The Days of Easter in Iceland
As in most countries, Easter in Iceland is an interesting mix of a religious and pagan holiday. The holiday is a jumble of spring decorations, confirmations (a Christian rite of passage), easter eggs and laws requiring people to take holy days off. In order to make life a bit easier for you, here are the days of Easter in Iceland explained.
Pálmasunnudagur – Palm Sunday
This is a popular day for confirmations, and since most people know at least one 14-year-old, many Icelanders will be attending confirmation parties in honour of the teenager that will soon be stepping into the adult world. They’ll usually spend this day trying to remember the name of all their family members and gorging themselves on cakes decorated with whipped cream, bread casseroles and the traditional confirmation party centrepiece, the kransakaka. The Kransakaka, or wreath cake is a marzipan-flavoured tower of a cake decorated with white glaze and chocolate.
Skírdagur – Maundy Thursday
This is an official holiday and the first of the five-day weekend that is Easter vacation in Iceland. It’s another popular day for confirmations and confirmation parties. The confirmation is a religious ceremony, but in recent years, secular confirmations are becoming more popular. Instead of confirming their Christian beliefs, the confirmees will instead vow to live their lives morally, and still get a party thrown in their honour.
Föstudagurinn langi – Good Friday
Good Friday is traditionally supposed to be a day of solemn contemplation, so fun and games are not only discouraged, they’re actually illegal. Enthusiasm for observing this holiday so religiously (pun intended) has somewhat waned in the past years, especially since people were getting annoyed that everything was closed that day. The Icelandic atheist society hosts an annual game of bingo in front of the parliament building in protest since bingo is one of the games specifically mentioned in the laws banning fun on Good Friday.
Páskadagur – Easter Sunday
The most important part of the Easter celebrations takes place on Easter Sunday morning when people look for their Easter eggs. Some families plan elaborate Easter egg hunts with a trail of clues leading to the chocolaty prize, others are content to just hide the eggs. For most people, celebrations consist of eating copious amounts of chocolate, followed by family dinners where lamb is served.
Annar í páskum – The Second Day of Easter
This day actually has no significance and no traditions. It’s just an extra official holiday for people to finish what’s left of their Easter eggs (or recover from eating a whole Easter egg the day before).
Essential information about Easter in Iceland
Easter in Iceland is a big deal. Not only is it a five-day weekend, it’s also celebrated with big Easter eggs made of chocolate and filled with wise words (and candy). In order to celebrate Easter Icelandic-style, here are some Easter essentials to make your experience as authentic as possible.
Easter celebrations are usually much more casual than Christmas, for example. Since Easter is a five-day weekend in Iceland, many people use the opportunity to travel, in Iceland or internationally. Ski trips are popular and Aldrei fór ég suður, a free music festival in Ísafjörður, attracts a huge crowd every year. Because these days are official holidays some businesses might be closed, especially on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
There’s one motif that’s especially popular in Easter decorations. It’s not the Easter bunny, which is not a part of the Icelandic folklore, but rather the Easter chick. Easter chick ornaments can be bought everywhere where decorations are sold and every home with children usually has a few homemade, misshapen lumps that are supposed to represent the baby chickens. The Easter chick that is most people’s favourite, however, is the Easter chick that tops the chocolate Easter eggs in every store.
The Icelandic Easter Egg
Easter eggs don’t have a particularly long history in Iceland. They only arrived in the country in the beginning of the 20th century but have since become so popular that more than a hundred tonnes of chocolate in Easter egg form is sold each year. The Easter eggs come in all sizes and are available in different kinds of chocolate, but there’s one part of the Easter egg’s anatomy that never changes. Each egg contains a small note with a wise Icelandic proverb or a saying on it. Despite the lure of the candy, that’s probably the first thing most people look for when they crack their eggs open.
Many people decorate their houses for Easter in shades of yellow and green. The decorations are connected with the coming of spring and a popular way to decorate is to cut a bouquet of branches from a bush or a tree, and put in a vase with water. The branches will start spouting leaves in the warmth inside, even though the trees outside will remain dark and bare for a few weeks yet.
The traditional Easter Sunday dinner is lamb. That’s a lucky coincidence since Icelanders love lamb. Considering the quality of the Icelandic lamb, that’s really no wonder. There’s no specific lamb dish that’s designated Easter food, but a roast leg of lamb is popular. The delicious Icelandic lamb is a welcome, savoury relief after a day spent gorging on chocolate and candy.
