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The First Day of Summer in Iceland

A Guide To Celebrating Sumardagurinn Fyrsti

|February 27, 2024
Takes inspiration from ancient cultures, philosophy, nature, and travel. Anton is a music creator on the side, but his main passion is to click-clack on his keyboard, creating a read that paints a picture.

Iceland is a unique, faraway land with its own fascinating culture. Luckily, Icelanders are always happy to share their ways with people from around the world. Let's glimpse into the traditions of Sumardagurinn Fyrsti and celebrate the "First Day of Summer" with the locals!


Local Celebrations

Some of the Icelandic celebrations are old and unique, adding to the country’s distinct identity that is appreciated both by locals and tourists. One such celebration is Sumardagurinn Fyrsti, or the “First Day of Summer.” And while late April in Iceland might not exactly scream "summer" (it can even be below freezing), this day marks the beginning of warmer weather, and traditionally, that's when the Icelandic summer begins. It's a big deal in Iceland, and it's as significant as the Summer Solstice. To better understand why, we'll walk you through how locals see and celebrate this occasion.

Iceland's First Day of Summer

The chill may still linger in the air, but in Iceland, hearts are ablaze with the warmth of anticipation. Every year, late April brings along the "First Day of Summer." It’s a vibrant public holiday surrounded by tradition and customs. Though the actual weather might disagree, this day celebrates the upcoming summer, the longer days, and the symbolic shedding of winter's grip. It's a collective sigh of relief after the long winter, whispering, "Sí, við erum tilbúin fyrir sumarið!" (Yes, we're ready for summer!). And it's not only about the changing seasons; this cherished day is defined by history, hope, and anticipation of all good things to come.

Arctic Henge during sunset

What is Sumardagurinn Fyrsti All About?

History

Sumardagurinn Fyrsti is an annual public holiday and the first day of Harpa. It's the first summer month in the old Norse calendar, which was closely associated with nature and its forces and used in Iceland up until the 19th century. This calendar divided the year into only two seasons: six months of short days (winter) and six months of so-called nightless days (summer). So, even though the actual summer weather is not there just yet, Sumardagurinn Fyrsti signifies the observance of the old Icelandic ways and the lengthening of days. It means that Iceland's magical, long-awaited summer is just around the corner.

Public Holiday

Although the First Day of Summer is an old tradition, it was only officially recognized as a public holiday in 1971. It's celebrated on the first Thursday after April 18th, which means the exact date can vary between April 19th and 25th. 

While in 2023, the holiday was on April 20th, in 2024, it falls on April 25th. The dates for the following three years are in descending order that's easy to remember: 

  • 2025: 24th April
  • 2026: 23rd April
  • 2027: 22nd April

As it's a public holiday in Iceland, most people are off work or school.

Happy tourists group selfie

Festivities

Despite the cooler temperatures, Icelanders take the First Day of Summer as an opportunity to have fun and don't hold back with festive events throughout the country. Although the day is rooted in old Norse beliefs and folklore, today, it's a family-oriented occasion, with Reykjavik municipality even dedicating it to children in 1921. There are many ways to celebrate Sumardagurinn Fyrsti, some of which include:

  • Parades: Colorful parades are held in towns and cities across Iceland, often featuring marching bands, floats, and costumed participants.
  • Outside activities: While in the old days, large symbolic bonfires were lit, today, it’s about spending quality time outside, enjoying a barbeque or a picnic. 
  • Traditional food: Special dishes are prepared, especially Pönnukökur, the crêpe-like flat pancakes that have become a symbol of the holiday. 
  • Family gatherings: People gather with family and friends to enjoy the festivities and celebrate the coming of summer together. 

Summer Gifts Tradition

It's worth mentioning that long before Christmas presents became mainstream, Icelanders celebrated the arrival of summer with a delightful tradition: "Summer Gifts" on Sumardagurinn Fyrsti. This practice, dating back centuries, predates the Christmas gift-giving by a whopping 400 years!

Traditionally, the gifts flowed from parents to children, spouse to spouse, or master to servant, solidifying bonds and marking the joyful change of seasons. Though presents are less frequent today, the spirit of generosity and goodwill lives on. Nowadays, the focus might be more on sharing a feast, attending vibrant parades, or simply exchanging heartfelt wishes for the warm times ahead.

Tourist in Reykjavik with Hallgrimskirkja on background

The Weather on Sumardagurinn Fyrsti

Temperatures

As you've probably grasped by now, the weather is not really "summery" around the First Day of Summer in Iceland. It can be sunny and mild in Iceland's South, but in the northern part of the country, it can still snow. Despite the essence behind the holiday, the average temperature in Reykjavik on this day has actually been below freezing many times since 1949! You can expect temperatures to be anywhere from below freezing to around 10°C (50°F), depending on the year and location. On the brighter side, the highest-ever temperature on Sumardagurinn Fyrsti peaked at 19.8°C (67.6°F) in 1976 in Akureyri, defending the name of the holiday!

And although sunny days are possible, it can generally be cloudy and windy. Even snow and rain are possible with Iceland's impulsive weather, so be prepared for anything. If you're curious about the specific weather forecast for the upcoming Sumardagurinn Fyrsti, you can check reliable Icelandic weather sources like the Icelandic Meteorological Office closer to time.

Old Weather Forecasting Custom

Who needs weather forecasting? In the old days, people had a quirky way of predicting a good summer: if the night before the first day of summer dipped below freezing, it meant a warm season was on the way! The locals would even leave bowls of water outside overnight, hoping for a frosty surprise in the morning as confirmation of the sunny days ahead.

Posing couple holding hands near Godafoss waterfall

Things to Do on The First Day of Summer

There is no shortage of summer activities in Iceland, and that's another reason to celebrate the symbolic arrival of the summer! To fully appreciate the summer, you can explore the South Coast and have an authentic Icelandic experience, falling in love with the local nature. 

If you're a hiking enthusiast, leg-stretcher, or just can't get enough of that fresh air, there are plenty of hiking trails to conquer in Iceland. There is an exciting day hike in Landmannalaugar, and it comes with fantastic views!

But not all of us are planners. Sometimes, you just buy that weekend ticket and pack your bag the next day, embracing the spontaneity. If that's your case, or if you simply can't be asked to plan when you just want to enjoy, this summer weekend itinerary is worth checking out. It might be your fit! 

Final Thoughts

Sumardagurinn Fyrsti, although celebrated for only one day, is packaged with emotional warmth and anticipation of all the good. It's a lot more than just a "come and go" holiday that gets forgotten with the turn of a calendar page. 

After all, as the name suggests, "First Day of Summer" is only the first of many wonderful days that Icelandic summer has prepared for you, and if that's not worthy of celebration, we don't know what is!

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