Easter Egg Price Wars Result in Modest Discounts

A broken Icelandic easter egg and the candy inside it.

The price of Easter eggs has gone down in the last couple of weeks as stores compete with pricing strategies. The cheapest chocolate treats can be found in Bónus, Extra and Krónan, while the most expensive eggs are in 10-11, Iceland and Krambúðin, Vísir reports.

In Iceland, Easter eggs are topped with a figurine, most often a yellow chick, and filled with candy along with a piece of paper with a proverb written on it. They are a ubiquitous part of Easter festivities among Icelandic families.

Big difference between stores

The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASI) has reviewed the prices of Easter eggs and found that the lowest prices have gone done by a few percentage points. On March 8, Heimkaup lowered their prices, with Extra, Bónus and Króna following suit.

The three stores where prices remain unusually high are 10-11, where the Easter eggs cost on average a whopping 40% more than the lowest prices, and Iceland and Krambúðin with a 38% and 37% deviation respectively. The biggest difference was on the price of a small “lava egg” from candy company Góa, which cost ISK 140 [$1, €0.90] in Krónan, but ISK 249 [$1.81, €1.70] in 10-11.

Bónus leads the way

Bónus consistently had the lowest prices, according to ASI’s review. Of the 34 Easter eggs under review in Bónus, the store sold 28 of them at the lowest price. Extra sold 34 of their 48 eggs at the lowest price, while Heimkaup sold 32 of the 46 eggs reviewed at the lowest price.

Deep North Episode 55: Christmas Craftsman

laufabrauð christmas iceland

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, families and friends in Iceland come together to make the traditional fried and decorated wafer known as laufabrauð (leaf bread). Rolled out thin, decorated, and fried, the preparation of these treats is an event that brings together families, often with multiple generations taking part. But you won’t find Laufabrauðsdagur (Leaf Bread Day) on any official calendar, as each family chooses their own date. Still, for Icelanders, it’s as much a part of the holiday season as Christmas itself.

But unknown even to many Icelanders, much of this tradition now rests in the hands of one craftsman, the last craftsman in Iceland to make the distinctive roller that so many use to make laufabrauð. A stone’s throw from Reykjavík, in the shadow of Esja mountain, his small workshop is keeping a beloved tradition alive.

Read the story here.

The Christmas Craftsman

laufabrauð christmas iceland

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, families and friends in Iceland come together to make the traditional fried and decorated wafer known as laufabrauð (leaf bread). Rolled out thin, decorated, and fried, the preparation of these treats is an event that brings together families, often with multiple generations taking part. But you won’t find […]

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Öskudagur Festivities Persevere on a Cold Spring Day

öskudagur iceland

Öskudagur, or Ash Wednesday, is an important holiday in Iceland. Like many holidays, it originated in the Catholic Church, but has taken on a life of its own in recent years. 

The traditional start of lent, Öskudagur takes place seven weeks before Easter. As such, it takes place on different days each year, falling between February 4 and March 10. To mark the beginning of the traditional fasting season, Icelanders indulge in choux pastry buns known as bollur the day before.

The celebrations over time have also evolved to include what is now known as Maskadagur, or Mask Day, when children dress up. In many ways, this holiday resembles Halloween, with children going between different stores on Laugavegur and singing for candy and treats.

The weather in Reykjavík today wasn’t the best, so children throughout the city headed to malls instead. 

Another notable tradition this time of year relates to the wands children make on Bolladagur. It is believed that the tradition originated with a wand used by a priest to spread ashes on churchgoers on Ash Wednesday. During the Reformation in Iceland, the more dour Catholic traditions slowly changed into an occasion for fun and mischief.

How was Christmas celebrated throughout history in Iceland?

christmas traditions iceland

In response to a reader request, we present this article from the archives.

