Iceland Public Holidays

Iceland Public Holidays: Guide to National Holidays in Iceland

Icelandic traditional holidays are an essential part of Icelandic culture. The mixture of the holidays demonstrates the integration of various cultures and traditions that have been adopted by native Icelanders over the years.

Originally, Iceland was settled around 870 to 930 AD by Norsemen coming from Norway due to the persecution of the current king. They brought their religion and holidays that were primarily based on the religion of the time.

As the effect of globalization continued to have noticeable impacts on iceland, various holidays were thrown out of popularity, and others came front and center. For example, Christianity had a significant effect on Icelandic culture after it was initially settled and holidays like Easter and Christmas became more popular.

The modern holidays listed below are popular because of this history and a current resurgence in historically famous celebrations that were largely thrown out when Christianity declared them “pagan holidays.” The mixture of holidays and their history enriches the overall culture and expression of Iceland.

Here is a table with the national holidays of Iceland. 

Maundy Thursday  Thu, Apr 14, 2022
Good Friday Fri, Apr 15, 2022
Easter Sun, Apr 17, 2022
Easter Monday  Mon, Apr 18, 2022
First Day of Summer Thu, Apr 21, 2022
Labour Day  Sun, May 1, 2022
Ascension Day  Thu, May 26, 2022
Pentecost Sun, Jun 5, 2022
Whit Monday Mon, Jun 6, 2022
Icelandic National Day  Fri, Jun 17, 2022
Commerce Day  Mon, Aug 1, 2022
Christmas Eve Sat, Dec 24, 2022
Christmas Day  Sun, Dec 25, 2022
2nd Day of Christmas Mon, Dec 26, 2022
New Year’s Eve  Sat, Dec 31, 2022

1. Maundy Thursday (Thu, Apr 14, 2022)

Maundy Thursday is one of the holidays brought into Iceland with the movement of Christianity into the mainstream culture. Christianity began to spread through Iceland in the 10th century relatively shortly after settling. The new faith started to be adopted by the entire population after a national assembly called the Alþingi during the 999 or 1000 AD meeting.

Maundy Thursday is a day to remember the Last Supper with Jesus Christ’s disciples. It is the holiday that marks the start of the Easter holiday. Due to the importance of Easter in Iceland, most shops, offices, and schools will be closed this Thursday. Because of its religious significance, it is also one of the most popular days for young adults to be confirmed.

2. Good Friday (Fri, Apr 15, 2022)

Good Friday is the day that follows Maundy Thursday and is often more popular to celebrate around the world than Maundy Thursday. However, in Iceland, both of these days are important and well-recognized.

In general, good Friday and the Easter holiday are so vital that it is illegal for shops to be opened on Good Friday. It is also one of Iceland’s ‘dry days’ in which all the bars will be closed. They have to close at midnight on Thursday and stay closed throughout the entire Easter holiday, except that Saturday.

3. Easter (Sun, Apr 17, 2022)

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday leading up to the most important holiday of the season, Easter, sometimes called Palm Sunday. Easter is one of the most important traditional holidays in Iceland and a favorite among most Icelandic children. Most Icelanders head to church services in the morning to be followed by large family meals featuring lamb as the main fare of the day.

Easter in Iceland isn’t all based on history and serious tradition. They incorporate fun traditions such as large chocolate eggs stuffed with Icelandic candies and a proverb inside each egg. There are also wide-scale egg hunts for the children each holiday as well.

4. Easter Monday (Mon, Apr 18, 2022)

The final day of the Easter holiday is Easter Monday. This is often not as popular as a holiday. Thus, certain businesses and academic institutions will honor it and take the day off still, and others will open again for the new week. It is more of a day of relaxation and recovery from the family gatherings during the rest of the holiday season.

Remember that the Easter weekend does not always land on the same days, unlike a holiday like Christmas. Easter always lands on the first Sunday that lands after the first full moon of spring. March 22nd is the earliest Easter Sunday can land, and April 25th is the latest.

