Happy New Year!

Fireworks Exploding over Reykjavík

Last night the usual New Year’s Eve traditions were carried out as they have been for many years in Iceland: families came together for a holiday dinner, visited neighbourhood bonfires, watched the yearly Áramótaskaup comedy revue, and set off fireworks to ring in 2024 with a bang.

Wherever you are, dear reader, the Iceland Review team hopes you found comfort in some familiar traditions and are looking forward to 2024. We certainly look forward to bringing you the best of Icelandic culture, nature, and community in the coming year. To all our readers and their loved ones: Happy New Year, Gleðilegt ár and thanks for reading!

New Year’s Eve Bonfires at Ten Locations in Reykjavík

New Year's eve bonfire in Laugarás in Reykjavík

There will be ten New Year’s Eve bonfires in Reykjavík tonight to mark the end of 2023.

New Year’s bonfires are a tradition reaching back to the 18th century in Iceland, stemming from the belief that if you want to have a clean slate for the new year, you have to symbolically burn away the old year and everything it represents. The tradition was first started by rowdy students but these days, it’s a family-friendly occasion, with people gathering around a fire and singing a few songs. Since New Year’s Eve is linked to folk beliefs and superstitions, some say that elves or hidden people make an appearance at the fires.

This year’s bonfires will be lit at the following times in the following locations:

At Ægisíða at 8:30 PM.
In Skerjafjörður opposite Skildinganes 48-52 at 9:00 PM.
At Suðurhlíð, below Fossvogur Cemetery at 8:30 PM.
Laugardalur, below Laugarásvegur 18 at 8:30 PM.
Geirsnef, on the north side of Geirsnef at 8:30 PM.
At Jafnasel at 8:30 PM.
At Rauðavatn lake on the north side at 8:30 PM.
Gufunes by Gufunesbær at 8:30 PM.
At Kléberg in Kjalarnes at 8:30 PM.
Úlfarsfell at Fisfélagið activity area above Lambhagavegur at 3:00 PM.

All of the above bonfires are categorised as small bonfires except the first at Gufunes and Geirsnef, which will be large bonfires.

Difficult Road Conditions Expected in Capital Area on New Year’s Eve

snow shovelling

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration has issued a weather alert for South and Southeast Iceland for tomorrow, New Year’s Eve. Difficult conditions may lead to road closures.

“Finish your errands today” Meteorologist recommends

On its Twitter page this morning, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA) issued a weather alert for New Year’s Eve (Gamlársdagur in Icelandic, literally Old Year’s Day).

“Expect difficult road conditions and even some road closures on New Year’s Eve in South and Southeast Iceland.” IRCA also notes that road conditions may be spoiled on the night before New Year’s Day (which is the time that many Icelanders make their way back home following celebrations with relatives).

In an interview with Fréttablaðið this morning, meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson warned that travel could prove difficult in many places in the capital region and in South Iceland.

“It looks as if roads will be impassable in the capital region and Suðurnes as early as Saturday morning. Snowfall will be heaviest in South Iceland and in the lowlands of South Iceland. There will also be a lot of snow east of Strandir and east of Vík, which will fall during the middle of the day,” Einar stated, adding that he predicts that parts of the Ring Road will become impassable.

“There is greater uncertainty in the west of the country, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula and in Borgarfjörður, for example. It will also snow there, but there will be less snow.”

Einar added the caveat that everything could change as far as the weather forecast was concerned although he recommended people finish their errands today (before New Year’s Eve): “It remains uncertain that people will be able to get between places tomorrow,” Einar observed. “Both between different parts of the country and also within towns and neighbourhoods. This applies primarily to the capital region, Suðurnes, and South Iceland.”

Ten Bonfires Scheduled For New Year’s Eve in Reykjavík

New Year's eve bonfire in Laugarás in Reykjavík

Reykjavík city officials have announced plans for ten New Year’s bonfires this New Year’s Eve, to take place in various locations in the city. These will be the first New Year’s bonfires since 2019, as the age-old custom was halted for two years due to COVID-19 restrictions.

