas lights. Christmas Eve is their main night of celebration.

Gamlarskvold (New Year’s Eve)- 31 December
Icelander’s start the New Year with a dinner, before huddling around a blazing bonfire to join in a chorus or two of traditional folk songs. Across Iceland almost every family sets off colourful fireworks at midnight to celebrate the New Year, but Reykjavik is the place to be if you want to party long into the early hours.

Threttándinn (Twelfth Night)- 6 January
This is the last day of Yule when many of the magical occurrences associated with New Year’s Eve are believed to happen such as seals taking on human form and elves moving house! Revellers celebrate with bonfires and elf-like dancing.

Thorri- late January – February
The ancient Viking feast of Thorrablot sees locals and visitors sampling some of their more unusual culinary delicacies such as rotten shark’s meat, boiled sheep head and blodmor, or slatur, congealed sheep’s blood wrapped in a ram’s stomach! Wash this down with some brennivin, also known as Black Death – schnapps made from potato and caraway. (Andrew Zimmen please take note!)

Reykjavik Museum Night- 10 February
All of Reykjavik’s museums stay open past midnight and offer special events, including theatre, street performances, dance, visual arts and much more. A special Museum Night bus circulates the museums and all entrance is free.

Bursting Time- Beginning to mid- February 2012
Fill up before Lent with all the cream buns you can eat on Bolludagur (Buns Day) and oversized helpings of salted meat and mushy peas on Sprengidagur (Bursting Day). Then on Ash Wednesday watch children play traditional games and pranks such as surprising strangers by pinning cloth bags of ash on their backs.

Yes! Strange, unusual, bizarre and ultimately completely unappetising; festivals the like of which are celebrated nowhere else. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

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