Wednesday, August 11, 2010

National Celebrations

Iceland became a republic in 1944, using the opportunity provided by the WWII occupation of Denmark which saw the king on the run and thus no one in power to protest our independence. The announcement was made at the Thingvellir national park, the home of the original Icelandic parliament established soon after settlement in 930 which ran uninterrupted until we signed off our independence in 1798. People from all over the country attended the event which was very festive and celebratory and the whole affair was a huge success. In 1994 a celebration was planned to mark the 50 year anniversary of this event and the organizers decided what better to do than repeat the original festivities and hold the commemoration at Thingvellir. 

This turned out to be a huge fiasco. To start off with the logo specially made for this occurence make people sratch their heads as it read SU which means nothing, even as an abbreviation. Turns out it was supposed to read 50 but the font chosen had a 5 with rounded edges and a 0 that was not closed at the top. Also, what had been left out of the party planning equation was that the Icelandic population had more than doubled, every family now had a car and almost half the population was now concentrated in the Reykjavík area, a mere 20 minute drive from Thingvellir. Also in 1944 it was raining on the big day but in 1994 it was sunny. So everyone showed up. This caused complete chaos, the roads leading to the park were in no way capable of handling the traffic and most hopeful attendees spent the day completely stuck in a 20 km row of cars on a road which was one lane in each direction. There was no way of turning back since the escape lane leading the opposite way was closed off for driving dignitaries back and forth. The masses that did make it all the way arrived to find that all beverages were sold out as was food. This was in a way fair as almost everyone was in the same predicament, those dying of thirst and hunger in their cars and those dying of thirst and hunger in the park. I was living in Canada at the time so I did not partake but my sister sat in her stationary car on the road for six hours with her three toddler children and still recoils at the mention of this day. (If you look at the picture at the beginning of this paragraph showing some of the entertainment provided you will see that she did not miss much.) It became known as “the great road celebration of 1994”.

In 1000 Iceland became Christian and the conversion took place at the historically most happening place in the country, Thingvellir. To mark the millennium of this event a huge celebration was again planned and yes, at Thingvellir. As the mess from 1994 was still fresh in everyone’s mind a committee was organized to ensure everything would run smoother this time around and this committee operated for six years and even had an office with staff up and running for most of that time. The day prior to the Thingvellir Christianity celebration the estimated amount of guest attending was estimated to be 75.000 people, roughly a fourth of the population. The weather forecast was sunny skies which had the organizers worried that even more would turn up. But they seemed to be ready, dignitaries were to commute back and forth by helicopter, freeing up one lane and an alternative route had been arranged for emergency vehicles. Buses were organized for mass transport of people, toilets installed all voer the park and so on. Most aspects seemed taken care of. And guess what happened – of the 75.000 people expected about 75 showed - one elderly gentleman by bus (see photo). My sister was not one of the 75 attendees. So another fiasco but from the opposite side of the spectrum. Turned out the great road celebration of 1994 was still fresh in Icelanders minds and no one wanted a rerun.

Numerous people had been hired to work at the festival and part of this staff was to assist with parking, i.e. to administer the field set aside for the arriving cars. The parking assistants were mostly teenagers and they were obviously bored out of their minds as very few cars turned up. To make their job more interesting the kids decided to organize the cars that did show up in such a manner that they would form the Icelandic flag seen from the sky. For this you would need a lot of blue cars and then some red and white ones. Any other color car was parked at the edges of the field. Unfortunately this brilliant idea never came to fruition, at least not full fruition. It took such a long time for them to form a the mere quarter of the flag they were aiming for that by that time someone in authority had heard what was going on and put a stop to it. The kids were forced to mix colors on the lot. I have never understood why this was considered bad form. To me it shows the inventiveness of the young when faced with something horrifically boring and a car-flag could have been great fun. I think what prompted the overreaction was the embarrassment over poor attendance that would have been made even more evident if the car-flag could not have been completed for lack of cars.

Today there are 34 years until the next notable independence anniversary and 990 years until the next Christianity Millenium celebration. There is thus time to do things right and hope that the memory of celebrations past will have faded into oblivion. Till then we are quite content with the annual celebration that is always a success despite the big numbers it draws, namely Gay Pride. Last weekend Reykjavík held its 11th such festival and the numbers had yet again grown with over 90.000 people attending, over half of the Reykjavík area population – despite it raining. The master of ceremonies was our new mayor, comedian Jón Gnarr who arrived in drag (see photo). It was a good day in all respects and although the organizers only have a year to plan and no office, everything ran as smoothly as can be.

Thankfully gay rights are observed here, the general consensus is that to each his own and the sexual preferences of others are their own business. Gays have been allowed to marry before a judge for a long time and they are allowed to adopt as well. Recently a law allowing gay marriage in churches has been passed and this marks one of the final steps for complete assimilation of same sex pairing into the conventional system. Although the church was not completely pleased with this development I am sure they will be thankful come 990 years from now when the gays can help them organize the millennium celebration at Thingvellir which will then assuredly be more fun and colorful than what took place in 2000. And just think - all cars could be found a spot in the gay rainbow flag and none would need park at the edges of the field.

Yrsa - Wedneday

P.S. I apologize for not replying to comments, I read them all and enjoy every single one. At the moment I only have access to the internet at work since the construction crew has taken over my house and chose to begin their operations by removing the wall that contained my iternet connection. 


  1. What a great post about Iceland on the roads :D

  2. anna from ConnecticutAugust 11, 2010 at 7:26 PM

    Hi Yrsa,

    Loved this article and your humor. Now I know where Thora gets hers. I have always wondered about the World War II occupation on your Island. Was it mostly Americans who were based on Iceand? I do not know anything about it and now will research it.
    Quite a few people on NBIE II mystery discussion group at have read your third book. Rave reviews!!!! Cannot wait to get my copy.

  3. If only the US could be so progressive in gay rights. A sad fight for equality here.


  4. Thank you for ypur positive comments! Regarding the occupation it was the British to begin with but they were later replaced by American soldiers. The occupation was very friendly and the only people upset were single Icelandic men who did not welcome the unfiromed competition. Icelandic women were thrilled however. The occupation really marked a turning point for Iceland as the economy boomed with the huge increase in the population and all of the work required for the military and we wnet from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the more affluent. Now we are back to being poor but that is another story.

    best regards