Feasting Traditions at Christmastime

Árni Björnsson (1980)

The section on Christian law in the Gragas law code (13th century) has a chapter about the celebration of Christmas and what kind of work may be performed during the holidays. This proves to be almost nothing but the most urgent necessities, such as feeding the livestock, milking, and occasionally cleaning the stables. The rule is valid not only for the holidays proper but also for the days between. It is interesting to note that among the most urgent necessities are brewing and slaughtering: “Slaughtering the stock needed during Christmas and brewing ale are also among the chores to be done on the days between [the holidays proper] of Christmas.’’ This shows that during the commonwealth (930—1262) fresh meat and ale were considered indispensable for the festivities, a fact underscored by numerous instances in the sagas. It was also a fact, that at no other time of the year did people eat and drink more for days on end, and it has been the practice ever since that all the best food available be served at this time. The folktales make this evident, too.

While households were populous, as often was the case in commonwealth times, it was necessary to slaughter stock not only before Christmas but also, as Gragas indicates, between Christmas and New Year, or the Octave and Twelfth Night. When households grew smaller and the nation’s means decreased, especially after 1600, people in most places made do with slaughtering the Christmas ewe just before the holiday. Folktales also indicate this, and the custom was actually adhered to in many parts of the country; it was not entirely abandoned until freezing facilities became common. Hangikjöt (smoked lamb) was long the chief holiday dish, but it was not commonly eaten until Christmas Day. Some other tasty delicacies were those which now are known as traditional Icelandic food: flanks, intestinal sausages, briskets, hard fish, halibut fins, etc. In areas that were far from the sea, it was sometimes felt to be more of a change to eat fish rather than meat.

Other favorite dishes were, of course, dependent upon fashion and supply, such as the inevitable Christmas porridge, which could be meat porridge (actually a stew), barley porridge with syrup and milk, or a thick rice porridge with raisins.

Bread was hard to come by in Iceland most of the time because of erratic imports of grain flour. For that reason it was somewhat of a holiday treat, even if it was only flatbread or potted bread. Lace bread is mentioned in the oldest cookbook published in Iceland (1800), entitled A Simple Pocket Cook Hook for Ladies of Quality. It states: “Lace bread, or cakes made of flour dough, moistened with good sugared milk or cream, variously cut out and fried in melted butter, are so common that they need no further mentioning.” A well-known biography mentions a banquet in the year 1772 at which lace bread was also considered common native Icelandic food. After the mid-19th century, however, lace bread seems to have been particularly connected with the North and Northeast, and such has been the case ever since, until very recently when people in various parts of the country have resumed making it for their pleasure.

While there are decorated breads in other countries, an exact parallel to the lace bread is nowhere known. It is noteworthy how gossamer thin the bread is supposed to be, which prompts the guess that this was the result of the scarcity of flour. The decorative carving could also make the bread less filling. On the other hand, it was a beautiful and tasty bit of food which was fun to eat, even though each individual may not have been served more than one.

After the turn of this century and even more around 1920, people’s tastes in Christmas food changed considerably, especially in the countryside. By that time, stoves with baking ovens had become common, and imports of flour, sugar, and other baking materials were more abundant. This made it a good deal easier to bake all kinds of pastry. It then became fashionable, and alomst a status symbol, to store a profusion of cookies and stately cakes. Such production was the most elaborate around Christmas. Various kinds of sweet soups also came into vogue. All this, of course, greatly reduced the prominence of traditional Icelandic Christmas food. Moreover, for a long time afterward little ingenuity was expended on utilizing new technology for novel and tasty preparation of meat and fish. Icelandic cookery has hardly yet recovered from the invasion.

It is not clear what people drank in former centuries if they did not have ale, but most probably it was milk and whey. Coffee and tea were not imported until close to the middle of the 18th century, and for a long time after that were served only for a change on holidays, such as Christmas. Liquor was used in many places at Christmas, but not everybody had it on hand.

Christmas Banquets

The previous section dealt with food and beverage in ordinary homes, but in medieval times and even later it was clearly not uncommon that chieftains and other prominent people give great banquets at Christmas. There are many contemporary examples of Christian banquets in Sturlunga Saga. About Snorri Sturluson it says, in 1226: “That winter Snorri made Christmas toasts according to Nordic tradition. Numerous people attended.”

