Many of the holidays in Iceland are the typical calendar events of the rest of the world but there’s one day that is both unique to here, and also bears gifts. The first day of summer, Sumardagurinn Fyrsti.
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If you have spent a whole year or more in Iceland, you will know just how precious summer is to the nation’s people. The winters here are magical, but they are also long, so if you have spent an extended period of time in Iceland the sign that summer is here is almost like a second Christmas.
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It can be very common that if the sun is out and the temperatures have risen into those luxury double digits that the rest of the world take for granted, people will do anything they can to knock off early from work and enjoy a drink in the sun with friends.
The first day of summer is so important in Iceland that it’s an actual holiday. It’s celebrated on the first Thursday after April 18. This is a full holiday, a no work, extra pay if you have to work, holiday. It also comes with special gifts for children.
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On Sumardagurinn Fyrsti, kids in Iceland are given summer gifts or ‘sumargjafir.’ The tradition of giving gifts to children in summer actually predates Christmas in Iceland by a couple of hundred years. The first day of summer was the traditional annual gift-giving day in Iceland long before they were placed under the tree in December.
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Traditionally the gifts given to children were food. Things like bread were given as treats, most likely because the need to ration out stuff made from grains would subside for a few months. It could also have been a way of rewarding children for their sacrifice. They had most likely gone without many food items during winter.
This reward system could have been a way to help kids get into the habit of seeing sacrifice as a necessity as adults, for nothing more than survival.
In modern day Iceland, summer gifts are normally new clothes, or things that involve being outdoors, like a football, extreme frisbee set or kubbur (an amazing outdoor game with wooden blocks that everyone loves).
If you happen to be in Iceland on the first day of summer this year, which is April 25th, prepare for a celebration. It might mean some stores are closed, and buses run on Sunday time tables, but if the weather is nice, it’s time to get outdoors and enjoy the summer.