Summer Is Here (In Iceland)

Iceland has a unique holiday celebrated only in Iceland, Sumardagurinn fyrsti — the First Day of Summer. Of course after a long winter it makes complete sense that Icelanders want to celebrate the arrival of summer, but why is it celebrated in late April when freezing temperatures are likely to occur in Iceland.

So What’s Up With This Early Celebration?

The Sumardagurinn fyrsti is a national holiday. Its roots are based in the old Icelandic calendar that was used from the 9th Century during the settlement of Iceland until as recently as the 19th Century.

There were only two seasons, winter and summer according to the Icelandic calendar. (In Minnesota it is often said there are only two seasons, winter and road construction but that’s not based on any historical fact — it’s just based on frustration.) Summer started in late April and lasted until late October. The old calendar was week-based so the official timing of the first day of summer was the second Thursday after April 11th, on the first day of the month of Harpa.

How Do You Celebrate Sumardagurinn Fyrsti?

Every town in Iceland has its own Sumardagurinn fyrsti celebrations but parades with bass bands and scouts are common. Reykajavik has held an IR running race on Sumardagurinn fyrsti since 1916. Unfortunately, the temperature usually is somewhere between 0-10°C on the day itself but that’s expected. It’s often considered good luck if it dips below freezing the night before, a sign that it will be a good summer. Icelandic pancakes (Pönnukökur) are a popular Sumardagurinn fyrsti treat. They are crêpe-like flat pancakes, served either rolled with sugar or filled with whipped cream and jam. You can find a recipe here.

Here is a video of last year’s First Day of Summer celebration:



– Mary Hirsch