About Gissur Thorvaldsson, in 1241: “Gissur remained at Tunga that winter. He made a populous Christmas banquet, inviting his friends to stay until the Octave. On that occasion mead was mixed and ale brewed. A popular toast was held on the Octave, though one of short duration. Nearly 80 warriors took part.”

About Thordur Kakali, in 1242: “He then remained at home during the winter up until Christmas. At that time, he invited all the best people of the Western Fjords, making a great banquet ar Myrar . . . And as they departed, he gave gifts to many people, all of whom then became closer friends with him
than before.”

Thorgils Skardi was at Miklibaer (in Skagafjord) in the winter of 1257: “He remained at home until Christmas and was a lavish host, making a great Christmas banquet. At that time, he invited numerous wealthy farmers and gave them expensive gifts. It was a memorable occasion for the sake of hospitality, number of people, and good housing.”

(All the above chieftains were contestants in the struggle for power that finally led to the loss of Icelandic independence in 1262). The bishops of Holar also gave many parties at Christmas. The Norwegian Heinrekur Karsson invited Thorgils Skardi in 1252: “On Christmas Day the bishop arranged the seating. He put Thorgils on the dais next to himself, along with as many of his men as the dais would hold. The bishop invited Thorgils and all his retainers to stay for the duration of Christmas. The feast proceeded until the Twelfth Day with great mirth and good times. There was no shortage of good beverages and other provisions. On Twelfth Night the banquet reached a climax and the toasts came fast. Thorgils’ men became very drunk.”

Nor did Bishop Laurentius Kalfsson in the 14th century abandon the custom. His saga describes it as follows: “He always made a creditable Christmas banquet for all his clergy, pensioners, butler, and house matron, as well as all his other household staff, and everybody would be well feted.” It is also said that Bishop Gudbrandur Thorlaksson used to have a banquet every year at New Years and invite to it all the most prominent people in the surrounding districts. But after his time there are few reports of great feasts at the bishop’s seat or anywhere else. It is strange that no stories seem to have survived of such banquets at Skalholt, though that must really be a coincidence. But from the Skalholt diocese there is an entry in a chronicle reporting the death in 1670 of the Rev. Thordur Jonsson of Hitardal (in the West): “The couple, Thordur and Helga, were very generous, easy with their money, and hospitable. They held a great banquet once each winter at Christmastide, to which all the most prominent people in the vicinity would be invited. It would last for a week.”

Christmas Presents

While Christmas presents were known in antiquity among kings and chieftains, especially on the continent, they have been common among ordinary people in Iceland only in the past 100 years at the most. It is true that people generally received some new piece of clothing and a new pair of sheepskin shoe’s, called Christmas shoes, from their masters, but these were not really personal presents and could just as well be regarded as a kind of Christmas bonus. In the* early 10th century, however, it had become a fairly general custom to give all the children, and even all members of the household, candles at Christmas. In those days, this was not at all a poor gift, because candlelight was incomparably brighter than that of the oil lamp. The candles were made of tallow, and molding them was one of the tasks that had to be done before Christmas. Then, when each person lit a candle by his bed, it is easy to imagine the holiday atmosphere created. By the late 19th century Christmas presents were rapidly spreading, and part of the reason may be that many more shops had been opened. Gifts then began to include such things as playing cards, soap, handkerchiefs, apron material, caps, scarves, and the like, and even books for the children. For example, Stefan from Hvitadal, who later became a well-known poet, was given the story of Snow White for Christmas in 1896. He was nine at the time.

Apropos of playing cards, it should be mentioned that by far the most common pastime at Christmas was playing cards. The most popular games were cribbage, matrimony, whist, and ombre. The general rule was that playing would not begin until the second day of Christmas, but then it was done far into the night. Among older people, the rule against playing on Christmas Eve and even on Christmas Day survived for a long time, and it still may.

