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June 17 – Icelandic National Day

It’s time to celebrate Iceland’s independence! If you’re in town on June 17 and feel like engaging in some Iceland appreciation, there are a few things you might want to know.

Icelandic independence – the short version

In 1262, Icelanders gave up their independence to become subjects of the Norwegian king. Almost seven centuries later, we figured that was a bad call and took it back.

Poets and politicians championed Iceland’s independence in the 19th century, and with the home rule in 1904 and sovereignty in 1918, not to mention the waning popularity of colonialism, full independence was fast becoming inevitable. When World War II rolled around, Denmark was occupied by the Germans and Denmark ruled over Iceland in name only. In 1944, on June 17, Iceland declared independence.

The Lady of the Mountain

The Lady of the Mountain (Fjallkonan) is the personification of Iceland. Her look has changed a bit through the ages. Early depictions of her have her wearing a crown made of ice and flames and a raven on her shoulder! Today, it’s generally accepted that the Lady of the Mountain wears a faldbúningur, a type of national costume.

The Lady of the Mountain traditionally makes an appearance at the Icelandic National Day celebrations, embodied by a local woman. She traditionally reads a poem of her choosing, extolling the virtues of Iceland.

Photo: The Lady of the Mountain 2018, www.17juni.is

Jón Sigurðsson – independence hero

Jón Sigurðsson, sometimes known as president Jón (president of the Icelandic Literature Society, that is, as he died before Iceland had its first president) is generally considered a national hero for his part in the fight for Icelandic independence. Born on June 17, 1811, he was such an important figure in Icelandic politics that after his death, Icelanders decided to declare independence on his birthday.

Iceland’s independence is one of the rare cases in history where a colony gained independence from their oppressor without any bloodshed at all and Jón never fought for independence in the literal sense of the word. He was a politician, a scholar, and a writer, so his attacks were ideological in nature, never violent.

Even though he never led a revolution or used force as a means to an end, his ideas and his life’s work, dedicated to fighting for Iceland, shaped the image of Iceland, and was a crucial component in the resulting democracy.

Celebrate good times, come on!

So, what is the best way to celebrate 75 mostly glorious years of Icelandic independence? Head down to the city centre, get yourself (or your kid if you have one) a helium balloon in the shape of a cartoon animal of your choosing, get a hot dog in one hand and cotton candy in the other, and find a concert to enjoy. A small Icelandic flag on a stick also helps set the mood.