5. First day of summer  (Thu, Apr 21, 2022)

The first day of summer is determined by factors set by the Old Norse calendars brought by the Icelandic settlers more than a millennia ago. The calendar was based on only two seasons, including summer and winter. Much of this was determined by the climate where they lived, where winters are long, dark, and cold and summers feature long days full of sunlight.

Because of this, the first days that mark the two pinnacle seasonal changes are quite important. Even though winter isn’t as challenging to live through in modern Iceland, summer still listens in with a lot of joy. The celebration for the first day of summer lands on the Thursday after April 18th. 

This holiday is widely celebrated for kids nowadays. Most villages, towns, and cities will have parades led by the Scouts. There will be outdoor games, the exchange of Summer Gifts, and often large community BBQs.

6. Labour Day (Sun, May 1, 2022)

Labour Day is the first of the Icelandic holidays that we have covered that has a set date. Labour Day is always the first day of May, similar to the day celebrated by many other countries in the rest of the world. 

Labour Day is typically a holiday off from work since the entire holiday was put in place to celebrate the contributions that those participating in the workforce have made to the country’s economy. This day also highlights where progress has been made and where more needs to be made on fair working conditions.

7. Ascension Day (Thu, May 26, 2022)

Ascension Day is another holiday brought into the country with the entrance of Christianity. It is the holiday that commemorates Christ’s physical ascension into heaven. Traditionally, this happens 40 days after Easter, so the date of Easter directly affects the day of this holiday.

Although Ascension Day isn’t as globally celebrated as Easter, it is one of the oldest holidays in the Christian calendar, established as early as 400 AD. In Iceland, this is a widely recognized holiday. Most workplaces will be closed, as will schools. The significant exception is that bars and restaurants will remain open in central Reykjavik.

The way that Icelanders often celebrate this holiday is relatively low-key. They will spend their time with their family, often in the outdoors. Those who are religious will go to church and snuff out the Easter candle to represent Jesus’ departure from Earth.

8. Pentecost (Sun, Jun 5, 2022)

Pentecost is another Christian religion brought to Iceland with the arrival of later settlers from other countries. Another name for it is ‘Whit Sunday’ in Iceland. The holiday commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus Christ.

Even if you don’t celebrate Pentecost, it is typically counted as a public holiday in Iceland. If you would typically work on Sunday, you would get that day off, and most businesses are closed or adjusted their opening hours.

9. Whit Monday (Mon, Jun 6, 2022)

Pentecost Monday is another name for this popular holiday called ‘Whit Monday.’ Whit Monday is the day after Pentecost Sunday. It is a Christian holiday and is an extension of the celebration of the presence of the Holy Spirit in Christianity.

The reason Monday is also pulled into this holiday is that Pentecost always lands on the 7th Sunday after Easter Sunday. That means it can’t function well as a public holiday since it is already incorporated into a weekend. 

Monday is also pulled into the holiday so that Icelanders can have a day of rest where most of the general population is off work and schools are closed.

10. Icelandic National Day (Fri, Jun 17, 2022)

Icelandic National Day is one of the more significant annual holidays in Iceland. It is one of the few that aren’t based historically or culturally on religion. Instead, this day is an ode to the history of Iceland, particularly when it once more became a sovereign nation separate from any other government.

Icelandic National Day is the name for Iceland’s Independence Day. It marks the anniversary of Iceland’s freedom from Denmark that occurred in 1944. The actual date, the 17th of June, corresponds to the birthday of Iceland’s national champion of this movement, Jón Sigurðsson. He also features on the banknote of the 500-krona.

Every year, Icelanders celebrate this holiday by heading to Reykjavik to lay a wreath at the base of his statue. This commemorates his fight for the independence of the country. Workplaces will close so that people can celebrate. The biggest celebration happens in Reykjavik in the Downtown area, where there is a parade, concerts, vintage car fair, and vendors.

During the parade, another essential Icelandic tradition takes place. The Fjallakona, or ‘Lady of the Mountain,’ is crowned. She symbolizes the feminine resistance contrary to the King of Denmark, representing the spirit and nature of Icelanders.

