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  • Sara Moniz

Mid-winter Festival

It seems that we have reach the fourth month and middle of winter according to the old Norse calendar, which is divided into only two seasons—summer and winter. This month is called "Þorri", honouring the mythological Norse god Thor often seen as the personification of king winter. The month of Þorri is also one of the coldest and harshest months of winter.

The festivities begin on Bóndadagur (husband's day) on the first Friday after January 19, this year is celebrated in January 21 and ends approximately four weeks later on Konudagur (women's day).

On the morning of Bóndadagur the man of the house, bóndinn, is supposed to welcome Þorri by going outside only dressed in his shirt and he shall hop while wearing only one leg of his trousers, dragging the other behind him. To make this easier for the bóndi, women are supposed to be especially attentive on this day, they pamper the husbands, boyfriends and fathers they love. The notions of manhood and masculinity have certainly changed since Norse settlers arrived to the country, but this holiday has evolved with the times and continues to be a favourite among locals.

After the welcome towards the God of Thunder, everyone’s attention turns to the upcoming feast! What Icelanders do to survive a long winter? Of course, they give a party!

The midwinter festival, called Þorrinn, originally held to honour the God Thor was a pagan sacrificial festival. Þorrinn was abolished when Christianity was introduced to Iceland. During Iceland‘s struggle for independence from Denmark in the 19th century, young Icelanders studying in Copenhagen decided to revive the old custom of Þorrablót (Sacrifice Feast), gathering to feast on traditional Icelandic foods, sing old songs and to dream of an independent Iceland. The practice spread to Iceland the following year, quickly becoming an important annual festival as a mid-winter celebration to honour not only Thor but also the Icelandic heritage.

The food served at Þorrablót has a strong taste for some visitors to the country, but this feast is so immersed in tradition for locals that everyone will celebrate, no matter the appearance of many dishes.

Þorrablót feasts are the central element of Þorrinn. Throughout the month, families will gather to share traditional delicacies, including hákarl (fermented shark’s meat), svið (boiled sheep’s head), hrútspungar (ram’s testicles) and kjötsúpa (lamb meat soup). These traditional dishes reflect some old methods of food conservation, which was vital on making it through an Icelandic winter. The preferred drink to toast to the god of thunder is Iceland’s signature potato-based schnapps Brennivin, which translates to “black death”. The traditional music, dancing, games and storytelling complete the evening, which can often last into the early hours of the following morning.

Many local restaurants enter the spirit of the season by adding special dishes to their menus. Grocery stores will also stock traditional delicacies for families wishing to celebrate at home. Special organized events, often hosted at large community halls, can be found in most of Iceland’s city centres.

After four weeks, the fifth month of winter begins on a Sunday between the 18th and 24th of February (it’s called Góa) and in the traditional Icelandic calendar is the celebration of Konudagur (women’s day). This will be the opportunity to reciprocate all the eating and pampering of Bóndadagur to the wives, girlfriends and mothers!

The Icelander is very optimistic and has become accustomed to seeing the glass half full. They celebrate half winter because the day already has more than four hours of light and in two more months, in April, the summer arrives. The light time is now longer, exactly 6 minutes each day, and every 6 minutes is reason enough to celebrate.