We all have heard about Halloween, no wonder why, as it is basically one of the world’s biggest festivities. When we think about Halloween, most people may think about October 31st, right? Well, what if I tell you that in Iceland Festivities, the celebration that some call Halloween-like- party, takes place on February or March depending on the year? I bet you are surprised so let’s find out why is that so.
Halloween or “All hollows’ eve” is the night before all Saint’s Day and has its origins in Ireland and the European pagan traditions. It comes from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts as to celebrate the end of the summer. And that is what Samhain literally means. It was the end of the harvest season but also the begging of the darkest period of the year (winter). A new cycle and therefore a new year for the Celtic people.
This ancient tradition was exported by thousands of British and Irish emigrants to the new lands of North America. It slowly turned into this spooky but at the same time fun and joyful tradition we know today. Kids dress up, go trick or treating and apple bobbing. So what is different in this Iceland festivities?
In Iceland, this dressing up tradition does not come from the Irish pagan folklore but from the Catholic one. Many countries with a Catholic background celebrate “Carnival” which is right before the beginning of the Lent and about seven weeks prior Easter.
Carnival is related to the end of the shortage of products and restrictions of food that used to happen during the tough winter days. Spring was then around the corner and so was the harvest, the fruits and the light of the sun. It was also the last chance of “letting go” and forget about social acceptable behavior, just before the holiest week of the year comes right in.
In Iceland, this kind of celebration falls on Ash Wednesday and it is called Öskudagur. It is one of the most important Iceland Festivities. Children dress up in costumes, come out to play, sing songs. They even team up and prepare the songs they will sing to get their candies! Some songs are already oldies anthems or folk songs. But many of them are original compositions performed in duet, trio or even in quartets! Hard done is done here, you must earn those candies as they will not be given away easily.
But even though Öskudagur is similar to how Halloween is celebrated, this festivity is not the Icelandic version of it.
The Catholic Christian background turns Öskudagur into a whole different story. Carnival is Iceland has three main days and among them is Öskudagur. It is tightly related to Bolludagur (Bun Day) and Sprengidagur (Collop Day). On these days, we Icelanders stuff ourselves with bean stew, salted meat and delicious buns and cream puffs.
Iceland Festivities: Is Ash Wednesday a Halloween Like Party?
So now you know, Öskudagur or Ash Wednesday is just a Halloween like party but it is not the same thing. Halloween is not a big celebration in Iceland as it is not really part of our culture. But for any kid who would like to dress up and get candies, Öskudagur is the perfect day to do so!