11. Commerce Day (Mon, Aug 1, 2022)

Commerce Day in Iceland is always celebrated on the first Monday of August. It has been observed in Iceland since 1894, although at that time, it was referred to as the ‘holiday of the Merchants.”It was a day that all shopkeepers and traders could have off, and now it is a widely observed public holiday.

The bank holiday associated with Commerce Day is called Verslumannahelgi in Icelandic. Many people camp over this holiday or head to the beach. There will often be outdoor festivals with music and fireworks around the country, the most famed being the ”national Festival”in the Westman Islands.

12. Christmas Eve (Sat, Dec 24, 2022)

Christmas Eve is part of a holiday that is celebrated almost worldwide. It has become, as in many countries, one of the most popular holidays in Iceland. The official public holiday starts on December 24th, the ”ve” before Christmas day. It begins at noon, and most businesses will change their working hours to accommodate that. Even public transportation in Reykjavik changes, stopping at 4 PM to guarantee everything closes after that time.

Christmas Eve is just as popular as Christmas for most households. Families often gather together for more of a formal dinner where people come together dressed up for a large meal. Since it was originally a Christian holiday, it is often marked by the bells tolling at Hallgrimskirkja church, at least in Reykjavik.

13. Christmas Day (Sun, Dec 25, 2022)

Christmas Day is even more popular, and if you don’t get together with your family on Christmas Eve, you likely will on Christmas Day. Instead of waking up in the morning to celebrate it, your family meets yet again for a large Christmas feast. 

Only once the dinner is finished is it is time to open the presents. One of the Icelandic traditions includes receiving a piece of clothing as a present. This stops you from being devoured by the feared Christmas Cat. The cat is the pet of the trolless Grýla. She enjoys feasting on naughty children. What is the mark of a good child, you ask? A new piece of clothing was gifted to the sweet children by their parents.

There is also the myth of the 13 Yule Lads. These are the children of Grýla. They come down from the mountains each Christmas to give presents to the good children and only give the naughty ones rotten potatoes. It is the Icelandic tale of Santa Claus, but with 13 instead of only one!

14. 2nd Day of Christmas (Mon, Dec 26, 2022)

The Second Day of Christmas is also called Boxing Day or Saint SStephen’sDay. It is taken as a public holiday in Iceland. It often looks quite similar to Christmas Day but without the traditional gift exchanges. Usually, the restaurant scene will open back up, and other businesses stay closed so that people can go out and enjoy themselves.

15. New Year’s Eve (Sat, Dec 31, 2022)

Icelanders celebrate New YYear’sEve at the end of the year since they have long conformed to the western calendar instead of the Nordic calendar. Reykjavik hosts a huge party and a fireworks display for visitors and Icelanders.

As in most of the rest of the world, the afternoon on the 31st, if not the whole day, is a day off. It is the only other day of the year that transport in Reykjavik closes early, shutting down at 4 PM. Icelanders once again enjoy a lavish meal on this day, often with multiple courses. Finally, New YYear’sBonfires are lit up all across the country to commemorate the start of the new year.

How many Icelandic Holidays do exist?

Icelandic holidays are often called flag days. Flag days are the official dates honored as holidays in Iceland. Not all of these are public holidays, which determines whether businesses are closed or if they can adjust their hours. Flag days are when companies and all national institutions have to fly the Icelandic flag.

There are twelve total flag days in the Icelandic calendar. For example, the birthdays of the adult royals are flag days. So are the days to commemorate fallen soldiers and public holidays like Easter and Christmas.

Some holidays are unique to Iceland and quite popular, even if they aren’t flag days. These include holidays like Men’s and Women’s Days or Husband and Wife’s Days.

What are the Icelandic Holiday Types?

Because of IIceland’sdiverse cultural and religious background, specific holiday types correspond to how they originated in Iceland. These include four main holiday types, highlighted below.