What to do during Easter in Iceland
See the Northern Lights
Depending on cloud coverage and solar activity, the Northern Lights are visible in Iceland during Easter, or until approximately April 25 (northern-lights tours are available during winter, with September through March being peak season).
If you’re interested in the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), visit the tour section of What’s On for further information regarding plenty of exciting tours. We particularly recommend this tour, where travellers will be afforded the opportunity of seeing the northern lights while enjoying some homemade hot chocolate with cinnamon buns, all under the direction of an experienced guide (who will offer insight into Icelandic culture, nature, history and the Icelandic people).
Fun Fact: Benjamin Franklin, who spent much time investigating electricity, also speculated upon the northern lights: “The great cake of ice that eternally covers those regions may be too hard frozen to permit the electricity descending with that snow to enter the Earth …”
Dig Into an Icelandic Easter Egg
The Icelandic Easter egg is a relatively recent phenomenon. Historically a symbol of fertility, the first Icelandic Easter egg was manufactured in 1920 and sold by the Björnsbakarí bakery. Each year, over a million eggs are produced in Iceland. Icelandic eggs come in various sizes (commonly the size of an ostrich egg). They are filled with candy, and every egg comes with an Icelandic proverb.
Fun Fact: Iceland joined EFTA (European Free Trade Association) in 1970. Before that time, importing candy was illegal (with a few exceptions) and so candy in Iceland was mostly manufactured locally.
Taste an Icelandic Easter Beer
Beer was banned in Iceland until March 1, 1989. As noted in a recent article in Iceland Review (What’s On’s sister publication): “… even though it took some time for Icelandic brewers to pick up the pace, the scene is now booming. The era of the beer nerd has dawned.”
As of 2019, there are 21 breweries in Iceland, many of whom have crafted some rather innovative recipes, often involving Icelandic culture and ingredients. Speciality brews are immensely popular in Iceland, as well, with breweries cooking up unique batches for Easter, New Year’s Eve, summer, and Christmas.
Although it’s a bit early to report on Easter beers in 2020 (most of the breweries don’t announce until mid-February or later), we still suggest that you try these beers during your visit in April. You can also go on the Reykjavík Beer Tour, which offers a taste of 10 Icelandic beers.
Fun Fact: Over the past few years, Víking Páskabjór has ranked among the most popular Easter beers in the country. A Dunkel style beer which the brewery first produced in 1990, Víking Páskabjór differs from many other dark lagers in that the dark malt plays a more significant role than the hops. The beer has a tasty filling, medium bitterness, and roasted tones with distinct flavours of chocolate, coffee, and caramel.
Visit a Local Chocolate Factory
As previously mentioned, the Icelanders consume a lot of chocolate during Easter (mainly in the form of Easter eggs).
If you’re interested in a short introduction to the local chocolate industry, there are guided tours available, e.g. to the Omnom Chocolate Factory in the Grandi neighbourhood in downtown Reykjavík. The tour offers a glimpse of the chocolate-making craft in Iceland, from the cocoa pod to the chocolate bar. Tasting all of Omnom’s wares is, of course, an essential part of the tour.
Combine the Golden Circle with a Visit to a Lagoon or a Spa
The Golden Circle, some have claimed, is an indispensable part of any trip to Iceland, combining the Geysir hot spring area, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the parliamentary plains of Þingvellir. The Golden Circle is the most popular day tour in Iceland, but those who want to make a day of it (ca. 10 hours), you can augment your trip with a visit to a lagoon or a spa.
Popular lagoons and spas include the Secret Lagoon: a natural hot spring near Flúðir, within the Golden Circle area (proprietor’s claim that it is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland); Laugavatn Fontana, geothermal baths where patrons can soak in a natural pool, listen to the bubbling hot spring in the steam rooms, or take a dip in the refreshing lake; and, of course, the Blue Lagoon: Iceland’s most famous “luxury spa.”
Go on an Easter-Egg Hunt
The annual Easter-egg hunt on the island of Viðey near Reykjavík will be held again this year. According to the tour-operator Elding – which hosts the hunt along with Viðeyjarstofa and the Reykjavík City Museum – the date of the hunt has yet to be confirmed (last year, the hunt took place on Saturday, April 20, the day before Easter Sunday).