A Different Kind of Ash Wednesday

Today marks Ash Wednesday, a holiday celebrated across Iceland during the Lent season. Ash Wednesday traditions in Iceland are somewhat similar to Hallowe’en traditions in North America. Children in Iceland dress up in costumes for the holiday and sing to receive candy. This year, Icelandic health authorities have issued guidelines for celebrating the holiday while keeping infection prevention in mind.

There are records of Ash Wednesday celebrations in Iceland as early as the beginning of the 19th century. Kids have been dressing up for the holiday for most of the 20th century. RÚV footage from 1967 shows children in Akureyri in costume and playing traditional games on the holiday.

Health authorities’ guidelines include the following:

  • Celebrating the holiday within your close environment: at home, in school, at children’s recreational centres and community centres.
  • Dressing up regardless of your age to bring some fun into your daily routine.
  • Reviving old traditions like öskudagspokar, a game involving pinning small bags on others, as well as the barrel game (seen in the 1967 video linked above) while keeping infection prevention in mind.
  • If children will go from house to house in search of candy, authorities encourage parents to check in advance where children will be welcomed.
  • Those giving candy are encouraged to only distribute candy that is individually wrapped.

Expect to Sell 44,000 Cream Puffs on Bolludagur

Icelandic Cream Puff Bolludagur

Today is Bolludagur, or Cream Puff Day, the first of three food-filled Icelandic holidays leading up to Lent. Daníel Kári Stefánsson, restaurant manager at IKEA in Garðabær, told RÚV he expects the restaurant’s cream puffs sales to be above average this year, including between 8,000-10,000 of the sweet treat sold today alone.

“We have sold almost 36,000 cream puffs leading up to today. We expect to end up at 43,000-44,000 cream puffs. That’s significantly more than in recent years,” Daníel stated. According to him, the restaurant has been preparing for the holiday for around a month. Many factors play into the increase in sales Daníel expects this year, including a strike which has closed many preschools, and yesterday’s Konudagur (Women’s Day) celebrations.

Known as Shrove Monday in many other countries, Bolludagur takes place on the Monday before Lent. The celebrations continue Tuesday with Sprengidagur, or Bursting Day, when Icelanders traditionally eat salted lamb and pea soup. Sprengidagur is followed by Ash Wednesday, known as Öskudagur in Icelandic, in which children dress in costumes and sing songs in exchange for candy.

“We are actually starting to prepare for Sprengidagur now,” Daníel told reporters. “We expect 3,000 people for dinner here tomorrow.”