  1. Religious Icelandic Holidays
  2. Public Icelandic Holidays
  3. Traditional Icelandic Holidays
  4. Seasonal Holidays

1. Religious Icelandic Holidays

Religious holidays in Iceland initially come from Christianity or the old Norse religion. These holidays have ancient historical roots in their respective religions, even if they aren’t well-remembered nowadays.

2. Public Icelandic Holidays

Public Icelandic holidays often originated within the last 200 years to commemorate something, such as soldiers fallen during wars Iceland participated in or the labour force. Some of these holidays are called ”ank holidays” and are given as a day off for most employees, but the reason for it is essentially forgotten.

3. Traditional Icelandic Holidays

Traditional Icelandic holidays are arguably also related to the traditional Norse religion. These will often have originated from old Norse practices that were brought to the country by the settlers and have been practiced there since the founding days of the country.

4. Seasonal Holidays

Finally, seasonal holidays like the summer holidays and winter holidays in Iceland are celebrated because of the change in seasons. The season changes are dramatic because of the country’s climate and location. For example, there are celebrations during the summer and winter solstice because of the changes in season and what it means for the people and economy of Iceland.

What to eat During Holidays in Iceland?

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feature the most traditional Icelandic meals since it is common for Icelandic families to have large family feasts before opening presents. Some of these traditional dishes include:

  • Ptarmigan / Rjupa
  • Smoked Lam / hangikjöt
  • Pickled Red Cabbage
  • Christmas Ale / jólaöl
  • Smoked pork / hamborgarhryggur. 

What is the most popular Holiday in Iceland?

Although the most famous holiday in Iceland is entirely subjective, it is probably Independence Day in the middle of the summer. You will often find that Icelanders have quite a lot of national pride and enjoy displaying it freely on this day with plenty of festivities and joy.

Which holiday is better for a foreigner in Iceland?

Many of the holidays in Iceland are beloved because they give families the opportunity to be brought together and celebrate. However, if you are a tourist, this will not feel the same to you. Over family-centric holidays, you will likely be trapped in your hotel with nothing to do, and very little will be open for you to enjoy.

Instead, if you are coming to visit Iceland over a holiday season, you should come over to Icelandic National Day or Independence Day. That is because families don’t widely celebrate this. Instead, the entire country seems to explode into fireworks and festivals to be enjoyed by anyone from any background.

What are the destinations to go during a Holiday in Iceland?

Reykjavik is often the best place to be in Iceland on any holiday. That is because it features the largest group of people and gives you the option to go out of your hotel if you want since there will likely still be restaurants and bars open somewhere in the city. In smaller villages, everything will shut down, and unless you make friends with a local, there won’t be much to do during family holidays.  

How to choose an Iceland Holiday Hotel?

Part of choosing a holiday hotel in Iceland is considering how much time you intend to stay in that hotel and how nice you want your trip to be. For example, some hostels often cater to young people and might not have great inside or luxury amenities. In this case, you will likely be spending much of your time outside the hostel.

However, if you decide to spend your time in a luxury hotel like the Retreat at the Blue Lagoon, then you should expect to make the most of your time there and spend a lot of time enjoying their amenities.

Are there Iceland Holiday Tours?

Many tours are willing to take you around Iceland. However, whether they do it on holiday or not will be up to the tour company. Most of the time, you will need to find specialist tour companies to take you on tour in Iceland if your date happens to fall on a popular Icelandic holiday.

How to plan a Trip to Iceland?

Plan a trip to Iceland based around a holiday or a specific part of the country you want to visit. The reason for this is the weather and climatic conditions in Iceland can be pretty challenging to deal with if you go at the wrong time of year. 

Start by choosing why you want to go to figure out when. Then, plan how you will get there, the clothing you will need, and whether you want a tour guide or not to get the most out of your trip.

What to know about Iceland before visiting on a Holiday?

Before traveling to Iceland for a holiday, it is essential to understand the importance of the holiday thoroughly. You should also make it a practice to know if Icelanders practice any influential traditions on this holiday. This helps you respect their culture while there and prepares you for anything unique they might do on the day.

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