New Year’s bonfires are a tradition reaching back to the 18th century in Iceland, stemming from the belief that if you want to have a clean slate for the new year, you have to symbolically burn away the old year and everything it represents. The tradition was first started by rowdy students but these days, it’s a family-friendly occasion, with people gathering around a fire and singing a few songs. Since New Year’s Eve is linked to folk beliefs and superstitions, sometimes elves or hidden people make an appearance.

City workers and local clubs and associations are now preparing the bonfires, according to regulations on what can be burned in such a fire, which is only unpainted wood. The only thing that can stop the bonfires from being lit is the weather – the bonfire plans will not be set in motion if the wind is above 10 m/s [22.3694 mph]. A final decision on whether the bonfires will be lit will be made before noon on New Year’s Eve, based on that day’s weather forecast.

In a press release, the city of Reykjavík states that the fires will be watched carefully and put out at a reasonable time.

Reykjavík Bonfire locations 2022

Borgarbrennur 2022. Kveikt verður á áramótabrennum á gamlárskvöld.

  • By Ægisíða, (small) 8:30 pm.
  • In Skerjafjörður by Skildinganes 48-52, (small) 9:00 pm.
  • In Suðurhlíðar, below the Fossvogur graveyard, (small) 8:30 pm.
  • Laugardalur, below Laugarásvegur 18, (small) 8:30 pm.
  • Geirsnef, north side, (large) 8:30 pm.
  • By Suðurfell, (small), 8:30 pm.
  • By Rauðavatn, north side, (small) 8:30 pm.
  • Gufunes by Gufunesbær, (large) 8:30 pm.
  • By Kléberg in Kjalarnes, (small) 8:30 pm.
  • Úlfarsfell mountain, (small) 3:00 pm.
Map of Reykjavík’s New Year’s bonfires 2022

Dry Weather Provides Conditions For New Year Brushfires

Ever since the 18th century, Icelanders have had a tradition of “burning away the old year” with bonfires, and later fireworks. This year, authorities didn’t permit bonfires due to COVID-19 but a snowless ground paired with dry, heavy winds provided the perfect conditions for brush fires in south and west Iceland over the first few days of the year. New Year’s fireworks and illegal bonfires exacerbated the problem, but in Mosfellsbær, a group of teenage boys helped save homes from burning down.

Brush fires were burning in various locations in the capital area on New Year’s Eve and the days following. Dry grass made kindling for most fires, but garbage containers and roofs also caught fire. All available firefighters responded to calls over fires on New Year’s Eve, and search-and-rescue teams were mobilised to help. On New Year’s Eve, 90 fires were reported to the capital area firefighters.

In Árnessýsla in south Iceland, the fire department fought 54 fires and got additional reports from locals who managed to extinguish some fires on their own. The deputy fire chief in Árnessýsla Lárus Kristinn Guðmundsson told RÚV that the fires left large areas burnt after New Year’s Eve. Even though authorities permitted no bonfires this New Year’s Eve, sparks from fireworks and illegal bonfires lit most of the flames. A snow-free ground and heavy dry winds provided perfect conditions for the fire to spread.

A residential building in Mosfellsbær was close to catching fire on New Year’s Day when a brush fire broke out in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. Kids in the area noticed the fire and notified people closest to it. Using every tactic, they managed to extinguish the fire, but it was only two metres from a house when their efforts were finally successful.

Once the fire department arrived, the fire was mostly out. According to a resident in the house threatened by fire, some teenage boys were instrumental in extinguishing the fire. “They sort of rescued us. There were so many of them, and they were so quick, running around with shovels, blankets, and buckets. I think that was the most important part, how quick they were to run around with water and everything.”

In addition to the fires, seven people sought help at the National Hospital’s emergency room with fireworks-related injuries on their hands. Senior physician at the Emergency Room Hjalti Már Björnsson, noted that all seven cases included grown men, not children or teenagers. He told RÚV that there hadn’t been a notable increase in emergency room arrivals due to intoxication or assaults. “There were some but not noticeably more than usual.”

Is the annual New Year’s Eve round-up comedy show broadcast with English subtitles on any channel/online in Iceland?

New Year's Eve Fireworks in Reykjavík, 2017.

The hour-long TV comedy special aired on New Year’s Eve is called Áramótaskaupið, a neologism combining the words for year, meeting, and comedy. The show has satirised the year’s most significant events with skits and songs since its debut on radio in the 1940s. According to Gallup, 75% of the population watched in 2018, with 98% of active TV sets tuned to the national broadcaster RÚV. The show’s viewership is second only to the annual Eurovision Song Contest.