It was not until World War II, or after 1940, that the prevalence and extravagance of Christmas presents increased to the degree that has since been common; at least, this was the case outside Reykjavik. That was not surprising. Christmas presents were not an old, ingrained tradition, and people were very poor during the first decades of the century; nor did the Depression years, 1930—40, help much. It may be said that the present plague of Christmas gifts followed the vaunted revolution of living standards among the working classes around 1942, from which the sellers of Christmas articles have certainly reaped a windfall.

Icelanders Buying More Locally-Grown Christmas Trees

Christmas tree santa Iceland

Though imported trees still make up the majority of Christmas tree sales in Iceland, locally grown trees are steadily growing in popularity, Bændablaðið reports. Imported Christmas trees decreased from 37,147 to 24,441 between 2019 and 2020, while local tree sales rose from 7,225 to 8,134. More families are buying their trees from local forestry associations, where they can pick and even cut down their own trees.

Ragnhildur Freysteinsdóttir, an environmental scientist at the Icelandic Forestry Association, told RÚV that cutting down your own tree has certain advantages. “Some people may want tall and thin, or short and fat [trees]. They maybe don’t want the totally standard trees that you get at the store. So it’s an opportunity for them.”

Buying local has benefits

As Bændablaðið points out, the benefits of buying local Christmas trees are many. Purchasing one tree enables local foresters to plant dozens more, with a net positive effect on carbon storage. The Reykjavík Forestry Association (Skógræktarfélag Reykjavíkur), for example, planted 50 trees for each one sold last year. Local trees also carry a smaller carbon footprint in other ways: due to Iceland’s climate and geography, local foresters rarely use pesticides in their cultivation. Furthermore, imported trees present a risk of bringing in pests that could potentially affect Icelandic vegetation.

See Also: Húsavík Residents Vote on Town Christmas Tree

Among local trees, the most popular species is the beach pine, accounting for 62.4% of local Christmas tree sales last year. The sitka spruce comes next with 14.3% of sales, followed by red spruce at 11.4%.

Subdued Celebrations for Iceland’s National Day Tomorrow

Icelandic National Day celebrations tomorrow will be more subdued than usual in order to adhere to the 300-person gathering limit in place across the country. The City of Reykjavík has encouraged residents to celebrate with their nearest and dearest but those who explore the city might stumble upon pop-up events including brass bands, circus performers, and DJs.

Icelanders celebrate National Day every June 17 – the date in 1944 when the Republic of Iceland was officially established and the country became independent from Danish rule. The date was chosen as it coincides with the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879), one of the leaders of Iceland’s independence movement. The day is usually celebrated with large public gatherings and parades, but festivities will be slightly less bombastic tomorrow due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Celebrations will begin at 11:00am with a government ceremony in Austurvöllur square. A concert featuring Icelandic musicians will take place in nearby Hljómskálagarður park between 2.00pm-6.00pm. In Akureyri, North Iceland, programming will begin at 1.00pm in Lystigarðurinn and continue with family-friendly events between 2.00pm and 4.00pm at the City Hall square (Ráðhústorg), followed by evening programming in the town centre until midnight. Most towns or municipalities have published their festival program on their website and Facebook page.

Information about City of Reykjavík programming for National Day is available online in English.

First Day of Summer in Iceland Today

bee flower summer spring

Today, April 22, is a national holiday in Iceland known as the First Day of Summer (Sumardagurinn fyrsti). In the old Icelandic calendar, this holiday likely marked the beginning of a new year and was celebrated by giving presents. Despite its name, it doesn’t always bring Icelanders warm weather.

While winter is officially over according to the old Icelandic calendar, it is not uncommon to have snow, hail, or freezing temperatures across Iceland on the First Day of Summer. In 1949, the highest recorded temperature in the country on the day of the holiday was -0.2°C (31.6°F), and Reykjavík was blanketed with 4cm (1.6in) of snow. This year’s weather forecast for the holiday includes precipitation across West Iceland – rain in lowland areas and snow at higher elevations in the region. Temperatures will reach a high of around 10°C [50°F] during the day and around freezing at night.

