Icelanders hold the world record for Trivial Pursuit purchases, with the ever-popular game being found in 33% of Icelandic homes—the U.S. being the runner-up at 17%. Find out more about Iceland’s passion for board games and the peculiar old Icelandic law that forbids playing games during Christmas.
When Icelanders talk about ‘Christmas’, they are specifically referring to December 24th, which is called ‘Aðfangadagur’ in Icelandic. In the hearts and minds of most people, this is a day of supreme sanctity, and it is generally held in much higher regard than the following Christmas day of December 25th.
Whether we are Christian or pagan, Buddhist or atheist—whether we celebrate the emergence of a new sun or the coming of the son of god—when the bells toll six on Aðfangadagur, the season of love, grace and gratitude is officially upon us.
And we have a lot to be grateful for. On December 21st, the sun only appeared in the sky for four hours and seven minutes over Reykjavík’s horizon, rising at 11:22 AM and setting again at 15:29.
Under the Arctic circle, Christmas is a festival of light that marks the beginning of a new solar cycle; the days will gradually become longer and longer, and the darkness of winter will soon come to pass.
Incidentally, the word for ‘fun’ in Icelandic is ‘skemmtun’, which literally means to make something short. And during the dark winters of old, games, stories, songs and dances were used to hasten the passing of time and the expiration of winter.
It is no wonder, therefore, that in the perpetual winter darkness, a love of books and board games blossomed to the extent that Icelanders own more units of Trivial Pursuit than any other nation on earth and hold the world record for the number of books published per capita.
Iceland, however, has officially been a Christian country for centuries, and some of the local laws and traditions are very much rooted in Christianity.
According to one of these laws, hosting “bingo, lotteries, dances, concerts and other gatherings” during Easter and Christmas is illegal. Although the law dates back to 1926, only minor changes have been made during the years.
This law is rooted in the old Icelandic belief that should you deliberately have fun on the most sacred of days, you would be ‘entertaining Satan’, who would enter the players through the games and corrupt them for the year to come.
Trivial Pursuit, therefore, although one of the most popular board games in Iceland, is traditionally played on Christmas day, December 25th, but never on the Aðfangadagur, the most sacred day of the year.