9 Unique Icelandic Traditions You Need to Experience

The sky is the limit when it comes to exciting and unique Icelandic traditions. The region’s fascinating religious and cultural history blends classic Christian beliefs with ancient Nordic customs. The result? Celebrations on celebrations!

Eccentric holidays and age-old Icelandic traditions fill the nation’s lively calendar with endless events of great historical significance. Iceland never has a dull moment – no matter when you visit!

And there’s no better way to absorb the country’s captivating culture than diving right in.

Quick cultural background on Iceland

Ever since Scandinavians first landed on the Icelandic coast, Nordic customs have run deep through the nation’s veins – but with an interesting twist.

Icelanders are known for their independence and self-sufficiency, which is why so many unique regional traditions have stood the test of time. These cultural celebrations have survived a lot over the past 1,000+ years, from the country’s Christian conversion, Norwegian and Danish rule to Iceland’s independence and religious freedom.

Most interesting traditions in Iceland

Kids spanking their parents for more sweet buns? An experienced horse rider rounding sheep into a stone pen? Men hopping around the house wearing one pant leg? Believe it or not, these are all classic Icelandic traditions!

Learn more about what the heck these celebrations are and where, when, and how you can join the festivities. Because come on, we know you want to.

Husband’s Day (Bóndadagur)

bóndadagur husband-s day iceland
Photo source: Iceland Monitor

Traditionally a day for the eldest man in the house to welcome the month of Thorri – the fourth month on the old Norse calendar – Husband’s Day historically involves some unusual routines. Men were encouraged to prove their “toughness” on this wintery holiday by hopping through the house dressed in a shirt and only one pant leg, as the other leg trails behind him.

But as fewer folks subscribe to these gender roles, Husband’s Day has evolved. Now, it’s become closer to a Valentine’s Day equivalent for Icelandic people to pamper the men in their lives. So expect less unique outfit choices and more flowers, dinner dates, or steaks served with specialty beer.

  • When it is celebrated: First day of Thorri (Mid-January in the Gregorian calendar we use!)
  • Region it is celebrated: Nationwide
  • What’s needed: Appreciation (and gifts) for the male friends, partners, father figures, or other men in your life

Thorrablót (Þorrablót)

Thorrablót (Þorrablót)
Photo Source: Iceland Magazine

Foodies, unite! The historic midwinter festival of Thorrablót honors the Norse god Thor through a sacrificial feast filled with traditional foods prepared using natural preservation methods. Celebrations occur during the Icelandic month of Thorri.

Fermented Greenland shark, soured rams’ testicles, hung smoked lamb, and boiled sheep’s head are all delicacies on the menu. Then it’s bottoms-up as you down some Black Death, Iceland’s signature spirit: a regional schnapps made from potatoes and caraway.

Families and entire communities gather to share this classic Thorri feast, participate in storytelling, songs, and games, then dance the night away!

  • When it is celebrated: First Friday after January 19th, or the 13th week of winter.
  • Region it is celebrated: Nationwide
  • What’s needed: Traditional Thorrablót delicacies, liquor, and community

Wife’s Day (Konudagur)

You didn’t think us ladies were gonna be left out, did you? Wife’s Day closes out the month of Thorri, kicking off the other harsh wintery month of Góa. It’s believed that Icelandic people used to celebrate the first day of each month prior to Christian conversion. Holidays like Bóndadagur and Konudagur are reminders of these cultural customs.

Wife’s Day gives men a chance to pamper the women in their lives this time (looking at you, Iceland hot springs). Just like on Valentine’s Day, gifts like flowers, chocolates, spa visits, or fancy dinners are commonly given to show appreciation. So, ladies, note that this is a good day to visit Iceland with your boo.

  • When it is celebrated: First day of Góa (Mid-February)
  • Region it is celebrated: Nationwide
  • What’s needed: Appreciation (and gifts) for the wives, girlfriends, partners, pals, and other special women in your life
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Bun Day (Bolludagur)

Bun Day (Bolludagur)
Photo Source: Iceland Magazine

Lent’s approach brings a sweet treat. It’s Cream Bun Day in Iceland! On the Monday before Ash Wednesday, locals indulge in sweet cream puffs filled with jam and covered in chocolate, sugar, or caramel.

Young Icelanders celebrate with their own twist. Kids “earn” their buns by yelling “Bolla, Bolla, Bolla,” (“bun, bun, bun”) at their parents while spanking them with a wooden stick decorated in colorful papers. So keep an eye out for hungry, equipped Icelandic children if you visit during this occasion!