Every year, Áramótaskaupið is shown in Icelandic on RÚV, and at the same time on RÚV 2 with English subtitles. Both channels are accessible on the RÚV website.

Read more on Áramótaskaupið (Subscription required): Laugh Out the Old

Low Air Quality Expected on New Year’s Day in Reykjavík

fireworks new year's eve Reykjavík

Wind speeds will be very low in most places on New Year’s Day, meaning that pollution from fireworks will linger and air quality will be low in areas where many fireworks are set off, the Icelandic Met Office reports.

Firework sales are the main source of fundraising for Iceland’s volunteer-run Search and Rescue organisations. Setting them off on New Year’s Eve is an Icelandic tradition, but has become a subject of debate in recent years due to its polluting effects.

Read More: No Smoke Without Fireworks

Besides buying fireworks, those who wish to support ICE-SAR can purchase seedlings to be planted in Iceland or simply donate directly to the organisation.

No Bonfires In Reykjavík This New Year’s Eve

New Year's bonfire

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.


Four Thousand Seedlings Planted in ‘New Year’s Forest’

Members of ICE-SAR and the Icelandic Forestry Association planted 4,000 tree seedlings on Wednesday as part of the Áramótaskógur (‘New Year’s Forest’) on Selfjall mountain just outside of Kópavogur in the capital area, RÚV reports.

Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg, Facebook

The seedlings were sold as part of annual fundraising efforts for ICE-SAR, Iceland’s volunteer-staffed search and rescue association. Traditionally, ICE-SAR has sold New Year’s fireworks to raise money for its efforts. However, concerns about the environmental impact of Iceland’s New Year’s fireworks extravaganza have led, in recent years, to New Year’s seedlings being sold as well. ICE-SAR currently has a contract in place with the forestry association to sell New Year’s seedlings through 2023.

Read More: Tree Seedlings to Supplement Firework Sales Over Next 3 Years

Eight thousand seedlings were sold as part of the most recent New Year’s fundraiser and will be planted all over the country.

New Restrictions on Fireworks Proposed

A ministerial committee appointed to review the negative impacts of pollution from fireworks has issued recommendations which would significantly curtail fireworks usage, RÚV reports. A joint statement issued by the committee emphasised the importance of taking practical measures to improve public health while also ensuring that Iceland’s Search and Rescue organisations remain well-funded (ICE-SAR currently earns half its annual revenue from the sale of fireworks).

Per the proposed regulations, it would only be permissible to set off fireworks in Iceland during the following windows: 4.00pm on New Year’s Eve to 2.00am on New Year’s Day; 4.00pm to 10.00pm on New Year’s Day; 4.00pm to 10.00pm on January 6th (Þrettándinn, otherwise known as Epiphany, or the last day of Christmas). Current law allows for the sale and use of fireworks from December 28 until January 6, during which time they are not permitted to be set off between midnight and 9.00am, except on New Year’s Eve.

The new recommendations would also allow for Þrettándinn celebrations to be postponed in the event of windy weather or heavy frost, although postponements beyond the following Sunday would not be allowed. Municipalities could also elect to hold Þrettándinn celebrations on Saturday or Sunday during the first week of January.

In total, the committee made seven recommendations on curtailing the use of fireworks:

  • Short-term measures put in place by local health committees related to fireworks pollution
  • Licences and supervision for fireworks displays
  • A more restrictive timeframe during which the use of fireworks is permitted
  • Fewer days on which fireworks are sold
  • Increased supervision and oversight on fireworks use
  • Penalties and fines related to misuse of fireworks
  • The appointment of a working group to discuss a new financing model for ICE-SAR rescue teams

Representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources on the committee additionally proposed that public use of larger fireworks and firework “cakes” should be discontinued by 2030. They also proposed that people should only be allowed to set off fireworks in designated areas. The representative from the Ministry of Justice proposed more detailed measurements be taken on fireworks-generated pollution, via an increase in the number of pollution-measuring stations, an analysis of where pollution originates, and a ban imposed on the importation of bottle rockets.