Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no New Year’s bonfires in the capital area this New Year’s Eve, the capital area municipalities decided last Friday.
Iceland’s New Year’s bonfires are a tradition reaching back to the 18th century. In the early 19th century, they were a raucous affair, with displays of public drunkenness but today, they’re family entertainment where people symbolically “burn away the old year”. During the bonfires, locals sing New Year’s songs, set off fireworks and light sparklers. According to local folklore, New Year’s Eve is a magical night, when elves and hidden people are afoot, cows gain human voices, the dead rise, and seals shed their skins. Usually, 17 bonfires are lit across the capital area on New Year’s Eve.
Despite many considering 2020 to be a year in desperate need of burning away, the capital area municipalities met last Friday, December 11 and decided to cancel scheduled bonfires in Reykjavík, Garðabær, Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, Seltjarnarnes, and Mosfellsbær. The decision is made in light of infection prevention restrictions and 10+ people gathering limits. They consider it important that the municipalities don’t encourage gatherings as New Year’s bonfires usually attract sizeable crowds.