Iceland's national day - 17th June

Iceland's national day - 17th June

Leah BIlquist Leah BIlquist
14. Jun 2022 (Updated: 29. Jun 2022) ∼ 6 min. read

You’re in Iceland when “Sautjándi Júní" a song by "Dúmbó og Steini" is playing through the streets. The Icelandic people are cheering in a parade that is heading through Reykjavik. With their faces painted sky blue, fire red, and snow white. Helium balloons begin to fill the sky. If this is the situation you are seeing, chances are it is Icelandic National Day! 

Every year on June 17th the people of Iceland gather together to celebrate the freedom of their country and themselves. While Americans have the 4th of July and Canadians have Canada Day, Icelanders have Icelandic National Day. This is a national holiday for Iceland which means everyone is required to have the day off. A tradition that has been going strong since 1945.  If that isn’t another reason to celebrate, I don’t know what it is. But there is so much more to the day than just time off from work. So let’s break down exactly why Icelandic National Day is important and how you can celebrate it this year.

The History

All the way back in 1262 Iceland became a part of the Norwegian crown and lost its independence. Then in 1380, Iceland became a Danish colony. So why is June 17th a significant date? Well, it was the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson who was a true mental warrior. He fought with all of his might for years to get freedom for Iceland and its people. Then in 1944, it happened, Iceland broke away from Denmark and got its independence back. Jón lost his life on December 7, 1879, well before he was able to see it for himself. This is why he is honored every year on June 17th in Iceland. The first celebration happened back in 1944 in Þingvellir and since then it has all been history.  

Iceland History

So who is the infamous Jón Sigurðssonn? Well, he was born in Iceland on Hrafnseyri in the Westfjords. He later moved to Copenhagen for his studies as a student. He loved science and studied classical philology, ancient history, political theory, and economics. However, he never finished his studies and ended up leaving Copenhagen twelve years later. He then became a member of parliament from 1845 to 1879 and mostly stayed in Iceland during that time. Jón was the speaker and president of the parliament, Which made him the number one candidate to lead the fight for the freedom of Iceland. If it wasn’t for Jón advocating for the country, who knows what could have happened. That is why June 17th is important. It is the time to honor the man that did not give up on his belief that Iceland should be free of Denmark. He ended up changing the minds of so many people in the process.  There was a 98% vote that favored Iceland gaining its freedom back, a huge turnout. You may also recognize Jón Sigurðssonn, as he is the face on the 500 krona bill.

Let’s Celebrate

Getting ready for Icelandic Day is really fun! First, you need to pick out your outfit. Some of the locals love to dress up and wear the “national costume”. Most of these costumes were designed in the 19th century while others are more modern. The different types are recognized as the following: Kyrtill, Skautbúningur, Faldbúningur, Peysuföt, and the Upphlutur. Over the years they have become very rare, mostly because they are passed down through family generations. But, if you or someone you know has one laying around, get ready to suit up and hit the town. If you do not have a costume, it is still recommended to dress up and enjoy the events. The look is known to be bright and summery, so leave your black clothes at home on this day. 

Icelandic National costumes

Photo taken by Helgi Halldórsson

Some commonly spotted celebratory items on Icelandic National Day are helium balloons, candy, and face paint. Both children and adults will paint the Icelandic Flag right on their faces to show the pride they have for the country. You will be able to buy helium balloons and candy on the streets too, as most sports teams and civilians will be selling them throughout the day. 

kid on 17th of june in iceland

Photo taken by Helgi Halldórsson

Now that you know the history and the fashion, it is time to celebrate. Luckily, there are celebrations all over Iceland! But the most popular one is right in the heart of Reykjavik.

Iceland day

Photo taken by Helgi Halldórsson

Your day begins in Austurvöllur, which attracts the most people on June 17th. This public square in Reykjavik is packed with festivities. This year the day starts out with the Morning Ceremony At Austurvollur from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Mr. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the President of Iceland, will lay a wreath from the Icelandic nation in memory of Jón Sigurðsson. After, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Prime Minister will deliver a speech to the Icelandic people. There is also a secret “Mountain Woman '' who will also deliver an address. The mountain woman is a symbol of Iceland, representing nature and spirits specifically. Her identity will be revealed at the ceremony when she is dressed up in one of the fanciest outfits. 

Next head over to the Parish Church of Hallgrímskirkja for the National Festival Parade, which starts at 1:00 PM. The parade route goes from  Hallgrímskirkja down Skólavörðustígur. It then ends in the festival area in Hljómskálagarður. Enjoy the sounds of the Workers' Trumpet Band which is joined by a well-known visitor who stays a secret until the parade. 

After the parade, get ready to continue the celebrations throughout Reykjavik. The streets will be filled with proud Icelanders and everyone will come together to celebrate.  Expect to see the streets filled with street performers, brass bands, choirs, and circus artists. You can also enjoy some favorite Icelandic dishes that are sold at pop-up stands. These include candy floss, ice cream, and hot dogs. Get your party on and listen to a DJ playing at Klambratún, which is one of the largest public parks in Reykjavik. 

balloon in Iceland

Photo taken by Helgi Halldórsson

Can’t make it out to Reykjavik? No problem. There are informal parties and celebrations that take place all over the country. Chances are if you are driving through you will see some along your journeys. For those that can’t go out and about and celebrate, that is okay too. Icelandic National Day celebrations in Reykjavík will be broadcasted live on Ruv, which is the national tv station. You can check out the full agenda of the day here. Whether you spend the day inside or outside, the true purpose is to be grateful for the freedom of the country. While also acknowledging the hardships that Icelanders went through to get to where we are today. So paint your face, grab your helium balloon and get ready to celebrate Icelandic National Day this Friday!

kid eating a candy in iceland

Photo taken by Helgi Halldórsson

The article was written by: Leah BIlquist.