Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Let's celebrate!

Having once been a catholic country - although we were not very good at it – Icelandic tradition includes celebrations to mark the impending 40 day fast. It is not really a fast, here it only involved not eating meat, something that the Icelandic name for this celebration mirrors: “Kjötkveðjuhátið”, which in English would sound something like: “Celebration of goodbye meat”. We do not do it with as much glamor and pizazz as Brazil, probably because there has not been much of shiny stuff in Iceland’s history. Moss and burlap – yes, feather boas and glimmer   - no. In addition, our dancing of old was not of the type that made people want to line up and proceed down the streets, shaking their booty. And our songs from this time had no tempo whatsoever. They were more akin to talking than music.   

Icelandic dance: vikivaki
I believe the original reason for this fast makes sense. At this time of the year, when winter is almost over but not quite - it was probably very tempting to eat the farm animals. Most of what had been collected for the winter had gone bad or already been eaten. It was of course extremely important not to eat them at this point, spring was on its way and the animals needed to be given the opportunity to breed so that the following winter’s pantry would not be completely empty. The best way of ensuring compliance at the time was religion. Hell had abstaining power beyond the “smoking kills” markings of the present. Maybe cigarette packs should carry a picture of the devil. Can’t hurt to try.

So what do we do here in Iceland to mark the fast since we can’t dance the samba and are not very tanned to boot?

The celebration is a three day event. No one gets work off, meaning it is not eagerly awaited by many. Since the fast involved not eating, it is all about food. Well two of the three days involved used to be about food. Now all three are.
First comes: “bolludagur”, meaning bun-day. Everyone eats buns with chocolate on top, and whipped cream and jam on the inside. I am not a fan. To me this is a bit like taking a hamburger bun, removing the meat and replacing it with cream. A drizzling chocolate on top. Everyone else I know love it so it is very popular.

As a kid this bun-day also involved making a stick and decorating it with coloured paper. This was to be used to beat your parents with to get them to give you the buns. While beating one was supposed to yell “Bun! Bun!” Just to make sure the one being beaten would get the picture. Today this is no more, beating parents with sticks is no longer fashionable - even if the sticks are decorated. 

The day after Bun-day comes Burst-day. On this day one is supposed to eat salted meat and yellow pea soup until one bursts. Hence the name. Usually people do not pop until the day after. Not from overeating but from water retention from all the salt, phosphorous and nitrate in the pink coloured meat. But, like most things that are not healthy it does taste good.

After eating buns on the Monday, salted meat on the Tuesday - the Wednesday involves candy. Ash-Wednesday. It works in a similar way as Halloween, kids get dressed up in costume and get sweets by going door to door. The differences between Halloween and Ash-Wednesday are that the kids wander between companies and stores, not private homes. They also have to sing to get candy and no subtle threats are passed between kid and grown-up: Trick-or-Treat. This candy stuff is a recent development. Before, when I was a kid, we would make bags of cloth called “öskupokar” (English: ash-bags) that were tied by a thread to bent pins. These were prepared ahead of time and on the Wednesday we would go outside and attempt to fasten them onto strangers without them noticing. Making the bags was a chore so I for one was really reluctant to hang them on the back of someone’s coat and see them walk away. It did not seem enough return on the effort.

Before, when my parent’s generation were kids, these bags used to be filled with ash. My generation had no ash to put in the bags. We had district heating from geothermal and were not allowed to set anything on fire. And this was before Health and Safety was invented. I wonder what the future holds.

Finally, I noticed when logging in that we here on Murder is Everywhere have surpassed one million page views. I think this is a reason for celebration - maybe we the bloggers could all bring ash-bags to Crimefest. Or hamburgers with whipped cream.

Yrsa – Ash-Wednesday


  1. I think it appropriate that the one millionth page view for our blog came on your watch, Yrsa. I shall say no more as I've given up complimenting for Lent. As for that Icelandic tradition of having children work so hard on those bags, only to give them up to anonymous, thankless strangers...I think that's a very good introduction to the concept of taxation.

  2. Hamburger rolls filled with cream will be a hit at Crimefest, Yrsa. Particularly in comparison to the flattened sheep heads, pickled shark and jet fuel antidote, and testicle pate you've brought to various venues previously! The only problem is that they will help fill the bar rather than evacuate it as the shark did.

  3. I love your note about not eating the farm animals. It brings up an issue one might think of as: Murder may be everywhere, but should fasting for Lent follow suit? Those luscious looking, tanned Brazilians are in the tropics so presumably they have no reason to fast at this time of year. But what about the rest of the southern hemisphere? Lent there would require people to fast during the harvest. Shouldn't they have Lent in August and September?

  4. Why not, AnnaMaria? After all we have Christmas on June 25 so it can be in winter.