Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Day of Summer

Tomorrow is the first day of summer here in Iceland, a day so revered that it is a national holiday. Come to think about it, it might actually be the other way around, it is probably revered because it is a day off. Unfortunately this year around it coincides with another public holiday, namely Skírdagur or Maundy Thursday – the day of the last supper. A two for one in the worst possible sense. Please note that I have to take the foreign ministry‘s word for the English translation of this religious holiday as I got it off a list of official translations, I have never heard this term before and cannot comment on the meaning of Maundy. Sounds like something depressing.

Today I tried to get to the bottom of why we chose such a strange day to mark the first day of summer. It is always celebrated on the first Thursday following the 18th of April, when it is still miserable outside and spring has even yet to arrive. Apparently in the old times Iceland only had two seasons – winter and summer and the first day of summer was decided to coincide with the first day of month Harpa (meaning harp) –the first day of winter landing on the first day of month Gor (Gormánuður) in what we now approximately call October. The translation of Gor is not exactly as nice as for Harpa, it means the half digested stomach contents of slaughtered animals. Why this deserved having a month named after it is beyond me, who knows maybe Maundy means something as absurd.

Other months of yore bear names that are just as strange. Mörsugur is one, translated verbatim it means Fat-sucking. I am really happy my birthday is not the 24th of Fat-sucking month. A further two wexamples are Einmánuður and Tvímánuður, meaning One month and Two month respectively, they do not follow each other and no one knows what these numbers refer to.

So we had some hail today, then some sun and now lots of wind. Sample weather as it is called here. If it freezes during the night, supposedly we are in for a good summer according to old wisdom – the freezing together of summer and winter. The late evening has all the makings of exactly this occurence so things are looking good up here in the north.

It is however a bit worrying that no one has really been able to say with any certainity what counted as a „good“ summer to our forfathers here. Considering what they considered appropriate names for months it could be anything.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Wikipedia offers two explanations of the word "maundy"

    First explanation:

    Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you.

    This one may have been favored by the churches because it pretty much tells the faithful they are mandated to attend services.


    Others theorize that the English name "Maundy Thursday" arose from "maundsor" baskets, in which on that day the king of England distributed alms to certain poor at Whitehall: "maund" is connected with the Latin mendicare, and French mendier, to beg.[32][33] A source from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod likewise states that, if the name was derived from the Latin mandatum, we would call the day Mandy Thursday, or Mandate Thursday, or even Mandatum Thursday; and that the term "Maundy" comes in fact from the Latin mendicare, Old French mendier, and English maund, which as a verb means to beg and as a noun refers to a small basket held out by maunders as they maunded.

    I favor the second definition in that it defines the word by using the word, "a small basket held out by maunders as they maunded", clears everything up.

    Yrsa, your explanation of the months still has me laughing twenty minutes after I read it.

    I wish you and your family a blessed Easter even if your Easter, in terms of weather, is going to be like mine, in New England. We are in spring but the days in April have been in the fifties while the nights are in the forties unless it is raining during the day in which the night temperatures become the day temperatures and the night temperatures fall to the kind of reading we have in November.

    The forsythia bushes with their little yellow flowers opened yesterday. There are, as yet, no leaves on the trees. Since April has showered ceaselessly, their hasn't been any sun. Winter coats have not yet been put away.


  2. Hi Beth,

    I too favour the second explanation.

    I hope you and your family had a wonderful Easter and that in Boston the spring has set in for good, only to be replaced by a warm and wonderful summer.

    all the best