When Christmas Eve has come and gone – when you’ve been to all the family parties, eaten all the cookies, and opened all the presents – what’s there left to look forward to? New Year’s Eve in Reykjavík, Iceland, that’s what. If you are a kid (or a grown-up, with a moderate to a passionate interest in lighting fires), New Year’s Eve (Gamlárskvöld) can be just as fun as Christmas, especially in Iceland.
A family affair (at first)
New Year’s Eve in Reykjavík, and all of Iceland, is the party day of the year. This may not be completely obvious right from the start, as many Icelanders come together with family or friends to eat something fantastic (turkey has recently become popular) and to watch the annual comedy revue on television. Things only get going when the Icelanders get their hands on some fireworks and try their best to blow up their neighbour’s house, just before midnight.
Fireworks and bonfires
There is a reason for our burning desire to set things on fire. According to an old superstition, one must burn away the old year to wake up on New Year’s Day with a clean slate. Just in case fireworks don’t do the trick, there are also New Year’s Eve bonfires. Since bonfires promise to incinerate past sins, they’re quite popular. Most towns have, at least, one bonfire. Reykjavík has ten. Most bonfires are lit around 8.30pm. That’s after dinner, but before the New Year’s Revue (Áramótaskaupið) starts.
Áramótaskaupið is a big deal
Áramótaskaupið (New Year’s Revue) is comedy show that air’s every New Year’s Eve in Iceland. Just how popular can a comedy special broadcast by the National Broadcasting Company (RÚV) be, you ask? Well, in 2002, 95% of the population was watching. This 50-minute comedy special satirising the year’s most prominent events has been aired since 1966, which is, incidentally, the year that RÚV started broadcasting. All conversations on New Year’s Day tend to start with a critique of the New Year’s Revue.
This might surprise you, but it’s not until after midnight on New Year’s Eve that the party itself gets started. After the fireworks have been lit and the hot chocolate has been sipped, that’s when people don their glitter hats, get their confetti bombs ready, and head out – drink in one hand, a lit sparkler in the other. House parties are popular and downtown Reykjavík quickly fills up with eager partygoers, too. Be sure to put on your party hat and your dancing shoes – you’re going to have a hard time keeping up with the Icelanders (notorious lushes).
If you would like to ignite fireworks at midnight, we have good news – it’s perfectly legal and everybody does it. Every year, nearly 600 tonnes of fireworks are ignited. Fireworks are sold by the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) at approximately 130 locations around the country. Fireworks sales are the main source of funding for ICE-SAR, and proceeds are used to pay for the training of volunteers and the purchasing of equipment for rescue missions. Fireworks are sold four days a year, from December 28 until December 31. If fireworks aren’t your thing, however, you can also donate to ICE-SAR directly.
Elves and hidden people
There’s a fair bit of folklore relating to the start of a new year. According to legend, it’s the night when elves and hidden people relocate to new housing; when cows speak; and when seals shed their skin and walk among humankind. While few people still believe in elves and trolls, many still keep to the tradition of leaving at least one light on for the whole night. For the hidden people.