A Holiday Unique to Iceland

“We are the only nation in the world that’s celebrated its own particular first day of summer for 1,000 years,” ethnologist Dr. Árni Björnsson told Iceland Review. “Our ancestors created their own calendar before they knew of the Roman calendar. They split it into two halves: summer and winter.” There are clues suggesting that the First Day of Summer was considered the first day of the year. Ancient Icelanders calculated people’s age by the number of winters they had lived through, a practice that is still upheld in the countryside with horses and other domestic animals.

Reykjavík Authorities Advise Against Trick-or-Treating on Hallowe’en

Hallowe’en is fast approaching and the tradition of trick-or-treating has grown in popularity in Iceland in recent years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the City of Reykjavík has issued a notice advising families to celebrate the holiday at home.

“Saturday, October 31 is Hallowe’en, which has become increasingly popular in Iceland,” says a notice from the city. “In several places, there’s been a tradition for children to visit homes to ‘trick-or-treat’ but now it’s foreseeable that this will change. Taking into account that the Civil Protection Department’s state of emergency due to COVID-19 is still active, Civil Protection encourages parents and guardians to celebrate Hallowe’en with their children in a different way this year.”

The notice points out that going from house to house and receiving candy involves many points of contact and “the risk of getting infected is very high as it stands.”

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist is expected to announce a tightening of restrictions at the COVID-19 briefing beginning at 11.00am UTC today. Iceland Review will live-tweet the meeting at the link below.

Iceland Celebrates First Day of Summer Today

First day of summer Iceland

Today is the First Day of Summer in Iceland, an official holiday in the country and a tradition that can truly be considered unique to the nation. In the old Icelandic calendar, the First Day of Summer (Sumardagurinn fyrsti) likely marked the beginning of a new year, which Icelanders celebrated by giving presents centuries before the tradition of Christmas presents became widespread.

Old Icelandic calendar lives on in holidays

“We are the only nation in the world that’s celebrated its own particular first day of summer for 1,000 years,” explains ethnologist Dr. Árni Björnsson. “Our ancestors created their own calendar before they knew of the Roman calendar. They split it into two halves: summer and winter.” Even after the Roman calendar was adopted in Iceland in the mid 11th century, the old calendar continued to be used – until the early 20th century, says Árni, “many people didn’t know what day of the month they were born, rather which day of which week of the summer or winter.” The First Day of Summer is one of a few holidays from the old calendar that is still celebrated today.

There are clues suggesting that the First Day of Summer was considered the first day of the year. Ancient Icelanders calculated people’s age by the number of winters they had lived through, a practice that is still upheld in the countryside with horses and other domestic animals.

A bit like Christmas and Valentine’s Day

Though birthday and Christmas presents have mostly eclipsed them today, Icelanders still give “summer presents” on the First Day of Summer, a tradition that predates Christmas presents by at least several hundred years. “The oldest written example of a summer present is from the 16th century, from Bishop Gissur Einarsson at Skálholt, who wrote in his journal that he was choosing summer gifts for his household. But the tradition might be hundreds of years older,” Árni explains.

Though the summer present tradition declined in popularity in the 20th century, Árni says many Icelanders have embraced the tradition anew and kept it going, “myself included!” These days an Icelandic child could expect to receive an outdoor toy, such as a ball or a box of street chalk, on the holiday. The First Day of Summer was also called Maiden’s Day and known as a day when young men could profess their love to their sweethearts.

Summer weather

While the first day of summer marks the beginning of the season, Icelandic residents often have to wait many more weeks for balmy weather. Although winter is “officially” over, it is not uncommon to have snow, hail, or freezing temperatures across the country on the holiday. On the First Day of Summer in 1949, the highest recorded temperature in the country was -0.2°C (31.6°F), and Reykjavík was blanketed with 4cm (1.6in) of snow. Yet even bad weather can give reason to be hopeful – some Icelanders used to believe that frost on the eve of the First Day of Summer was an omen of a good summer ahead.