New Year‘s Bonfires in Reykjavik!

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Photo by MongFish

It’s almost New Year’s Eve and you know what that means… Let’s start a fire!

This might not be the default reaction all over the world, but in Iceland, pyromania grips the nation every New Year’s Eve! It’s a custom dating back to the 18th century (before that, firewood was too expensive to waste!), when rowdy students started gathering around fires on New Year’s Eve. In the years since then, almost every town in Iceland throws a bonfire on New Year’s Eve. It’s known as burning away the old year and for many people it’s a spiritual cleansing ritual that puts the sins of a year gone by in the past while preparing them for the fresh start that is the new year.

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If you’re interested in having the sins of 2016 burnt away, you’ll be glad to know that the city of Reykjavík has 10 bonfires in various locations. The most central one is probably the one in Ægissíða, not far from the domestic airport, so head on down there if you want to join in the fun. The bonfires are usually lit around 8.30 pm, just after dinner. People enjoy the bonfire together and sing a few New Year’s songs before heading home to catch the national broadcasting company’s annual comedy hour. For more information on the official bonfires, head to the city’s website.

New year’s songs in Iceland are a bit special, since apart from a translation of Auld Lang Syne, most of the new year’s songs are about elves. According to folklore, New Year’s Eve is a magical night, even dangerous to humans as the elves run free. If you want to join in the singing, here are a couple of elf-themed new year’s songs.

Máninn hátt á himni skín,
hrímfölur og grár.
Líf og tími líður
og liðið er nú ár.

Bregðum blysum á loft
bleika lýsum grund.
Glottir tungl og hrín við hrönn
og hratt flýr stund.

Kyndla vora hefjum hátt,
horfið kveðjum ár.
Dátt hér dansinn stígum,
dunar ísinn grár.

Komi hver sem koma vill
komdu nýja ár.
Dönsum dátt á svelli,
dunar ísinn blár.

The moon shines high in the sky
Pale as snow and grey
Life and time passes
And it’s been another year

Lift your flares high,
Let the ground shine pink
The moon grins against the snow
and time flees quickly

Let us raise our torches high
say goodbye to a year gone by
We’re dancing merrily
the grey ice booming below

Anyone who wants to join is welcome
Come to us, new year
let’s dance on the ice
the blue ice booming below

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