  • When it is celebrated: Monday before Ash Wednesday
  • Region it is celebrated: Nationwide
  • What’s needed: Cream buns, decorated sticks, and a watchful eye for opportunistic children

Bursting Day (Sprengidagur)

Bursting Day (Sprengidagur)
Photo Source: Iceland Discover

Immediately after Bun Day comes Bursting Day, or Shrove Tuesday. As Christian Lent grows even closer, it’s an Icelandic tradition to indulge in a feast before the fast, eating until you metaphorically “burst.” Though fasting isn’t as common these days, the Icelandic holiday is still a time to eat in excess.

Enjoy one last proper meal before Lent: the classic dish called saltkjöt og baunir. Help yourself to second (and third, and fourth) helpings of this heavily salted lamb with a side of tasty split pea soup!

  • When it is celebrated: Shrove Tuesday
  • Region it is celebrated: Nationwide
  • What’s needed: Pea soup with salted meat. And lots of it!

Ash Wednesday (Öskudagur)

Ash Wednesday (Öskudagur)
Photo Source: Reykjavik Grapevine

Ever wanted to celebrate Halloween in spring? Well, Öskudagur may not really be the same thing, but both are filled with costumes and candy! Children dress up and sing in shops in exchange for treats on this first day of Lent.

If you visit the country during this celebrated day, look for tell-tale signs of Ash Wednesday Icelandic traditions like little ash or pebble-filled pouches. Young people attempt to pin these bags on the backs of their crushes without them noticing. What may have started as a time to contemplate sins is now a cheeky, heartwarming day.

  • When it is celebrated: 46 days before Easter Sunday
  • Region it is celebrated: Nationwide
  • What’s needed: Costumes, candy, and ash or pebble pouches

Beer Day

After 74 years of beer prohibition starting in 1908, the boozy beverage made a comeback to Iceland on March 1st, 1989. Despite Icelandic spirits and wine being legalized (and even prescribed) years prior, the long-lasting beer ban was the last to go, marking a triumphant end to a dry Iceland.

Beer Day may as well be an official holiday in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, where pub crawls festivities beat on until 4:00 in the morning. Drink in the Beer Day celebrations with an ice-cold pint (or two) at your favorite local pub.

  • When it is celebrated: March 1st
  • Region it is celebrated: Reykjavik
  • What’s needed: Beer, beer, and more beer

Sheep Round Up (Réttir)

Sheep Round Up (Réttir)
Photo Source: Iceland Travel Guide

It’s not autumn in Iceland without réttir: the sheep round up! This major social event sees people of all ages gather to help local farmers herd flocks of Icelandic sheep back to ancient stone pens using trucks, tractors, and ATVs. While it’s fascinating to witness the event from the sidelines, some tour companies let you participate in the action! It’s a uniquely Nordic and totally Insta-worthy experience.

Sheep and réttir festivities have always been crucial to Icelandic culture, symbolizing a stable supply of food and warmth that locals rely on to survive the coming harsh winter months. You’ll finish off the joyously frantic day with endless cups of coffee, cake, and donuts while flasks and singalongs break out amongst the crowds.

  • When it is celebrated: September 1st to early October
  • Region it is celebrated: Northern Iceland, moving down Southern Iceland through the month
  • What’s needed: Sheep to herd into ancient stone pens

Icelandic Language Day (Dagur Íslenskrar tungu)

Icelandic Language Day
Photo Source: Inspired by Iceland

They say there are over a hundred words for snow in Icelandic, and while this may be slightly untrue, the nation’s uniquely old, complex, and beautiful language is worth honoring. Iceland commemorates its country’s tongue every November 16th: the birthday of writer, poet, and Icelandic independence advocate Jónas Hallgrímsson.

Each year, the Jónas Hallgrímsson Award is given to an individual who makes outstanding contributions to the Icelandic language. Help preserve Iceland’s culture by learning a few phrases during your Nordic visit.

  • When it is celebrated: November 16th
  • Region it is celebrated: Reykjavik
  • What’s needed: Appreciation for language, culture, and learning

Explore Iceland With Explorer Chick!

Want to experience – or even participate in – some of these traditions yourself? Join a group of 11 other badass adventurous ladies on Explorer Chick’s women’s-only trip to Iceland! We’ll climb glacial walls, stargaze under Northern Lights, and sip some Black Death – whether it’s Thorrablót or not!

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Meet the Writer

megan wray writer

Megan Wray

Megan Wray is a queer, mixed-race Japanese-Canadian freelance writer based on Treaty 1 Territory. Passionate about pleasure, identity, and anti-oppression, Megan’s fuelled by meaningful chats about topics that aren’t “appropriate” for dinner table conversation. When she’s not writing, you can find Megan cooking vegan food, singing to live music, and trying to understand astrology.

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